The orange glare of the sunset
glided across the windshield of the sedan as Elliot drove on the brown
cobblestones of the
There was, of course, Olivia, as there nearly always seemed to be one issue or another going on with her. She had cancelled on yet another date and those many cancellations bothered him like few things did. Each cancelled date meant another night she spent all alone and, even though they had rarely discussed the state of Olivia’s social life outside of terse and cold moments scattered sporadically throughout their partnership, his heart still hurt from the loneliness he knew she felt. Then, there was the constant glow of melancholy that emanated from her each time her saw her.
She had been despondent lately and, while he could not remember forwardly saying or doing anything that might have caused the new distance between them, he was certain that something was wrong. Apart from the circles under her eyes and the second, and sometimes third, cup of coffee she drank before each morning, Olivia was completely distracted and he often wondered if she was even listening when he spoke to her.
The horn of an impatient black Jaguar behind him blared and Elliot braked, prepared to stop and unleash some of his anger on the driver, but then thought better of it.
No sense abusing my power twice in one night, he thought as he turned down Spring Street.
He ran his tongue across his top teeth and squinted in the bright light as he simultaneously tried to find the building number again and push the image of Gwen Sibert’s dawning realization out of mind.
The thought of a rapist even coming in contact with his victims after the fact was nauseating on its own; a rapist marrying one of his victims defied all logic in a way that Elliot had never witnessed and he could think of nothing else that sickened him as much.
No, there’s something sicker than that even, he thought.
The idea that his daughter was running around with some boy who was coercing her into getting tattoos and doing God only knew what else when she should have been studying was enough to get his blood boiling on face value. The fact that she got “his and hers” tattoos with said boy was simply the proverbial icing on the cake.
Elliot passed Broadway shaking his head again as he realized he could have shaved minutes off the drive if he had taken Broadway from the start, but the anger and confusion that ran through his veins had also clouded his judgment.
Describing Kathleen as out of control was akin to describing the ocean as blue puddle. He had thought that being carted away handcuffed and in the back of police cruiser a year earlier would have humbled her a bit, but her attitude in the squad room said she had not learned anything from the experience and was still heading down a dangerous road.
“…and you better make it right.”
She had said it with such impertinence that he wanted to simply reach out and shake her right there in the corridor. In the end, it was the sheer arrogance in her eyes that forced him to make the drive Downtown. There was no sense that she even recognized the chaos she caused in his life and her response was that he, Elliot, had better resolve everything to her satisfaction, as if his responsibility was first to fulfilling her every wish, was infuriating on its own merits.
He let out a breath in a long, harsh huff as his fingers squeezed into the Pleather of the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles cracked. Within minutes of crossing Broadway he had double-parked, taken the steps into the building two at a time and had begun banging on the door of Kathleen’s loft.
The heavy door slid open and one of Kathleen’s three roommates gawked at him from the door.
“Jodie,” Elliot said, red-faced and angrier than when he was climbing the stairs. “Where’s Kathleen?”
“Oh…um….” The tall twenty-year-old’s cat-like brown eyes looked toward the ceiling for a moment before she turned and called out into the loft. “Kat! Your dad’s here.”
A full minute passed without the slightest sound and Elliot stormed into the apartment, heading straight for Kathleen’s bedroom.
He had hoped to find her with the alleged boyfriend “Tony” so he could scold her and throttle him at the same time, but instead found her sprawled across her bed reading Things Fall Apart with her iPod earbuds firmly in place.
Elliot snatched the book from her and glared at her as she jumped from the bed.
“Hey! I was reading that!”
“Is this one of the damn books you bought for school?”
“No, it’s a book Tony lent to me. He said it’s a classic.”
“No, what’s classic is dealing with the same bullshit drama with you over and over again.”
“Dad! What is your problem?”
“What’s my problem? You stole my credit card and maxed it out!”
“I told you, we were buying books.”
“And that’s not all you bought, is it?”
“Dad, we were just doing a little culture shopping and the tattoo is so not a big deal. No one would know unless I showed them.”
“That’s not the point, Kathleen! You should’ve told me you were taking my credit card. And even if you did tell me, what the hell makes you think you can go culture shopping for whatever the hell you want? Like money grows on trees. Now, I gotta spend another day on the phone with the credit card company trying to sort out what you did. “
She crossed her arms in front of her. “Look…I’m sorry, okay? But, seriously, in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that big a deal.”
“To who!” Elliot took a step backward to pace in the small room and his eyes fell upon a large, wooden mask on the wall. He pointed to it and glared at Kathleen. “You bought that thing on my time and my money?”
“Tony said it would look nice in my
room. It’s from the
“You’ve never cared about art before.”
“Things change, Dad. Tony’s taught me a lot about art.”
“All of this…all the crap you bought is going back. All of it!”
“What d’you mean going back?”
“Back! Back to the store, back to wherever the hell you bought all of it.”
“I can’t just take it back. What am I supposed to do? Go up to Tony and take away all the stuff we just bought?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.”
“Not all the stuff we got is returnable…if you know what I mean.”
Elliot felt his eye twitch as he stared at her. “Fine. I want you to start looking for a job because you’re paying me back for every dime…before the end of the semester.”
“What!” Kathleen said, eyes wide. “How am I supposed to do that and be in school at the same time?”
“If I could do it trying to take care of your mother and Maureen at the same time, you sure as hell can manage. And, I don’t want to see your grades slipping because of the job…or this Tony, either.”
