Zachary Calbrach lied against his pillows fidgeting slightly with the oxygen wire that rested against his nose and over his ears.
From looking at his medical chart and a quick summary of the crime scene, Elliot knew that the twelve-year-old would most likely spend the next few days in the hospital. The lacerations across his face were just beginning to heal, but the damage his assailant had done with a belt to Zachary’s neck were still very clear and dark against his skin.
His mother sat in a chair next to him, holding a hand to her forehead and looking like the slightest shift in movement might throw her into a crying heap on the floor. As Munch and Fin were at the crime scene trying to find witnesses, Elliot had called her earlier to arrange for him to speak to Zachary and her voice wavered so much on the phone she was barely discernible.
“Don’t mess with it,” Mrs. Calbrach said through her hands.
“It feels weird,” Zachary said.
His blond hair was pressed against his head, but stuck out in several directions due to his position on the pillows.
Elliot knocked on the open door twice and Mrs. Calbrach rose to meet him.
“How are you, Zach?” he said standing beside the bed, another officer standing just to his right.
“Zachary,” he corrected. “I don’t like Zach. It rhymes too much with my last name.”
Elliot smiled. “Okay. Zachary it is. I’m Detective Stabler. You can call me Elliot.”
“My mom says I’m not supposed to call adults by their names, so can I call you Detective Stabler?”
“That’s perfectly fine. Now Zachary, this is Officer Morriston. He’s an artist.”
“You’re an artist?” Zachary asked eyes bright.
“Yes, I am,” Morriston said. “I’m a sketch artist and I’m also a cop.”
“If you’re up to it,” Elliot said. “I’d like for you to talk to Officer Morriston and tell him anything you remember about the person you saw last night. Is that okay?”
Zachary nodded and dropped his eyes to his blankets. “I’ll try my best, but I don’t really remember.”
“It’s okay,” Elliot said near a whisper. “Anything you can remember will be fine.”
An hour later, Elliot held an obscure sketch of someone described as having a flat face, a wide mouth and “weird” eyes. Zachary had called his attacker “shorter” with lighter hair, but with nothing in place to make a comparison, they were left with only the deranged sketch. His only consolation was that Zachary was still heavily medicated and there was a possibility that once he was on lighter drugs, his memory might give them a more suitable suspect.
“How’d the boy do?” Cragen asked as Elliot walked toward his desk in the squad room.
“The sketch looks like something out of a cartoon,” he said. “I’m hoping we can ask him again in a few days. He’s got so many drugs running through him, I’m surprised he can even sit up straight.”
“How is he?”
“He seems upbeat, but he’s probably just repressing at this point.”
Cragen’s eyes stared past Elliot.
“You’re day’s about to get a lot more interesting.”
“Why’s that?” Elliot asked turning to see at what Cragen was staring.
Each wearing black suits and stern expressions, Jonathan Halloway and Jillian Harfort strode toward Elliot and Cragen in tandem.
“Good morning,” Cragen said with a false delight.
“Let’s cut the bull,” Jonathan said curtly. “You both know why we’re here, so let’s get on with it.”
“You’re ready to take another swing at me while I’ve got my back turned,” Elliot seethed. “‘Cause this time, I’ll be sure you’ll spend a night or two at Rikers.”
“You know this is absolute garbage,” Jillian snapped before Jonathan could respond. “We keep asking to be informed of any changes…any goddamn changes about Olivia’s case and we keep having to hear things on the back end. Why?”
“Mrs. Harfort,” Cragen said. “We have a lot of cases to tend to-”
“So, that’s it?” Jillian interrupted. “You have a lot of cases and when it looks like you’ve got a tough one on your hands, you just up and slide it to the next precinct. Is that how you operate, Captain Cragen?”
“Olivia’s case was moved to the precinct where-”
“We don’t care about who’s doing the goddamn investigation!” Jonathan yelled. “We care about getting Olivia found! Why the hell are you people calling this a homicide?”
“We are still doing everything we can to find her, but that is out of our hands.”
“Bullshit!” Jonathan yelled.
Cragen glared at him. “You better watch yourself Halloway or you really will spend the night in prison.”
“Olivia isn’t dead! How could you even stand there and say it! She’s not dead! You people need to have every single person who’s got legs to be working on her case!”
Jonathan swung his hand at the desk closest to him and brushed the wire paper tray that sat on its edge to the floor sending a spray of paper across the squad room and jarring the officer at the desk out of his seat.
Cragen took a step toward him and spoke in a low voice. “If you think you’ve got any goddamn clues as to where she went, please, feel free to offer them up. We could have eighty cops on her case and we’d still be in this position.”
“That’s right,” Jonathan said. “With your thumb up your ass!”
“Don’t bother, Jonathan,” Jillian said. “He’s as much as said they don’t have a clue where she is and so they’re writing it off as an unsolved homicide and that’s the end of that. Tell me, Captain, have you cleaned off her desk yet for the next one or do you give us some time to come collect her things?”
“No one is writing Olivia off,” Elliot said.
“Then why hasn’t she been found yet!” Jonathan yelled.
“You want to give us a good place to start looking, Halloway, then be my guest. You just give us a place and we can have a hundred cops tearing through the city looking for her.”
As he glared at Elliot, Jonathan’s blue eyes seemed to change colour into something nearing hazel-brown for just a moment and Elliot felt his heart jump at the concentrated rage blazing behind Jonathan’s eyes.
“Why don’t you give us a place to start?” Jonathan whispered.
“Don’t get your shorts in a knot about that again,” Elliot said. “We’ve already been over this.”
“And, I still don’t care! There’s a video on the Internet of you damn near strangling her and yet you’re here in front of me acting concerned.”
Elliot took a step forward, but Cragen took two and pushed him away from Jonathan.
“See that?” Jonathan said his voice cracking. “That’s what you did to her, isn’t it! I know what goes on in here. I know! People have told me what’s up! They told me how you were ready to take her down even in front of all your cop buddies the day she disappeared. God only knows what you did when you didn’t have anyone watching. Without anything to protect her but her own wits and that could’ve only taken her so far when she’s dealing with a Neanderthal!”
Elliot lunged for Jonathan, but both Cragen and another detective, who stood just beside him, kept the men apart from one another.
“Look, damn it!” Jillian said. “I don’t care what is or isn’t on that video! I don’t even care who’s at fault. I just want to be kept in the loop and I just want her found!”
“You know exactly what we know!” Elliot said. “Someone took her from her apartment two weeks ago. That’s it!”
“What’s this I’m hearing about you harassing Maya over piddling shit about ex-boyfriends?” Jonathan said.
“The woman’s fragile enough as it is,” Jillian continued, “and she doesn’t need you dragging her down here, without telling her anything, but demanding answers all the same!”
“You said two weeks ago that she was an absolute idiot,” Elliot said. “You should learn to make up your mind.”
“I was frustrated! Just like I am now even listening to this!”
“We’re looking at everyone possible,” Cragen said. “That includes people that maybe she doesn’t want to bring up.”
“We want Olivia found, Captain!” Jillian yelled. “If you think that uproar over those boys was rough, just let us get started. We will have everyone in the Tri-State area in here screaming for her to be found. I will not see my friend’s case thrown to the wayside because you people think you’ve got better things to do! You don’t! All that matters is finding Olivia Benson!”
“You tell that to the parents of the kids that are being murdered in the streets,” Cragen said.
“She’s your detective! That has to take priority over something!”
Her faced had turned completely red and she was out of breath.
“She takes priority,” Elliot said after Jillian had calmed. “Every spare second we have is spent on Olivia.”
“And that’s great to hear,” Jonathan said. “But no one here really gives a fuck how much spare time you spend on her case. I want her found! I will have all your jobs by the end of this week if I have to! I want her found!”
“What good do you think that’ll do, you dumb prick?” Elliot said. “You want to bring in fresh batch of people who don’t know or care about Olivia? The cop who’s officially handling her case right now and I go back a long time and the second he gets word, any word on her case, he’s coming straight to me. So, don’t wave your daddy’s money around in here. We are doing every single thing possible to find her and you coming in here like this isn’t helping.”
Elliot’s words echoed through the room as Jillian wiped at her eyes and stood a little straighter.
“I’m not going to apologize for anything I’ve said. We want her found and I don’t expect to hear about any other changes in her case from the news.”
“You won’t,” Cragen said.
“I know I won’t,” Jillian said. “I’m calling here every day. Every hour, on the hour until she’s found.”
“You two do whatever you think you need to, but nothing here is going to change,” Elliot said. “We…care about Olivia just as much as you do and we’re not going to stop looking for her.”
They stared at one another for a moment before Jillian gave the slightest frustrated stomp of her heel.
“Fine,” she said. “Jonathan, we’re going to leave the captain and his detective so that they can have some time to figure out what the hell happened to our Liv.”
She turned with a flash of her hair and headed back toward the elevators. Jonathan glared at Elliot with a hatred Elliot had never seen earlier burning in his eyes so intensely, it took every bit of his resolve to stand firm.
The alcoholic liquid within the grey aluminum can gave an effervescent hiss and fizzed as Elliot returned it to its spot on his coffee table. The bitter liquid still played across his palette when he closed his eyes and leaned back against the couch, his body aching from incessant stress.
He had bought “Beast” from the liquor store several blocks over because it was the cheapest thing he could stand to have gushing down his throat and he did not want to suffer the tortuous hemicrania that would follow with a copious amount of whiskey or vodka. He still had several Pabsts in his refrigerator, but he could not drink them.
It was difficult looking at them each time he opened his refrigerator, but he knew it would be worse to have them lying empty in his trash. There was something about removing anything from his life that so reminded him of Olivia that was simply unsettling.
The day had ended on a more-or-less positive note despite the way it began. He and Alexa were able to find Cora Rosen’s rapist and even elicited a confession, though he knew it would have gone quicker had Olivia been interrogating the perp with him. Alexa had wanted to get a celebratory drink for a quick close to the case, but no one was in the mood, least of all Elliot.
He had also paid a visit to a local flower shop that night and bought Valentine’s Day flowers for his daughters and a single long-stemmed, peach-coloured rose for Kathy. She had simply stared at it awkwardly for a moment before accepting it and that was when Elliot headed toward to the nearest liquor store.
Elliot took another swig from the can when he heard a knock at his door. He crossed the living room to open it, and the door had just barely opened when Jonathan nonchalantly barged into the apartment.
“How the hell did you get in here?” Elliot asked.
“Daddy’s money,” Jonathan said. “Remember? Everything I do apparently has to have the hand of the Halloway forefathers for it to have any meaning. I mean, it’s not like I’ve spent my life doing what I could to make my own way in the city or anything.”
Jonathan swayed slightly as he stood and Elliot could smell the light scent of scotch coming from Jonathan as he paced across the living room.
“Took me some time though,” he continued. “If that’s any consolation. Had to tip a couple people here and there, but finally I found someone who knew someone who worked in my building and who just happened to live in yours. Isn’t this city great? It’s like some oblong cog and I’ve got all the grease.”
“Why are you here?” Elliot asked growing impatient, but his words were clearly missed as Jonathan had taken to turning in a circle as he gazed around Elliot’s apartment.
“Is this really where you live?” he said. “God, I’m feeling claustrophobic in here. I can’t even believe people live in places like this anymore.”
“You know,” Elliot said, “I’m humoring you right now because I know you’re having a real rough time with Liv being gone, but I think you need to leave.”
Jonathan laughed, flashing a perfect smile and stumbling slightly. “God, I hate you. I really do. I mean…all this time, I’ve tried to just be a good guy about it for Liv’s sake, but now that I look at you…I really, really hate you.”
“Likewise, now get out.”
Jonathan shook his head and waved his finger in front of him. “No, c’mon now buddy. Let’s talk for a second. See, Olivia’s not here right now, so there’s no reason for either one of us to even bother being cordial. ‘Kay? So, let’s just talk. You and me for a sec. We’ve started off good so far. I hate you and you hate me. This is good. Good! Ha-ha! It was good! And the evening and the morning were the fifteenth day and Jonathan saw that it was good.”
He doubled over at the waist into a fit of chuckles.
“Halloway,” Elliot said taking a step toward him. “Get the hell out.”
The smile faded from Jonathan’s face like it had been quickly wiped clear. He fished around in his inside coat pocket, pulled out a pair of long tickets and slammed them on Elliot’s coffee table.
“See those? Tickets to a show. For Valentine’s Day. Today! I bought those tickets the Tuesday before she threw me out…the first time. They were my back up plan seeing as how she had to cancel on me that Monday.”
Elliot swallowed as he stared at the tickets, but felt his face fall into a scowl. “You going anywhere with this little story?”
“I had it all planned out on Monday. Everything was so perfect it would’ve gone down as the greatest one in history. But then…I got the call and I had to go onto Plan B.” He stumbled further into the apartment and bumped into Elliot’s television nearly knocking it off the stand, but did not notice. “But, tonight though… Tonight, was going to be special. Not trite. Liv and I talked about me being a trite bastard before, so I wasn’t going to be trite. Tonight we were supposed to go to this show and then we would laugh at how good or bad it was. After that, we’d go back to her place and watch old movies just like we normally did. Like she always wanted to do. Then, I’d rub her feet until she fell asleep and after that I’d put her to bed and just be so…happy to just wake up next to her in the morning. That’s how it was supposed to go.”
“Halloway, you’ve got ten seconds to get the hell out of here before I throw you out.”
Jonathan reached into his left side pocket and pulled something small from it. “When she woke up…feeling good for once after a night of just being happy and comfortable, I was gonna be kneeling beside her with this ring. This perfect ring.”
He opened his hand to reveal a flash of diamond and continued. “Tomorrow was it. February Fifteenth was supposed to be the day, but you…you’ve screwed me over…again.”
“What the hell do you mean I did?”
“I wanted to do it weeks ago, but she had to work…with you. And, now here I am again. Wanting my Olivia and now because of you, she’s nowhere to be found!”