“Dad, Tony is a Comparative Lit major. He’s bringing my grades up, not down, so I’d appreciate if you stopped disparaging him like he’s not good enough for me. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“The tattoo you’re gonna have removed says different.”
“That was just on a whim, Dad. It’s really not that big a deal.”
Elliot shook his head. “Where is this Tony now?”
“On his way back to his apartment.”
“So, he’s already out? I didn’t say anything to…make it right.”
“His dad plays golf with the police commissioner or something and they let him go quick. Surely, you know about stuff like that.”
“Don’t start with me right now, Kathleen. I want his address and I want it now.”
“Daddy, Tony is a good person.”
“I haven’t even seen the kid and I know no good person would let you run wild with your father’s credit card.”
“Tony is so smart, Dad. He’s cultured, he’s talented, he speaks two languages other than English and Spanish, he’s got-”
“I don’t give a damn if he’s a Nobel laureate who can walk on water. I want to talk to him. I want his address…tonight.”
“Why, so you can throw his head through a wall? No way! He’s already had it bad enough being arrested by your people like he’s some kind of criminal.”
“As far as I’m concerned, he is a criminal.”
“No, not a chance. I don’t have to give you his address and I’m not gonna. He’s a great guy and just because he doesn’t fit your little definition of what makes a good person, doesn’t make him bad. It takes all kinds.”
“Kathleen…” He swallowed as he felt his temperature rise a whole degree. “I’m about ten seconds from re-filing the charges against this Tony and you. Now, either you give me the address or you’re getting cut off for good.”
“Like Mom would let you do that.”
“She’ll do exactly what I tell her once she hears about that monstrosity on your leg.”
Kathleen rolled her eyes, pulled a Post-It pad from her desk drawer and scrawled an address on the top sheet in messy handwriting that had an uncanny similarity to Elliot’s own script.
“Here,” she said, holding the Post-It toward him with it resting on the tip of her finger. “And, I better not hear about one scratch on him, Dad.”
“You don’t get to make any demands here. Just be glad that I had time to calm down before I got over here. And, so help me God Kathleen, if you call him to warn him of what’s coming…”
Kathleen’s face went pale as Elliot gave her a final glare and turned to leave.
The apartment was only a few blocks North of Kathleen’s and Elliot felt his eye twitch again at the thought that “Tony” had the ability to stop by Kathleen’s loft anytime he wanted.
He got to the fourth floor walk-up quicker than he realized and was banging on the door before he knew it; all that mattered was confronting this “Tony” lest he go another minute without knowing that Kathleen’s father had a foot still planted in her life. His pulse was racing and Elliot felt a wild rush of adrenaline as all rational thought began to seep away from him and images of body-slamming the boy who talked his daughter into getting a tattoo on her thigh crept into logic’s place.
A skinny pale boy with greasy black hair wearing a spiked collar around his neck, a tight black Thrice t-shirt and dirty black Converse answered the door and glared at Elliot. “Who are you?”
“I’m Kathleen Stabler’s father and I need to talk to you for a second.”
“Oh,” the boy said as he crossed his arms. “Well, Kat’s not here right now.”
“Right. That’s why I said I wanted to talk you.” He pushed his way into the apartment and pulled himself to his full height so he could glare at the boy properly. “You coerced my daughter into stealing her father’s credit card and then you took her on some shopping spree across the goddamn city like you both lost your minds causing me to use my valuable time on a wild goose chase. And believe me, if there is something I can’t stand, it’s people who waste my time.”
“Hey, man. I didn’t do anything. That was-”
“Shut up. Now, if you want to get a
tattoo with someone you do it on your own time, with your own money. If
you want to find some girl to play Bonnie to your
The greasy kid snorted. “Kat’s grown, Dude. She doesn’t have to listen to daddy anymore. She can do what she wants.”
The words hit a chord that had been sore all day and Elliot even surprised himself when he grabbed the greasy boy by the shoulder and pushed him against the far wall.
“Kathleen might be grown,” Elliot said with a hand firmly pressed against the boy’s neck. “But, if you expect to see your next birthday, you better make sure she does listen to daddy.”
“Dude…aren’t you a cop? Is-isn’t this like police brutality or something?”
“It would be…except the fact that I left my badge in the car just so I could come here…as a father, not a cop.”
“So, we’re not gonna have a problem here, are we?”
“No, man. No problem.”
Elliot stared at him for a full minute before releasing him. He looked the boy up and down several times, sneering all the while.
Of all the creeps in the city she has to choose from…
Rolling his eyes at the greasy boy who stood with his back pressed against the wall and looking small and fragile, Elliot headed toward the door when a young light-skinned black man wearing Kenneth Cole shoes and a Gucci sweater stepped through the open doorway. He glanced at Elliot and then at the boy against the wall and then at Elliot again with wide eyes.
“Am I…interrupting something?” he said.
“And, who are you?” Elliot said glaring at the boy who looked too clean cut to be normal.
“Anthony McCray, sir…the third.”
A breath escaped from Elliot’s mouth as he tried to keep his mouth from gaping. “You’re Tony?”
“Yes, sir.” He stepped forward extending a hand toward Elliot. “I live here with my roommate Kyle.”
Elliot slowly shook his hand as it dawned on him that he should have known the pale boy he encountered did not match the description of the person who used his credit card. He then glanced back at the boy behind him. “Kyle?”
“C-Campbell,” he said softly. “Kyle Campbell.”
“You two are roommates?”
The real Tony at the door cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. Same music tastes and habits make good roommates, I suppose. And…you are, sir?”
“Detective Stabler. Kathleen Stabler’s father.”
“Right,” Tony said his eyes even wider. “Detective Stabler…Kat’s told me a lot about you.”
“I’m sure she has.”
Tony pursed his lips for a moment under Elliot’s intense glare. “I’m sensing there might have been a bit of a misunderstanding over the past few days about the issue with the credit card.”
Elliot’s eyes narrowed at Tony. He looked him up and down, now unable to retrieve his prepared speech again. “Yeah, you took my daughter on a shopping spree, on my credit card.”
“Oh…well, I didn’t know she hadn’t asked for permission. I know a lot of kids’ parents just give them a card to use, so I really didn’t think about it too much. We were just out buying books and…kinda splurged a bit to bring a little culture to Kat’s apartment.”
“Culture…And the tattoos?”
Tony swallowed and covered his left wrist with his right hand. “Yes…well, I figured you would’ve seen those charges after what they were holding me at the police precinct, but trust me, I know it was probably a pretty poor decision on our part, but we’d talked about it a little and after she mentioned how cool the ones you have looked…we figured we would just go for it.”
Elliot crossed his arms, his eyebrows still furrowed. He glanced at Kyle who stood straighter as he took a backward step. “She didn’t even tell me she was dating you. She didn’t say she was dating anyone.”
“Oh… Kat says you two don’t talk like you used to, so maybe it just slipped.”
Yeah,” Elliot said. “I’m sure this kind of thing would just slip her mind.”
“I’m really sorry about the confusion, Detective Stabler. I’ll definitely pay you back for everything.”
Elliot waved a hand at Tony not liking the fact that the boy seemed so instantly likeable and feeling very foolish from his previous actions at the same time. “You, um…you don’t have to do that. Kathleen’s going to make up for it.”
“I see. Well, I promise, this will be last time we do anything like that again.”
“Yeah, I bet,” Elliot said as he sighed. “Well…I’m gonna…get going. Nice to meet you…Tony.”
“And, you as well, sir.”
“Sorry about that…Kyle.”
“No prob, man…”
By the time he had walked down the stairs and clicked his seatbelt into the lock, Elliot could hear his stomach rumbling as it burned and could feel bile accumulating at the back of his throat.
He had been prepared to face a low-life who was attempting to drag Kathleen into whatever hole was digging for himself. In fact, he had been rehearsing what he was going to say to the boy all day and had the speech perfected before he got to Houston Street; no amount of time could have prepared him for an up and coming black boy who not only had managed to get Kathleen to read outside of assigned schoolwork, but also show an appreciation for art.
Wishing he had remembered that the description of his would-be credit card thief had been for a black male before he had made a jackass of himself, Elliot turned the key in the ignition as he simultaneously wondered when life had become so complicated.
His daughter was in a biracial relationship; he had no particular reservations about it either way as he knew he disliked any boy who took more than one glance at his daughters, but he had a nagging suspicion that he would be getting an earful from Kathy once he delivered the news.
Elliot sighed and shook his head as he drove through the E-ZPass lane, shaking his head at the growing twilight all the while.
Fin is going to love hearing about this…
The white background of the computer monitor’s display mirrored on Munch’s darkened glasses, moving with every turn of his head and looking like small cloves of fire dancing across his eyes.
He stifled a sigh as he scrolled through another page of real estate listings found in and around the city. Across from him, Fin sat silently scrutinizing a stack of paperwork and Elliot sat staring out into space, cracking his knuckles every few seconds at the desk pair across the aisle.
Munch had been perusing the listings by price for the past hour and noticed quickly that the first page held only a few places that were on the farthest extremities of his price range; the remaining listings had prices that seemed to grow exponentially with each scroll of the mouse’s wheel.
The idea about the bar, though he had only recently voiced it, had been with him for quite some time. He had first thought about leaving the force to again open a nice friendly place where he could push the world’s last legal depressant onto those who wanted to drown their troubles for a night years earlier, not too long after he had joined Manhattan’s SVU. After Sarah Logan had been murdered, it seemed like the best option available after her killer had been found, but he never had a chance to let the dream grow into something more than an underdeveloped half-thought. A decade had gone by and ten years had the tendency to change unrealized reveries into fervent desires.
He could easily recall how his
fellow detectives in
Munch shook his head at the listing he had clicked, not liking the idea of trying to open a classic neighborhood tavern in the Meat-Packing District, where a host of trannies selling their wares would be just a stone’s throw from the bar’s front door.
Pulling Fin into the plan felt like a natural thought and he knew if he persisted long enough, Fin might even soften back into someone who would be willing to clean glasses with him at the end of the night. Nowadays, Fin was simply too angry with the world to commiserate with anyone or anything, let alone go out for a drink like old times and, while Munch wanted to include the others since they were the closest thing to family he had in the area, they were all in a mindset not so different from Fin’s.
Cragen, of course, did not drink, as he had so jeeringly reminded Munch that day and even if he did, Munch knew that opening a bar where he could watch others dissolve their sorrows in malt liquor was just the thing that could send Cragen into a downward spiral.
Elliot, he assumed, would not dare go out for a drink after a case and, with two kids in college, two more about to jump the same shark and a ten-month old in the house, Munch knew Elliot would not have been in the market to share his dream even if he wanted. He had just pulled his marriage back together and, judging from the scene with Kathleen that day, he clearly had enough problems dealing with his children to even risk piling on more pressure with the aftermath of even a few casual nights out with “the guys” again. When it came to Elliot, time had certainly done a one-eighty on him…or perhaps just a one-sixty or seventy; either way he was a different man.