The sorrow in Jonathan’s voice pulled at every one of Elliot’s emotions, but instead of accepting sympathy for the man before him, he could only draw anger.
“I didn’t do anything to her. If anything, you’re the one who had her crying on the job.”
“You’re a goddamn liar! I treated her like a queen! The only time things ever got bad was when your name got brought up.”
“You told her she was incapable of allowing herself to be happy. You called her a whore! I don’t care how good you say things were. You don’t deserve her!”
Jonathan took a step forward. “I was angry, you bastard!”
“So is that what you say to a woman when you’re angry? How ‘bout after you put a ring on her finger? Were you gonna try to tear her down any time you got mad? Maybe try smacking her around if that didn’t work!”
“Fuck you!” Jonathan said as he faltered on his feet.
“You’re a goddamn bastard, you know that!”
“I don’t care. When this is all over, I can’t wait to tell Liv what an asshole you’ve been to every single person in her life. Maybe then she’d throw you out for good. She’s put up with your bullshit for far too long anyway!”
“After everything I had tried to do for her, she wouldn’t give me any room to make a mistake. One single goddamn mistake! But you…you could fuck up eight days a week and she’d still forgive you! You could scream at her, blame her for screw ups on the job, push her away when she tried to help you, but she always forgave you. I make one mistake and I’m out the door! You! I fucking hate you! I oughta shoot you where you stand!”
Jonathan pulled a gun from his inside pocket and Elliot stood tense. Tears were streaming down his face and the same intense rage Elliot had seen earlier had returned in full force.
The single light shining from his kitchen cascaded over the stainless steel slide of the Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol and Elliot felt his blood run cold at the weapon’s twinkle.
“Halloway,” he said. “You need to put down that gun.”
“I hate you…so much. You…you…You’re just this cop whose father was probably a cop and his father before him! You’re kid’s probably going to grow up and be one too. You’re just this…blue collar…nobody and she cares more about you than she does me.”
“Jonathan,” Elliot said, his eyes never leaving the gun trained at his chest. “That’s not true. She loves you. She told me herself. She said you were the one. Now, you have to put down the gun.”
“I hate you!” Jonathan said through his teeth. “She’s the only thing in this world that’s ever mattered to me and I can’t have her because you got to her first! Even when she’s found, it’ll be you that finds her. You’re gonna be the one she sees when she wakes up safe and sound. I know because you’re her goddamn case of emergency person!”
“It’s just ‘cause I’ve known her longer. Trust me. If you gave it a few more years, you’d be number one.”
Jonathan took a step forward and pulled the safety off the gun. Elliot’s heart froze as he wondered if he could get to his own gun before Jonathan could take a shot at him.
“Number one?” Jonathan said. “Don’t talk to me about number one. She’s all I ever I think about. From the first night I met her, I knew she was it. The search was over. She was everything I wanted in a woman. Honest…caring… Never mind all the other perks. She was just fun to be around and she didn’t want anything from me, but me. Wasn’t looking for a rich husband to take care of her. Wasn’t asking me to buy her shoes or jewelry or some other shit. Olivia just wanted me. Do you know how hard that is to find? Do you?”
Elliot shook his head. “It’s difficult.”
“You’re fucking right it’s difficult. On…on my eighteenth birthday, I got access to my trust and had more money guaranteed to me than most people see in a lifetime. Do you know what happens when people hear that? They change and you see them how they really are. The beautiful people start grabbing at anything they can and all of a sudden they’re…hideous. The people you call your friends turn around and sell you out as soon as they think they can get a piece of your pie or worse. They try to use you until you tell them no, and then they can’t stand the sight of you. Money fucks with people, Detective. I thought it fucked with everyone until I met Olivia. She liked me before I told her who I was related to and she said she was surprised when I told her. She said she thought all rich boys were arrogant and just looking for a good roll in the hay before marrying blonde money to pump out more rich boys. She…she said she was surprised someone like me would want her.”
“Who wouldn’t,” Elliot said his eyes fixed on Jonathan’s quavering gun.
“Right. That’s what I said. She found a man who admired her for what she did for a living and I found a woman that I could trust and love. And everything was perfect. Then...then, I met you and then I realized that I had to play catch up against some guy who for all intents purposes is really no different from me. Sure, you’re a little buffer, but I’ve got more hair. We both have blue eyes and we’re both have no problem doing everything it takes to get what we want. Almost to the point of insanity.”
The gun shook in Jonathan’s hand. “We the same. Practically the same. From where I stand, you take away money, and we’re the exact goddamn person and yet…I was always a step behind you.”
“Just put down the gun,” Elliot said. “We can talk all this over like men over some drinks, but you have to put down the gun.”
“Did something change that night, Detective? Did she say something to you that made you realize you might have to keep your hands off her? Is that why you snapped and killed her?”
“You know I didn’t kill her.”
“You said it yourself this morning. Olivia’s not dead.”
“How do you know that?” Jonathan said as a tear dropped from his eye. “Do you have her locked up somewhere? Is that how you know?”
Elliot took a step toward his gun that lay in a holster across the living room and spoke very slowly. “I know…In my heart, I know she’s not dead. You…care about Olivia too. Do you really think she is? How can you even imagine it?”
Jonathan’s hand shook harder as he stared at Elliot down the gun’s barrel. “If I could just see her…maybe then I’d be all right.”
“You and me both,” Elliot said. “I saw a woman the other day who I thought was her and I nearly lost it. I get it. Trust me, I get it. But…you need to put down that gun. Think about what would happen if you pulled that trigger. What would Liv do if she came back and you were in prison for life for shooting me?”
“She’d probably hate me,” Jonathan said his voice cracking. “And, spend the rest of her life crying over you.”
“No. She said you were the one, remember? So, you can’t do anything stupid while we’re still trying to find her.” He watched as Jonathan’s trigger finger twitched and he searched for a lie. “She told me herself the only reason she keeps me high on her phone or anywhere else is ‘cause I’m on the job with her. That’s it. That’s the only reason.”
“You’re a liar. You just said I didn’t deserve her and now you’re putting me on.”
“I swear on my life,” Elliot said, nearly pleading. “The night before she disappeared and you hadn’t called her… She sat right next to me, right next to me, and said, ‘He was the one, wasn’t he?’ When it comes to Olivia, you have absolutely nothing to worry about and, when we find her, she’ll tell you that.”
His words seemed to have the desired effect and Jonathan’s eyes fluttered. They stared at one another for a full minute before Jonathan pressed a button on the side of his gun and allowed the clip to fall to the floor as he shook his head.
“It’s not fair,” he said, tears steadily falling from his eyes. His hands quickly pulled at the pistol’s slide and a copper-coloured bullet landed on the floor in front of Elliot. “What makes you so fucking special?”
He turned and threw the solitaire engagement ring at Elliot and it skidded past him, across his coffee table leaving a long scratch as it came to a stop. Elliot did not move.