There was definitely something bothering Olivia. She hardly ever smiled anymore and, though he had an inkling about what was troubling her, Munch had decided months earlier he was not going to ask until she looked ready to talk.
After her undercover assignment, Olivia had said she was not raped; “almost”, “very close,” “nearly raped,” but not “actually.” In fact, she repeated it so often in the first few months after the incident, Munch began to question if Fin had indeed got to her in the nick of time or if that nick of time was what Olivia had imagined to keep her sanity after “nearly” becoming a victim. He knew she would be willing to talk eventually, but he knew he did not want the discussion to come from under the slur of alcohol or some sense of the shame and regret the following day.
“All right,” Elliot said slapping his desktop. “I’m out. Gotta have a…talk with my daughter.”
A moment later, Elliot was walking out of the squad room with a fire behind his eyes he only beheld when he thought someone was doing something to his children and Munch predicted that some poor kid was about to meet Elliot’s full wrath without any warning. Within ten minutes, Fin followed suit, quickly leaving the squad room with only a nod and a small grunt in place of what used to be a “Get some sleep, John.”
Munch glanced towards Olivia desk, but frowned when he remembered she had left before the end of the day. From the relatively clean state of her desk, it did not seem like she was returning to the squad room any time soon. In his office across the squad room, Cragen paced back and forth with the phone held up to his ear, the crease in his forehead looking deeper than ever.
The next page of real estate listings brought breathtaking images of lots around the city just itching for new ownership, but also price tags of over four million. Rather than drool over what he knew he could never afford, Munch turned off the computer and left the squad room to hail a cab.
The last remnants of sunlight were fading to the west by the time he got to the street and Munch stood watching purple, amber and red play across the sky for close to ten minutes before actively searching for a cab.
He had been in the taxi for close to twenty minutes and was halfway passed the Park, when a faded sign and a brick face that defined a “whole in the wall” bar caught Munch’s attention.
“I changed my mind,” he said to the cabbie as he pulled out a few bills to slide through the cab partition. “Can you let me out over here?”
The odor of “stale beer and quiet desperation” was nearly over powering as Munch stepped into the small tavern, but the mahogany panels of the bar and the weathered, but comfortable-looking bar stools beckoned him further into the building.
The bartender had been leaning against the other end of the bar watching the last inning of a baseball game and Munch nodded at him, fully taking in his surroundings as he sat two seats away from an older and seedier-looking man who appeared so comfortable in his seat that he had to be a regular. The walls of the small pub were covered with various sepia photos of New York a half-century earlier and the air itself felt very tranquil; it seemed remarkable similar to the bar he had to close.
“What’ll ya have?” the bartender asked in a hoary, but soft voice. His peppered brows furrowed as he stared at Munch, but his steely blue eyes suggested that he was, at heart, a nice man who probably had six grandchildren and loved what he did.
Munch glanced at the drink in front of his neighbor and then nodded in the wizened man’s direction. “I’ll have whatever he’s got.”
The bartender turned to reach for the Islay Scotch and Drambuie and within minutes had mixed Munch’s Rusty Nail and returned his attention to the baseball game playing on the small television at the end of the bar.
Munch stared at the dark amber
blend of liqueurs sitting on a small cloth napkin in front of him and sighed. A
news bulletin echoed from the television declaring that a crashed black Jaguar
was blocking traffic off the island at the
Maybe it’s time to just leave, he thought.
He had always thought he would want to be on the job until he was too old to move properly, but now things were different. The dynamic of the unit felt as if it were breaking and that, more than anything, caused the image of his old bar to spring into his memory with greater clarity and more often than it had in past years.
Turning the napkin so that a flat edge of the tumbler paralleled the edge of the bar, Munch glanced up and noticed the framed photograph that hung just below a shelf across the bar. In the photo, a woman stood facing the camera on a 1950’s Manhattan street with a Mona Lisa half-smile set on her face, but behind her, the sun was at the perfect position against the city to let a brilliant array of light slip through the buildings, nearly silhouetting her and creating a sunset rarely viewable from that part of the city. It was actually not so different from the sunset he had witnessed that evening.
“So,” the man sitting near Munch said. “What are we drinking to?”
Munch smirked and lifted his drink. “Old times, my friend. Old times.”
A spray of orange and gold ran
between the buildings and bathed Fin in an amber-coloured light as he stepped
onto the street. Men and women dressed in the blue and white donned by “
The fact that his transfer had been essentially denied was not what was getting to him at that point; only its effective pointlessness in trying to remove himself from Elliot. When he considered the past three months on whole, everything seemed pointless.
Fin walked along the outer rim of the garage, his eyes scanning the colour and shape of every car in sight and had to stop short as he prepared to cross the aisle way, but was nearly hit by a woman in blue Taurus who did not appear to have noticed what she had almost done.
The phrase “women drivers” sprang to mind, but he shook away the thought and continued across the aisle, trying to remember by which pole he had parked. Not all women drivers were inherently bad as Olivia often drove when they rode together.
Olivia…he thought and the phrase “nick of time” replaced “women drivers” in his head.
There had been dozens of times throughout his career when he and other detectives had arrived at a crime scene just before something happened, but what had happened, or almost happened, with Olivia’s undercover assignment nauseated him more than he was willing to admit.
He had called Elliot an ass to work with not only because of Elliot’s uncontrollable emotions, but because those emotions were so erratic, there was never a way to even predict just how far off the wall he was going to fly. He had envisioned Elliot’s reaction following Olivia’s attack as being a ball of rage over the next week, but surprisingly, the reaction was almost like apathy, which only aggravated him further.