Jonathan turned and to leave the apartment. “Not fair at all…”
The shuddered in its frame as Jonathan slammed it shut and Elliot let out his breath, unaware that he had been holding it since Jonathan dropped the clip. He crossed the room to pick up the clip, set it on his coffee table and turned his attention to the ring as he sat on his sofa. From its weight and cut and from the little he knew about diamonds in general, he gathered it cost several months’ salary, but it was probably something Olivia would have cherished.
The round Brilliant cut diamond was easily two carats and was the most flawless stone he had ever seen. Though it was night and he had only his kitchen light several meters away, the diamond refracted the light into a dazzling array. He could not tell if the setting was white gold or platinum, though he was willing to bet, if Jonathan loved Olivia as much as he said he did, the ring would be platinum, wholly matching her personality.
He’s right, Elliot thought.
The ring alone would have made for a surprise engagement that could have gone down in history.
He lay back against the couch pillows, turning the ring over and over in his hand, his thoughts on Jonathan.
Every cop instinct he had told him that he should report Jonathan as soon as possible, but he knew he would not. Jonathan had stood before him, not the smug and pampered brat Elliot had always pictured in his mind, but as a man mourning for the only thing that had kept him stable. In his eyes had burned every intent of avenging Olivia and Elliot knew that if in that same position, he would have spat the same words as Jonathan had earlier that morning. His stomach burned at the idea.
We really are alike.
He slid a finger through the ring, momentarily bemused by the fact that it would not slide past the second joint on his index finger.
“Olivia, where are you?” he whispered.
The telephone on the end table next to him gave its shrill cry and he jumped at the sound.
“Stabler,” he said once he picked up the phone.
“Detective Stabler?” Evelyn Rivers breathed into the receiver. “I…it’s Evelyn. Evelyn Rivers.”
“I know,” Elliot said rubbing his forehead and subduing a sigh. “How are you feeling?”
“N-not good,” she said. Her voice sounded tearful once again. “There was a newspaper. One of the nurses brought one to me. I hadn’t read it days, but…You’re saying she’s dead?”
Elliot did not need to ask another question to know what Evelyn had meant. “That’s not what that article meant.”
“But it said her case was now a homicide. That means she must be dead.”
He sat silent not knowing what else could be said. Evelyn had called on almost all of the fifteen days Olivia had been gone and, each time she sounded progressively worse, yet Elliot had run out of encouraging words. At this point, there was simply nothing left to say.
“Micah did it,” Evelyn said.
“Evelyn, I’ve told you before. Micah was in jail before Olivia went missing.”
“You keep saying that, but the news said you never even talked to him. How could you know?”
“The news doesn’t always know everything that the police does. We know, Evelyn. We know where he was.”
She sobbed into the phone. “You don’t understand. Olivia…Olivia told me that he was going to jail and that he’d never bother me again, but then he was here the next day. I heard the orderlies talking about it. He was trying to get me…here.”
Elliot closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. “You only have a few more days there and-”
“And, then what? Olivia said she’d help me. She said she’d be here for me when I got set. When I got back on my feet.”
“And, she will be.”
“But you just said it…I’ve only got a few more days left. Is she just going to magically appear by Friday?”
“Evelyn, you can’t keep letting yourself get upset like this. Olivia is going to be found I promise you and, when we find her, she’ll be able to tell you Micah Diorel had nothing to do with all this.”
“He got out once and he’ll get out again.”
“He didn’t get out. He was just able to post bail and that got revoked when he came after you. He’s in jail now and he’s not going to get out.”
“Maybe not today, but what about in a few years? What about when I’ve started my life over and you and Olivia’ve forgotten all about me? What’s going to happen then?”
Elliot opened his mouth to speak, but could find no words of comfort. Evelyn sniffed in the phone.
“I just…I just don’t think I can go on living like this.”
“Evelyn,” he said. “I don’t want you to worry about Micah hurting you again. He’s not. When he gets out, we will know every single place he visits and everything he’s doing. Besides, you’ll be so happy with your life, you won’t even be thinking about him.”
“So…what you’re saying is, I’ll be well into living a new life…when he comes after me the last time and finally kills me.”
“No. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I just-”
“You know what I wish?” she interrupted. “I just wish Olivia was here. If she would’ve told me life was going to be like this, I would’ve just stayed in that apartment and let him kill me in the comfort of my own home…”
Elliot heard the telephone fall to the ground on the other end. Evelyn’s cries sounded far from the phone, but they echoed in his mind nonetheless.
Unknown Time and Place
Olivia slapped her hands against the cold floor as the armoire’s first drawer slid out of place, once more abating all her actions of the past four hours and rolling a set of terrycloth towels out from its hiding place. Her breath caught at the sudden pain and she drew in another gulp of the rancid air causing tears to form in her eyes. Across the room, the faces of the dead seemed to be laughing at her.
I won’t die like this.
She had been contemplating her trapped left leg for the past day that she had counted out once she had resolved to stop screaming for help that would never come. He had not returned and though she could not hear him stomping about the corridor, she was certain he lingered. The issue of her leg, however, remained the problem at hand.
The whole of her body had, at one point, been squeezed beneath the wardrobe’s mass, yet everything except her left leg was pressed against the piece’s flat front doors. It took the better part of six hours to slowly shimmy her shoulders, hips and eventually her right leg out from under the weight, but her frustrations rested on her caught leg. He would return eventually and seeing her half-escaped would most likely elicit a grosser response than seeing her where he had originally left her.
Olivia swatted at a gnat that landed on her arm and lied on her back staring at the decaying ceiling. At first she had intended to simply lie under the armoire and let him put her out of her misery by killing her, but when the gnats began to descend upon her, she knew she lacked the resolve to even wait silently for death.
Sunlight had just appeared from the side of the room when she began her trek from beneath the piece. The sun’s weak rays had protruded through a window that had not been boarded properly like the one she had found in the other room and, in the grey light it cast, she caught her first true glimpse of the room. The bodies, regardless of decay, were each mutilated though she had a difficult time discerning whether it was something he had done to them or if it was from the hundreds of fly larvae that squirmed in and out of their dead tissue. The sight only hastened her resolve to flee.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and pushed herself onto her elbows. Her leg was trapped at odd angle between the first and second drawers and she knew that if she could bend just so, she would have a chance to pull out her appendage. But the human body allowed for no such bends just below the kneecap and Olivia coughed as the air she gasped threatened to pull her remaining stomach contents from her gut. Only one option remained.
With a shaking hand, she grabbed one of the dirty hand towels that had jumped from the first drawer and drew it toward her mouth. She had only heard of this feat being performed once successfully and, without something on which to bite down, she knew failure was imminent.
She shifted her entire body to where she could nearly squat and her right leg was almost completely beneath her. Exerting pressure into her right, she pressed the left leg upward against the armoire drawer and bit down hard into the towel as pain shot through both legs. Ignoring the pain, she pushed against the armoire harder and harder as her right leg attempted to straighten.
The wooden frame of the armoire broke into the flesh of her skin and, as she attempted a last exertion, the first drawer slid again, shifting her balance and she and armoire fell against the floor together with a loud smack.