Fin sighed as he spotted his car an aisle and three lanes away from where he stood; he had not parked by a pole at all this time and dawned on him that he had parked further from the door as simply a change in his routine.
Within minutes, he was driving out of the garage and into evening traffic. The sunset had found the perfect height to hit him directly in the eye through the rearview mirror and he sighed knowing it would continue to periodically shine from behind various buildings to blind him on his trek Downtown.
He got to 14th and Broadway and swore loudly as a black Jaguar cut in front of him from its parking space and across both lanes to make the yellow light, causing three cars to slam on their brakes and one to run slightly onto the curb. Fin only shook his head at the speeding luxury sedan and continued towards the bridge.
On any other day, he would have taken the Queens Midtown Bridge to keep from spending half of the evening at various stoplights and maneuvering through pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic, but he felt ready for a change, also figuring he would stretch his E-ZPass for another couple of days with the toll-less Manhattan Bridge. As he headed further into the depths of Downtown traffic, he immediately regretted the impulsive change as he remembered his constant edict regarding it; occasionally change led to something good, but often it more of a pain than it was worth. Slowly crossing the bridge, Fin’s mind whirred with thoughts of other people.
He had not seen Gwen Sibert since she had given her last statements regarding her soon-to-be former husband; her words, almost pleading with him specifically to take Christopher Ryan off her hands earlier, sounded so reminiscent to a mother ready to commit filicide that he was surprised the trio had remained together as a family of sorts for so long.
He had not spoken to his son in
months; their last discussion had mainly surrounded Kenneth’s hopes for his
future career, but ended abruptly when the words marriage and
He had received a call from Chester who sounded wearier than he had previous times; the call was close to month ago and he had not returned it simply because Elliot had referred to Chester’s case earlier the day he intended return the call and the comment angered him too much to give Chester his weekly pep-talk again.
Fin shook his head again once he got to his block. The bodega on the corner that had stood there since before he could remember had a bright yellow foreclosure notice on the door. Another change.
He circled the block twice before he saw someone pull out of a parking spot inches from his building’s door and walked heavily into the apartment, feeling full and sick at the same time. In truth, he was really sick. Sick of the cases, sick of the people around him, sick of everything.
The mere sight of Elliot used to sicken him, but it now seemed like there was just disgust for the unit altogether. The rest of them had volunteered for the unit, but he had been re-assigned. At first, he found himself able to like the people and like the noble work he was doing, but things, so many years later, were different. It seemed like the world had changed and he was still running to catch up with it.
He had not specifically wanted a change to anything in the SVU. He had not wanted Casey to replace Alex Cabot just like he had not wanted Grayleck to replace Casey and he had not wanted a brand new partner with Chester, but still hated losing him in the manner he had. There was no denying he enjoyed having Munch as his partner again, but still…
When Fin had seen him last,
His former partner could not handle the way the world had changed to favor the guilty and Fin pitied Chester as much as he envied his ability to finally take matters into his own hands in an attempt to make the world right again.
Inside his apartment, Fin fell onto his sofa with a huff, grabbing the remote control as he fell. He flipped through the channels, finding only reality shows and crude humor in place of what used to be thought-provoking drama that was not given through a shroud of soap opera-like relationships. He settled on Channel 4 and sighed as a commercial spun across the screen. ER was in its last season; another change.
Maybe we should open the bar,
he thought as he watched Peter Griffin clink beer mugs with
The whole unit seemed different. Something had changed and while Fin knew that no one else was brave enough to voice it just yet, Munch’s proactive discussion of his dream bar told him that he was not the only one who felt the strain.
Perhaps it was having Munch sitting on the sidelines for the past fourteen months. Perhaps it was Elliot’s non-stop familial problems that managed to seep into everyday work. Perhaps it was Olivia’s attack, or near attack and its own aftermath. Perhaps it was just him. Maybe it was something else.
A political commercial faded into view on the TV screen, slinging mud at a candidate and Fin sighed once more. At this point, each commercial sounded the same as the last and the candidates began to sound like idiots as they both buoyantly proclaimed they were bringing “change” time and time again. While everything else in the world changed, politicians did not.
Shaking his head, he got up, grabbed his keys suddenly laughing to himself as he realized that Elliot had most likely forgot that the “boyfriend” who had gone on a shopping spree with his stolen credit card was black, and was soon shifting out of his perfect parking space to head towards the BQE.
The majority of the traffic had
calmed significantly and he pushed an old CD into the player as he prepared for
the hour-long drive to
He normally would have saved the
lengthy drive for a weekend or when he had received a desperate call, but Fin
continued north regardless and felt better for it. The drive was a change to
his routine and would definitely be a surprise for
Olivia’s footsteps padded across the hard pavement as she walked from the therapist’s building. She felt slightly chilled as she walked and rubbed both arms even though she could feel the setting sun against her face.
Admitting that she needed help was a completely foreign experience for her and, while she acknowledged that it had taken a lot of courage and strength for her to take the first step, Olivia still felt awkward about it; she, Olivia, had been in therapy, like any other victim. With her eyes trained on the ground, she continued south, not wanting to wander aimlessly around the city, but still not ready to go straight home.
The apartment did not feel like home any longer and she spent as little time in it as possible. Most of her day was spent at the precinct or generally outside; early morning workout, breakfast on-the-go, at her desk or working a case throughout the day, dinner on-the-go or sometimes coaxed to join a family meal with the Stablers, evening workout, at her desk with back-end casework into the morning hours and cycle repeated.