Her leg throbbed with each heartbeat and a wail echoed from her throat as her body could no longer hold the pain. It echoed through the corridor and in her head and she let herself fall flat as her voice still hung in the air above her.
There was nothing that could be done; no amount of effort could save her. Too tired, too hungry, too much pain.
An unknown amount of time passed before she could feel the light tickle of a fly landing on her skin, but as she felt her mind drifting into a sea of unconsciousness, the oddest song began to play in her head.
It started mournful and soft, yet gradually grew louder as she forced her eyes to open.
We fall down, but we get up. We fall down, but we get up. For a saint is just a sinner who fell down…and got up.
She tried to shake the song out of her head, the words sounding trite and pedestrian as the scratching fur of a black rat brushed past her shoulder, but the words echoed and resounded until they melted into Pachebel. His “Canon” turned into her favorite cello suite from Bach and she could swear she felt Elliot next to her.
Her eyes lids began to fall shut again and she knew Elliot was there, warm and inviting, pulling her next to him…
The cold returned in that very instant and the music stopped.
“No,” she said aloud. “I won’t die like this.”
She pounded a fist on the cold cement and took a deep breath as she rolled toward one side to attempt her exploit once more.
Again and again she attempted the trick, pushing her leg harder against the armoire as tears formed once more. With a final upward shift of her weight against the pain and the heavy furniture, her right leg straightened and, the bone that resided in the left, snapped.
A blinding white light penetrated her eyes as her body lapsed into a paroxysm of agony. The umbrageous flesh that rested around the limb screamed with her as her own voice pierced the silence in violent echoes. Pain surged through her body like blood in her veins, touching the most distant recesses of nerves.
Ultimate malaise. Paramount anguish. Nothing surmounted the pain pounding in her soul.
Her body convulsed as she fell to the floor, towel from her mouth wet and bloody, shaking the appendage that was now only attached by skin, splintered bone and tearing muscle mass and erupting a new torrent of misery. Every heartbeat extorted further suffering and Olivia screamed as capillaries in her face broke from distress.
Her skin was hot against the cold floor and tears came from her eyes like rivers for an infinite amount of time. There was no time, only pain.
Waves of absolute suffering began to wash over her as her cries continued, yet with each swallow of fetid air, the shock of pain lessened in cycles. Subsiding like a slowly setting sun, the hurt rocked her body with less brilliance to the point that she could rest her quivering body onto her elbows once more.
Slowly, Olivia pulled her body from beneath the armoire, tugging at her leg with an ardent jerk and allowing the piece to fall on the floor with a wooden plop as she fell onto her back, squeezing her eyes shut from the ripping pain.
Her head swam from the tortuous exercise and, as she waited for the strength to move, she willed her mind to focus on something to stave off the throb in her leg.
...G...D...high B...high A...high B, low B, high B, low B...
The fingers on both weak hands moved in time with Bach's first cello suite as she played the invisible instrument in her head and by the time she reached the final B, she was able to shift her body upright.
A slow process began as she pushed herself across the cement toward the shards of the door through which he had broken, Johann's two and half centuries old tune still floating in her head intermittently interjected by song for which she only knew the first line.
Olivia pulled at the doorframe as she reached it and managed to draw herself into a standing position on her bruised and wobbling right leg. Panting, she willed the nerves that still connected her broken leg to the rest of her body to push the limb toward the floor.
Fire and ice splintered up her body and she clenched her teeth to keep another convulsion at bay.
Taking a deep breath, she allowed the agony to well in her stomach as she pressed weight on the broken extremity and through a cycle of pulling at the walls, half-crawling along the floor and crying, she dragged herself down the dark grey corridor.
After the equivalent of three normal steps, she sank to the floor and stared at her progress. She rested her head against the wall and found a pole, similar to the one to which she had clung for life, attached to the floor and ceiling. Shaking her head at the sight of it, her eyes searched out further into the dark.
A square outline of light stretched out toward her as she sat in the darkness and she narrowed her eyes to make sense of the odd ring. The longer she sat, the more the grey dissipated and Olivia could see that the ring of light surrounded a large wooden board, not unlike those she had seen in the rooms.
Having heard nothing but the sounds of her own breathing and cries in hours, her ears piqued at the sounds of the city that brewed just beyond the board. Engines roared, horns honked and voices yelled on the other side of the wood.
I’m getting out of here.
Struggling to her feet once more by way of the pole, she wormed her way further down the hall until she saw a set of three locks protruding from a door. Keys stuck out in odd angles from each of the locks and she was certain of what lay behind the door.
She grabbed hold of its handle, turned the three keys and retched open the door. The sound of scurrying feet caused her to cry out as she had tried to take an alarmed step backward and rested on her leg.
“Hello?” she whispered into the dark.
“H-hello?” a voice answered. “You’re…not dead?”
Tears streamed from her eyes and her lips pulled into the first smile she had made in what felt like years at the sound of Amy’s quavering voice.
“No,” Olivia said, allowing herself to slide down a wall next to the door and fall towards the ground.
Amy’s gaunt figure appeared before her eyes. “We heard you…I thought you were dead.”
Olivia shook her head slightly.
“I used your thing,” Amy said. There was an excitement to her voice like a young girl stretching her limits for the first time. “The chains are off. Off them too.”
“Help me up,” Olivia said reaching for her.
Once she had balanced on her working leg, Olivia leaned against the wall and peered into the grey to see the others still huddled against the far wall only chainless. She opened her mouth to tell Amy that they could get out if they went at him at the same time, but the sound of feet shuffling in the corridor silenced her.
Amy dragged her to the corner with the others and her body shook as his cold eyes found her quickly in the room.
He took a step toward them, but as all five shriveled together as one, he paused, repulsed by the sight.
“That’s enough,” he whispered. “I’ve had enough of this and I’m tired of you.”
He lurched forward evincing a scream from the lot and grabbed Olivia solely by the hair as he pulled her away from the tangled arms of the others.
Amy jumped to her feet and slapped at him with the chain in her hand, but his brawny arm swiped at her small body and threw her against the far wall, knocking her out at once.
He took hold of Olivia’s arm and dragged her screaming into the corridor, throwing her in a painful heap on the floor towards the room where his past victims lay.
She rolled for a full second hitting her head against the pole, but grabbing onto it instantly. He simply stood before her staring through narrowed eyes as she pulled herself upright on the pole she had passed minutes earlier.
“I’ve had enough,” he repeated as she grasped the pole with her arms.
The familiar click of a handgun’s slide moving into place echoed through the air and Olivia swallowed stale breath when her eyes discerned the object in his hand.
The Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol glimmered in the grey light as he raised it toward her. The weapon she had pulled apart not two days ago looked like a toy model in comparison to the machine that could rip holes with its bullets.
His eyebrows furrowed as a finger, snow white against the silver gun, pulled the trigger that was encircled by a stainless steel loop.
Pain seared through both legs as she tried to bolt back to the room where death lay in wait. She stretched forth one leg in front of the other as the gun cracked behind her.
The first shot rushed passed her with a blur of heat, yet the second cracked just as soon as the first had hit the boards in front of her. Doubled agony tore through her side as she hurtled herself forward.
She hit the boards at the precise second a third bullet crashed into it and Olivia fell into a spray of glass and white light.
Nicks of wood and glass tore at her face and the sudden blear before her eyes shrouded her body in a sea of cold.
A swirl of colour rushed toward her face and, as her body succumbed to gravity’s pull, black letters from afar registered on her retinas drawing a familiar image lost too soon.
Bulk that was both hard and soft seemed to rush from under her and squelched the rivers of air passing by her body.
Cold, far deeper than that of any of the rooms, descended upon her flesh, yet something warm and wet dripped onto her fingers as she lay upon the massive bulk.
The light before her eyes grew dim though the cold did not. With all other senses ceasing to function properly, Olivia drew air into her lungs, pressed the same air out and, praying to a God on whom she had not called since childhood, tried to call out for help.
The call had not ripped him from sleep like Elliot had supposed it would. He had actually been lying awake in his bed, wishing for sleep, but knowing, after the encounter he had had with Jonathan, that it would never come. He had, however, expected the call to wake him from some dream or nightmare about her.
The bars and clubs of the Meat-Packing District that beat their harried music into the night each day of the week had already closed to make way for impending daylight and Elliot sifted through the street that should have been dark, but was illuminated in a familiar flashing purple light.
“A body’s been found,” Cragen had said when Elliot answered his telephone thirty minutes earlier.
“Oh…” he had said not quite knowing what answer was expected of him until Cragen continued.
“It’s a white female with…shoulder-length brown hair and dark brown eyes.”
Elliot’s heart had frozen for a moment before he relaxed again in the bed, denial allowing his muscles to rest. “Who else am I working with on this one? Brown?”
Elliot saw that the mass of police squad cars created a semi circle around an alley that was roped off by a series of yellow police tape and blue and white crowd-control barricades, and a gathering of officers mulled around the area, speaking in low voices and creating a murmur that echoed over the streets.
Cragen had sighed into the phone. “They need…Elliot, they need an identification.”
“Why do you need one from me?” Elliot had asked knowing the answer.
“I think you already know why…She’s been beat up pretty bad. It’s too hard to for them to make a positive ID and Maya Shah isn’t answering her telephone.”
Elliot’s breath caught as the tear that had formed upon hearing the words “beat up” fell over the brim of his eye and rolled down his face. “I’ll be there in thirty.”
His footsteps slowed as he approached the barrier. The uniform-clad officers at the scene seemed to part a path for him as he drew nearer, each staring him with mixed expressions of sympathy and grief. He passed through the officers to find Fin standing in the alley next to a long figure beneath a white sheet. Pale feet stuck out from under it and Fin glanced up when he saw Elliot coming towards him.
“Elliot…” he said stepping directly in front of him. “Maybe…you should take a second.”
Elliot stared at him with eyes that were dry, but had turned red in a matter of minutes.
“How bad is she?”
Fin was silent for a moment. “Bad. Her face…we can’t tell, but she’s about Liv’s height and weight. She’s got a tattoo on her side.”
Elliot took a step forward, but Fin took a step with him.
“Maybe you should take a minute before you look.”
Elliot glared at Fin and brushed by him toward the body, an intense burn radiating from his stomach suddenly feeling like his insides had caught fire. Spencer stood next to the covered body and took a step away as Elliot approached. Up close Elliot could see locks of brown hair with vague highlights poking out from under the sheet and he forced his feet to move forward so that he could squat next to the body.
He looked back at Fin to see him standing, arms crossed and looking pale. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Elliot took hold of the sheet and pulled it toward him.
Dozens of lacerations marred a face so full of bumps and bruises that Elliot had to bite his lip to keep back the tears. The woman’s face was so mutilated there was only one way to know that minute if it was Olivia.
He pulled back the sheet further and revealed a t-shirt and pajama bottoms. As he pulled the pajamas away from her skin, he closed his eyes to create a clear picture of the image he expected to see.
“Did this one hurt?” Olivia had asked as her finger traced a line on his shoulder.
They had been alone in the crib and had just awakened from quick naps while waiting for test results on the case. He had decided to change his shirt while she was still asleep, but woke her in the process and she immediately inquired about the several tattoos that covered part of his chest and arms. Her eyes were taking in every part of his bare chest and he was more than happy to let her.
“Not as much as some…other ones.”
“Other ones?” she asked with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “You’ve got ‘Welcome Aboard’ tattooed on your dick, don’t you?”
He laughed. “Not there, but I had something nice done on the back, if you get my drift.”
“The back, eh?”
“Yeah, why you want to see?”
“Heck yeah, I wanna see. I want to see this tattoo that only Kathy and your doctor have seen.”
“There’s a reason only Kathy and my doctor have seen it,” he said still smiling. “As it is very much on my ass.”
“Well, there’s no point in being shy, Elliot. I should know this stuff. What if you’re in some horrible accident and I have to ID you? Wouldn’t you want to give me the piece of mind of knowing that you’re the one with tattoo of whatever on his ass?”
Elliot rolled his eyes and checked outside the door of the crib to make sure they were alone.
“All right,” he said undoing his zipper.
Olivia laughed and started singing and clapping her hands.
“Bow-chicka-bow-bow. Bow-chicka-bow-wow! Gimme a little shake and I’ll give ya dollah!”
He laughed again as he lowered his pants slightly to reveal a tattoo of a heart with blue lettering that read “Katherine.”
“Aw…” Olivia said smiling, but immediately subdued.
“Yeah,” he said fastening his zipper. “So, what do you have?”
She only raised her eyebrows and shrugged silently.
“C’mon now, Liv,” Elliot said. “You can’t just leave me like that. I showed you, now I want to see what you’ve got. The same thing could happen with the terrible accident or whatever. Show me, ‘cause I know you’ve got at least one somewhere.”
“Okay,” she said slyly and began to pull at her shirt.
“Oh wait, hang on a sec,” he said sitting on the bunk in front of her. “I think I might want to be seated for this.”
She gave him a playful slap across the chest, unclasped her belt and unzipped her pants to reveal pink underwear.
“Ooh! Hot pink!” he said laughing. “Who are those for?”
“Oh, shut up,” she said, but bit her lip and blushed slightly as she slowly began to pull down one side of her panties.
“Whoa! What kind of tattoo is this? Where did you get the idea for that ‘Welcome Aboard?’”
She flashed him a wide smile and revealed a very small pink heart appearing beside the curve of her pelvic bone. Elliot put his hands on her hips and pulled her close as he squinted at it.
“That’s it? Liv, I’m disappointed.”
She rapped him on the arm as she pulled her underwear back in place. “Disappointed? It’s a tattoo, isn’t it?”
“With all that build up, I was expecting a skull and crossbones or something. At the very least that ‘Welcome Aboard’ you mentioned.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “It hurt like hell and I only did it because everyone else was getting them too.”
“Oh, there’s a good reason.”