Nothing had actually happened to her inside the apartment and she had no real reason to avoid it as much has she had, but each time she thought of her bed, the nausea she carried with her every day since the near incident amplified into something akin to absolute terror.
Olivia paused on the sidewalk as
she prepared to cross the street and looked up; amber, vermillion and indigo
interlaced with one another in the sky in a dazzling array she had not seen in
a long time. The last time she had seen the sunset so ablaze with colour she
was in pigtails being pushed on a swing by her mother in
Her stomach rumbled as a tall man pushed passed her across the street and Olivia sighed as she prepared to hail a cab. It took another block and a half of walking before she was able to find an empty one and her stomach began growling even louder, almost clearing the nausea on its own; she had not eaten since she learned what had happened to Noah Sibert’s fourth victim, almost fourteen hours earlier.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked as he glanced her through the cab’s plastic partition.
“Downtown, please,” she said, scrambling into the cab.
The cabbie veered into traffic before she had fully settled herself on the seats and her wallet popped from her left pocket, spilling its receipts, cash and credit cards all over the floor. Olivia looked up sheepishly to see the cabbie’s narrowed eyes staring at her from the rearview mirror, and the floor of the cab began to resemble the floor of her apartment, which in turn reminded her of Caitlin Ryan’s apartment.
When she had spoken to Caitlin, Olivia had a prepared response for what she saw in and heard from Caitlin, but the real surprise came from Caitlin saying that the groups and therapy had not seemed to help her at all. Olivia had let that moment pass quickly because she had had a job to do and could not dwell on personal matters when she knew she was close to catching a predator, but as soon as she had a minute to herself, all she could do was think about it.
Her earlier conversation with her therapist was revealing, but it was not as helpful as she thought it would have been and Caitlin’s past words about “nothing helping” echoed in her mind the entire time along with his voice calling, “You bite me, you die…” What troubled her most was that, while she had not been physically raped, she was still experiencing everything that Caitlin had.
Caitlin had said she could function at first after the rape, but when she started to relive it again and again, she could not concentrate at work causing her to lose her job, her apartment and eventually her son because all she wanted to do was simply sleep. Olivia had no son to lose, but the desire to sleep all the time was already present and she would have done just that if she could manage to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Olivia paid the cabbie as she shifted out of the cab, leaving only a five percent tip for him instead of her normal fifteen and could not manage to stifle her heavy sigh as she stepped into her apartment building. She crossed the corridor and pressed the elevator button at the same time it opened to reveal the ten-year-old boy who lived on the sixth floor.
“Hi Jasen,” she said as they traded places; him out of the lift, her into it.
He only nodded toward her and continued out of the building. Allowing the doors to close on his retreating form, Olivia made a mental note to “stop by” the apartment Jasen shared with his mother and brother just to make sure all was well.
Ten seconds later, she stepped onto her floor, walked to the end of the corridor and paused for a full minute before she entered her apartment. The moment she stepped inside of it, again, she was immediately reminded of Caitlin and how her apartment had looked; clothes, dishes and general junk everywhere.
Her shoes were taken off and thrown into the small pile by the door and Olivia went into the bedroom to stare at the staggering heap the lay upon her bed. She shook her head at the now familiar sight, knowing that, while it would seem like madness to the rest of the world, there was still a method to it.
The first time she had tried to sleep on the bed following her attack, all she could remember was how he had had a bed prepared for her. It was not simply a mattress lying in the midst of dirt and grime, but a full bed complete with a sturdy bed frame, as if it had been arranged it in its spot for some time, allowing him to entertain as many victims as he had wanted. The sight of her own bed that next night was what had sprung the flooding memories and from that moment forward, she could not bear to look at it.
She had pulled all of the clothes out of her closet and threw them on the bed just to keep it covered and, when that had not seemed to work, she started to put her winter blankets all over it, just to make sure she could not see one inch of the bare mattress. Of course, sleeping on the couch had not done one bit of good because following the great urge to make her bed disappear without throwing it out the window, came a bizarre sense of loneliness and emptiness.
She had cancelled on her blind date that week for no other reason than she simply could not fake “it” anymore. She had gone on nine dates since she had ended her relationship with Kurt Moss, four of those were blind dates. In a wild effort to pretend that she had put the attack behind her, she had slept with all but three of them on the first night, always at their apartments, as her bed had been occupied by the contents of her closet for several weeks. Naturally, the dates turned one-night-stands had not helped. Like Caitlin had said, nothing helped. Eventually, loneliness settled into her psyche and that was when his face began to creep back into her dreams.
Stepping carefully over a knee-high stack of old newspapers, Olivia went to her desk to read the personal e-mails she had been neglecting for the past two months. No one she knew outside of work had been told about her run-in with her attacker and there was something so unsettling about answering messages that inquired about how she was doing with, “Everything’s fine.” when one glance around the apartment told her that was a cold lie.
Olivia’s eyes fell upon the set of papers next to her keyboard and she sighed as realized that she held a report that should have been completed a week earlier and would have been had Casey Novak been in and out of the precinct and calling her about it. There was still some time left to submit the report, but Olivia could feel an odd constricting at the back of her throat that signaled her mind was trying to keep her body from enfolding outright panic.
As she stared at the half-completed document, she knew that a long-winded discussion with Cragen was nearing each day her focus on the job became harried from other thoughts. She could not concentrate on the work at hand like she had always been able in the past and she knew it was only a matter of time before someone in the unit mentioned it. However, it was worse than outwardly showing that something was wrong; she could not afford to show any sense of weakness.
It was already bad enough that a strong and capable detective like herself had been overpowered and had to be rescued by her peer, but she still remained the only woman of the unit and Olivia could not help but imagine that if she started to show weakness, any weakness, the mutual trust and respect she had built with the detectives in her unit over the years would be broken. Instead of being someone to work with, she would become someone to protect.
Olivia unsuccessfully tried to quell a yawn and reached for the small bottle of No-Doz that sat in the desk’s side drawer. Without any water, she swallowed a long pill, immediately regretting her decision as it took an abundance of saliva and several exercises of her throat muscles to get the pilled caffeine down her throat.
Fatigue still ached in her eyes and muscles, but sleep managed to evade her regardless, choosing to come in sporadic shifts when the moment seemed least opportune. On her sofa at night, she would shut her eyes and then wake up ten minutes later. She would get up, get a glass of water, take hold of her gun as if it was the only thing in the world that could save her from the monsters that still lurked on the streets and then try to go back to sleep, only to wake up ten minutes later to repeat the process.
With the pill finally swimming in her stomach, its white coating firmly stuck to the back of her tongue, an abrupt and sobering thought popped into her mind.
Oh God... What if he’d actually done it?
The previous night, a very vivid nightmare woke her from the first sound sleep she had had in months. No one had come and there was nothing that could be done to help her. He was in her mouth and out again, and even though it was just a dream, she could almost feel it pushing against the back of her throat, slick with spit, bile and semen.
Following the dream, she had run to the bathroom as soon as she was upright and vomited half in the toilet bowl and half against the tub and then spent the rest of the night cleaning the bathroom from top to bottom. Everything else in the apartment was a complete mess, but the bathroom was so clean it glowed when she turned on the lights.
Even with several rolls of her tongue and a half-gag, the pill’s coating could not be dissolved and Olivia rose to get a drink of water, surprising herself in how she had managed to create pathways that were perfectly shaped and aligned to the space and width of her footsteps.
Newspapers and junk mail covered the floor in a vast gleaming display that seemed to make an arch from her door towards the window and dirty glasses with remnants of lipstick stuck to their rims littered nearly every orifice; the coffee table, the desk, the end table, the kitchen table and not to mention the counter tops. She had not done the dishes in over a month, only rinsing one of the many scattered water glasses and drinking more water after she had awakened from another nightmare.
Once she made her way into the kitchen, Olivia grabbed one of the used glasses that sat in the sink and then shifted its brothers so that it could be tilted against the faucet enough to be rinsed twice and then half-filled again.
The water had a flat, chlorinated taste, but it suited her purpose, though it re-ignited the hunger that still gnawed on her stomach and, as she stared at her glass in her hand, she decided that it was as good a time as any to take a bath and rest her wearied body.
She took a tertiary path from the kitchen toward the bathroom, turned on the hot water from the spout, removed her clothes that still carried the scent of city pollution and stared at herself in the mirror.
Years later, the scar that had been left by Victor Gitano’s blade glistened lightly against her neck in the intense bathroom light, but her eyes, like always, were immediately drawn toward the dark macula on her side from the car accident with Kathy the previous year. A vast bruise had once covered her entire back and most of her ribcage and had been so painful that even putting on clothes each morning felt like agony. It no longer hurt and had faded considerably, but the skin on her side was still far darker than the rest of her body.
Olivia turned to stare at the tub and shook her head. She could see the light above the bathroom mirror reflecting on the water and the longer she stared, the more often the lights seemed to shift and form his face on the surface.
Unable to withstand another near panic attack, she pulled the drain and changed first into sweatpants and her FDNY t-shirt, then to jeans and a hoodie and then back to the sweatpants and the tee once more before finally settling on jeans and her worn Sienna College sweatshirt instead.
The need to simply get out of the apartment overpowered any other coherent thought and she ran down eight flights of stairs rather than wait for the elevator. Once on the street, she took a deep breath and prepared to just walk as long as the remaining sunlight lasted.
As indecision seemed to plague her attempts to subdue her panic attacks, she suddenly desired to be off her feet, but still in motion. She walked all the way to Houston and Broadway before hailing a cab just in time to watch a black Jaguar speed through the light, nearly colliding with a car that was trying to make a left turn against the same light.
Her mind whirred as she played a mental game with herself; one side of her brain tried not to add the amount of money she had been wasting on cabs recently while the other side, the side that always managed to steer her fingers to the business section of The Times and her steadily dropping investments, had already surmounted that she had spent fifty-three dollars on cabs that day alone.
The cab headed for the
The aligning trees blocked out much of the sun, but felt very comforting just the same, so she continued walking across the edge of the Park until the caffeine pill dispelled an undesired backward effect, making her limbs feel very heavy.
A few meters away from her, Olivia spotted an elderly woman sitting on a bench next to the Pond. The woman held a rather large loaf of baked bread in her lap and seemed be enjoying herself immensely as she ripped pieces of the bread to feed to the ducks who had gathered around her, both in and out of the water.
Olivia slowly meandered towards the woman’s bench, as it was one of the only benches with one person sitting on it and, as the nausea, which had deferred to the near panic attack that ensued once she tried to take a bath, returned in full sway, she had a great need to sit before her legs failed.
The woman on the bench smiled at her as she sat and immediately broke off a large piece of her loaf to hand to Olivia.
“Want some?” she asked.