“You’re one to talk. Tell me, did you get those ones from the Marines all by yourself? Besides, it was a drunken night when we were eighteen and free to do whatever we wanted. It was me, Maya, our friend Jill, and three other girls we all swore we’d be friends forever with, but now I can’t even remember their names.” She laughed. “And that was the reason too. The heart was supposed to say ‘Friends Forever’ across it, but I couldn’t handle the letters too.”
“So, Maya’s got one to match?”
“Yep, and she even kept off the letters so I wouldn’t feel bad.”
Elliot simply shook his head and smiled at her.
The pink outline that appeared on tanned skin elicited a gasp from Elliot, yet on a second look he realized that it curved again in the form of a butterfly, not a heart.
He coughed several times as air was simultaneously swept in and out of his lungs and a single tear escaped his eye.
“It’s not her,” he said in a breathless gasp.
He stood quickly and made it out of the alley just in time to vomit into a gutter a ways away from the other officers.
I should’ve known it, he thought. She had on that camisole. The purple one.
But, his heart still beat so wildly he was certain he was going into arrest as his hands shook and pains shot up both arms and throughout his chest.
Elliot eased himself onto the curb and covered his face with his hands. Fin stepped toward him cautiously, his own heart beating furiously.
“Homicide will be here in a little,” he said not knowing what else to say. “I can stay…let ‘em know what we found out so far.”
Elliot removed his hands as he stood. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’ve, um…I’ve got to check in on the Calbrach boy again. We…we need to see if he’s feeling up to another go with the sketch artist.”
“Maybe you should think about taking some time,” Fin said shaking his head.
“No, I’ve got it,” Elliot said quickly. “I’ll let you and Munch know what I find with the boy.”
He started to walk back to his car and saw another parking beside his. By the time he reached the vehicles, Melinda had stepped out of her car and was staring at him with wide eyes searching for answers.
“I’m surprised you got called out over here,” he said.
“I’m on call…again,” she said so soft it was nearly a whisper.
They stared at one another for a moment before Elliot gave a slight shake of his head, causing Melinda to erupt into a series of gasps and sighs as she wiped at her eyes. She reached up and gave him a light hug before grabbing her things out of the trunk of her car.
Elliot sat staring at his steering wheel after she left, an array of emotions overwhelming him. Shame, relief, loss, grief. They ate at him as the unknown woman’s battered face reappeared in front of his eyes continually forming into Olivia’s and dissolving just as quick.
Shaking his head, he turned the key in the ignition and headed for the precinct.
SVU Squad Room
Maya was running by the time she made it into the precinct. She had been to the 1-6 enough times for the officers at the front to simply wave her on by, though they only saw a flash of brown and black as she passed. Once inside an elevator, she hit the button for SVU six times in a single second and danced on her toes as she waited for the doors to open again. The detectives in the elevator with her eyed her suspiciously, but said nothing.
Her tear-stricken form leapt out of the elevator doors as soon as they had opened wide enough for her to step on the floor.
“Elliot!” she shouted half-spring to his desk. “Oh my God. My phone! I was at the law library because I figured the best thing to do was to bury myself in work and I’d had it just on silent and-and-and then I looked and I saw all these messages, but I thought at first it was just my mother calling or it was somebody from a newspaper or Jill because she’s been calling all the goddamn time just to make sure I’m doing all right, but I’m fine, I’m fine, but I just saw a call and I didn’t recognize it and then I realized that I didn’t recognize it I knew it had to be the police and if the police were calling me it could only mean one thing, but please. Please no! I mean, I-I-I don’t know why’d someone would call me that early in the morning unless you found her, did you? Did you find her because Elliot, I need to know. I need to know and I…and I…”
Maya gasped and Elliot took her by the elbow and lowered her into his chair. She had spoken in a constant stream very fast and without taking more than a few gasps for air. Her sand-coloured face had become pale and slightly pink under the strain.
“Maya,” he said. “I got the call this morning too. It wasn’t her.”
“Oh God,” Maya whispered before dissolving into a fit of tears. “That’s good, right?”
“I mean as good as it can get, I guess…I mean…” She went silent for a moment. “You’re never going to find her are you?”
“We’ll find her.”
“When? It’s been two weeks and she’s just gone and no one has any idea what happened to her.”
Elliot, having no response, just let his eyes fall to the floor. An hour later, not knowing what else to do to calm her, Elliot sat in his booth at Debb’s bar across from Maya, whom he had bought a drink, but she only stirred it.
“What was it like?” she asked him after not saying a word in minutes. “Having to view the…body?”
“Well, you wouldn’t’ve had to do it like I did…”
“But still. I mean, you went there not knowing. What was it like right before you knew for certain it wasn’t her?”
He searched for the most accurate word he could muster. “Painful.”
“Painful,” she repeated. “Yes…I suppose I could see that.”
She stirred her drink with her straw for another minute before speaking again.
“Do you know how I met her? I don’t suppose she ever told you.” She waited for Elliot to shake his head and continued. “Kindergarten. That’s how far back we go. It was the very first day of school and our teacher had us make this stupid paper nameplate thing. We were supposed to trace all the letters of our name and then draw something fun on the nametag, but I couldn’t spell out my entire name. Mayanjula. It was the “N” that I couldn’t get and I just kept messing it up. On the fourth or fifth time I had to start over, I started crying and this little girl next to me very calmly and coolly suggests that I just take off the last few letters. She was like ‘Cause Maya’s a name too.’ That’s how I got my nickname and Livia’s been bailing me out of my own trouble ever since.”
She took a long drink and brushed away a tear.
“Maya,” Elliot said staring at her intently. “We are going to find her. I promise you.”
She nodded. “But, I guess you can’t promise me that when you find her she’ll be alive, right?”
Elliot said nothing, but felt the familiar burn in his stomach flare once again at the idea.
“I didn’t think so… Thanks for the drink.”
She stood and slowly left the bar, leaving Elliot alone with his thoughts.
SVU Squad Room
Elliot sat at his darkened desk, staring at the empty space across from him. He had finished the report on his most recent case with Alexa and, though it was late, he had not moved in twenty minutes.
He had spent a good part of the day with Spencer, giving him every single detail they had collected in regards to Olivia’s case, but when gathered all together, he saw that they had surprisingly little. Outside of notes from Morse’s videos, both edited and unedited, and specifics about possible suspects, there was nothing tangible to give Spencer and Elliot felt a sense of hopelessness overwhelm him as Spencer walked away with the details of Olivia’s case.
Lizzie had called him some time in the afternoon to inform him that she had too much homework for her to go see Sleeping Beauty that night. He had wanted to protest, but somehow, telling his daughter to shirk schoolwork, even though he was certain she was embellishing its necessity, appeared to be the worst kind of parenting conceivable. When Lizzie had sensed that he knew she was not being entirely truthful, she apologized for canceling on him, but added that she knew how busy he was and they planned another event together.
He glanced to his right to see some of Alexa’s files left on his desk. She had been using the side of his desk occasionally for some of her things just to avoid touching Olivia’s and he was glad that she understood his earlier message.