There seemed to be some inherent rudeness in refusing the bread, so Olivia accepted it, returning the woman’s smile. With her stomach completely empty and the caffeine in her system now causing her body to crave food even more, she had half a mind to simply start gnawing on the piece that had been handed to her, but choosing sanitation over a basic needs, she tore a piece off the loaf, tossed it into the air and watched it land with a tiny splash in the water.
“I like to come and feed them every once in a while,” the woman said. “It’s actually a bit soothing to watch them squabble like they do. Just seeing animals be animals…it makes life simpler, I suppose.”
Olivia nodded and flipped another piece of bread into the water.
“I’m Lucy, by the way.”
“And, what’s your name dear?”
Olivia hesitated, but eventually spoke. “Olivia.”
“Oh, how wonderful! Did you know that’s the name of my granddaughter?”
“She’s just turned four this month,” the woman continued as she threw another large piece of bread at the smallest mallard. “She’s the youngest of the six and a bit homely at this point, but you can tell she’ll be quite the beauty once she’s grown up a little.”
With the brilliant sunset glimmering through the trees and bathing everything in its path in gold, Olivia continued nodding and added the occasional “Is that so?” or “Really?” as the woman prattled as if she had known Olivia for ages. The lump of bread that had so readily been given seemed to be lasting with an almost providential hand and, not able to think of anything better to ease her mind, she kept tearing and throwing bread in the water, watching the ducks pecking for the pieces and listening to the woman talk about her family all the while.
“My husband,” the woman said, “he’s slightly younger than me, but you’d never know it…he’s had the little pub off of West 86th forever and those darn developers have been trying to push him out of there for close to a decade so they can build some new dream co-op and charge four grand a month for the spaces…in this economy even.”
“Is that so?”
“And, you know he’s been there since the boys were young and it’ll take quite a bit to move him at this point. Besides, everyone knows the liquor industry never fails even when times are rough. Knowing him, though, tonight he’s probably trying to close a little early so he can watch his ball game in peace, but I’m sure he’ll have a few stragglers coming in.”
“Oh yes, dear…”
The woman suddenly stood, catching Olivia off guard, and broke her remaining loaf into four large pieces and threw them into the water at the same time before dusting her hands and returning to the bench.
“So,” she said. “You don’t look like you came here specifically to feed the ducks. Have you a lot on your mind, dear?”
Olivia shrugged. “Just needed a moment to relax and my walk landed me here.”
“Oh, it’s good to take those moments while you can. Otherwise, you’ll run yourself into the ground with worry and you’ll never be able to get back up again. Sometimes it’s best to just get away from it all, even if it’s just to the Park and back home again. If I were a young woman like you, I’d probably come out here everyday just make sure I got in my…moment.”
“Well, that’s the thing about relaxation,” Olivia said. “If you did it every day, it wouldn’t be a way to relax. It’d just be another chore…something else to get done that would eventually pile on as much pressure as anything else in your life.”
The woman shook her head at Olivia and smiled. “You really ought to take more walks, dear. You’ll live a lot longer that way.”
Olivia chuckled and kept throwing the bread into the water until the sun had descended beyond the horizon leaving a sea of blue in its wake.
“Well,” the woman said, standing. “I’ve got to get going. It’s a long walk and, if I’ve not got the bed turned down after that game’s done, he’ll be grumpy for the rest of the night and into tomorrow.”
Olivia stood with her. “It’s almost dark. You want someone to walk with you?”
“Oh, that’s all right, dear. I can make it on my own. I’ve been here too long not to know how to walk home.” She paused and winked at Olivia. “It’s one step at a time.”
Olivia laughed with the woman and waved as she headed west and became a dark mark in the ensuing dusk. The ducks were still fighting over the last bread pieces as the park started to empty and the streetlights were beginning to spring to life before Olivia shifted from her bench again to walk to the edge of the Park.
She walked two blocks south, intending to take the F Line towards her apartment, but hailed a cab instead when she remembered she had left her MetroCard in the pants that lay on her bathroom floor. It had been hastily crammed back into her pockets during the original voyage home; another fifteen dollars down the drain.
Twenty minutes later, she stood in her apartment, staring intently into the bedroom. Two large piles lay across the bed, one consisting of street clothes, the other of “work clothes,” and she could just make out the pieces to the outfit she was planning to wear the next day from her vantage point at the doorway.
The new routine of standing at the doorway had replaced that of standing in front of the closet for ten minutes to make the same decision before sprawling across her bed for a good night’s rest, happy that she had splurged on eight hundred-count Egyptian cotton when she had the chance. She still longed for the old routine, yet it was so far away from her, it was like something she did in her younger days; like something she did before and the new routine was something she did after.
Five full minutes passed before she moved again, stepping into the bedroom, her heart beating so wildly she thought she was going into cardiac arrest. She shifted the clothes on the bed until she found a loose blanket and spread it across an open spot on the floor. With a great heave, she then pulled everything off the bed and onto the blanket-covered floor.
Her heart was still banging against her ribcage, but Olivia took a step backwards to admire what she had done. The bed was completely empty, much like the one had been when he had lead her to his secret chain-link enclosed chambers, but for the first time in months, she did not slam the bedroom door shut or move everything back onto the bed to cover it.
The streetlights pouring in through her window mini-blinds shined onto the bed, painting it in saturnine stripes of yellow, yet she nodded her head as she stared at it. Panic was clawing its way through her veins and she knew she was nowhere near ready to sleep in the bed again, but in that moment, she knew she would beat the repercussions that were threatening to break her.
One step at a time…