A light layer of fine white dust had settled over Olivia’s desk, covering her coffee cup, her keyboard, mouse and monitor. The picture of Jordan and Jeremy Harfort that he had knocked over weeks earlier, still lay on its back, it too now covered with the white dust. The image of her empty chair was what shook him most. Instead of her sitting across from him asking for him to sign some paperwork, telling him to hand her one of the two sandwiches he had bought for them on another late night or even yelling at him over one case or another, there was nothing.
“Go home, Elliot,” Cragen said.
Elliot slowly turned his head toward Cragen, who he had not realized had even stepped up to the desk pair, but turned right back to her desk before he spoke.
“It’s been seventeen days, Cap. Seventeen days, since anyone has seen or heard from her.”
“You’ve done enough for today. Go home and try to get some sleep.”
Elliot stood from his desk. “Seventeen days…you know how many rapists and child molesters we could’ve tracked down together in seventeen days?”
“Seventeen days…even if she was just stuck somewhere and needed help, seventeen days later, there’s no chance she’s still alive. Right now…right now I wish she was dead.”
“You don’t mean that.”
He shrugged. “That way, at least I could have some closure. At least I could just move onto the next stage. Isn’t that the next part of grief? Acceptance? I mean I’ve denied the fact that anything could’ve happened for days, then I was just angry with myself for not doing more…I might’ve missed the bargaining stage, but there’s always time for that. I’m well into depression, so the next stage has got to be acceptance.”
“You can’t give up hope that we’re going to find her.”
“We tell parents all the time that it might be time to move on. That they may never see their children again, and yet…when it hits home, nobody wants to think about the possibility that she’s never walking through those doors again.”
“Elliot, no one just disappears in the middle of the night.”
“You’re right. They don’t. But, she did. There’s no note, no ransom, no leads, nothing. We’ve got nothing to go on and she’s still gone. If she weren’t a cop, this would’ve been at the bottom of the pile a week ago.”
“But she is a cop and that’s why no one wants to give up hope.”
Elliot shook his head. “Hope…I’m beginning to think that hope is just a metaphor for bullshit. It’s the bullshit we feed ourselves to make us get up in the morning and think that today is somehow going to be better than yesterday.”
“You need to get some sleep.”
“Yeah, sleep…Sleep. You know I can actually remember the last time I slept well. It was eighteen days ago, right before Tyler MacFarland was found. She was upset because Halloway had said something completely uncalled for to her and we both went back to her place to watch old movies. Eating something sweet while watching movies from the fifties and, to tell you the truth…it was bliss. I felt better than I had in a long time and, that night, she fell asleep on her couch right next to me. I thought about leaving, but I didn’t. I just pulled a blanket around the two of us and slept right there beside her. And that was it. I haven’t slept well since and I probably won’t ever again.”
Cragen sighed. “Elliot…”
“No, I got it, Cap. Sleep. I need to get some, so I’m out. I’m gonna drive home and lie in the bed and stare at the ceiling for about six hours and then get up in the morning and start the day. And, eventually I’ll just learn to adjust to that being my own brand of sleep.”
“You can’t let this get you. We’re going to find her.”
“Yeah… So, I guess it’s just a matter of when, eh? A month from now? A year from now? And also where. In which river? In the trunk of whose car?”
Cragen began to reply, but Elliot had started to walk away and was in no mood to hear someone else tell him he needed to keep the faith that Olivia was still alive.
He hit the chilly February air and immediately remembered what it was like standing next to Olivia near her building with the snow just beginning to fall and the cold making her face slightly pink.
He began to drive home, but instead of taking the normal route, he drove north as his car happened to be facing that way.
Maybe I’ll just keep driving, he
thought, and leave
He came to a light at East 90th and saw a black man and a little boy pawing through a dumpster not too far from the street. He wondered what their lives were like and thought that even though they were the ones going through garbage on a Friday night, their lives were probably much better off than his.
The light turned green and Elliot’s tires squealed for a moment as he decided to head home for his nightly stare at the ceiling and the man outside jumped at the sound of the tires against the pavement.
“Uncle, what’s wrong?” the little boy asked.
The man shook his head. “Just people. Anyway, you gotta dig deep in here. I was tellin’ your mother people throw away all kinds of stuff. You just need to dig for it.”
“Can we go home now?” the little boy said. “It’s cold and I don’t think we can use any of this crap anyway.” He motioned to the pile of assorted broken electronics sitting in a rusty red wagon.
“Naw, boy. Let’s just do one more. C’mon, we gonna do that dumpster over there.”
The little boy pulled at the wagon and hurried to keep up with his uncle in the dark alley. He refused to voice it, but in truth, he was more terrified than he was cold. The alley ran between a series of abandoned buildings and the homeless that lay around the perimeter looked angrier and surlier than any of the others he had seen in the city. Above him, the windows of the building on his left were all blackened save for one sole window that was boarded up, but looked like it had been recently shattered.
He wondered if someone might have thrown a rock at it, as his older brothers were prone to do, but his keen young mind gathered that even if someone could throw a rock four stories in the air, there was no way, they could make that big a hole in a window that large.
“Okay,” his uncle said approaching a new dumpster. He opened the top and the foul stench of garbage emitted out of it. “This is a deep one, so you should get in and dig from the bottom up.”
The boy peeked into it, but quickly shook his head. “Uh-uh! I ain’t getting in there.”
“C’mon boy. Let’s go. The sooner you’re in, the sooner you’re out and then we can go home.”
The boy sighed and allowed his uncle to hoist him into the dumpster.
“There’s nothing in this one,” he protested immediately.
“You ain’t even looked yet. I told you. You gotta dig.”
As he sifted through the trash in his meagerly gloved hands, he wished he was anywhere else in the world and vowed as he opened a bag filled with diapers, that he would not spend his life dumpster diving.
He had excellent grades in his typically under-privileged school, but did not have a lot of friends because he did not like sports and preferred to read than play video games. His favorite place in the city was the library and his uncle had taken him for the afternoon promising that they were going to the library, but instead took him trash hunting because his eight-year-old frame fit into the dumpster easier than an adult’s.
“C’mon boy,” his uncle called. “Just toss me whatever you can find.”
“Uncle Ray, I’da told you already. There’s nothing in here.”
“Don’t get smart with me, boy. Just find something. It’s a big dumpster. There’s gotta be something worth something to somebody in there. Look!”
The boy rolled his eyes and shifted several more trash bags and saw something white nearing the bottom layer of the dumpster. Hoping it was an old iPod that would appease his uncle for the night, he reached for it, but it would not budge.
He moved more of the bags and saw that the object was far too long to be an iPod. Heaving another bag out of the way, the boy froze in place as he blinked what looked like painted toes belonging to a bare foot. He swallowed, his hand beginning to shake as he moved another bag and found black pants surrounding the foot.
“Uncle!” he yelled. “There’s something in here!”
“Well, throw it out here so we can go home.”
The boy shook his head, though he knew his uncle could not see him. “I…I can’t.”
“Why the hell not!”
“I-I think it’s a… Uncle, I think there’s a person in here.”