Written April 2004
Rated a very strong R – contains potential triggers
Synopsis: The brutal rape and murder of a young girl has a profound effect on Elliot.
Disclaimer: The characters that you recognize are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. The other characters are my own. The section titles come from Disturbed’s CD “Darkness” but otherwise have nothing to do with the story. No infringement is intended.
She was just a little girl, no more than seven or eight years old.
He stared at the lifeless body, feeling the bile rise in his throat. A little girl. So young, so innocent. Some cops could ignore the emotions that welled up inside – but not him. Tears stung his eyes. The child’s yellow sundress was tainted red and bunched up around her waist. One tiny sandal lay a few feet from her body as if it had fallen off as she ran.
He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Someone would pay, even if he had to hunt this little girl’s killer for the rest of his life.
Warner said the girl showed evidence of severe vaginal trauma. Just a more technical way of saying she had been brutally raped. But she was just a child! She had been alive for it, Warner continued, but her voice was fading fast as the blood rushed through his ears like fire. He didn’t need her commentary; he knew what had happened. It had been a normal, ordinary day. The girl had been playing at the park a block from her home. She had been approached by the perp, and she knew not to talk to strangers, so she ran. He had chased her through the trees, pushed her to the ground, and raped her. She had cried for her mother, oh how she had cried. But he had ignored her pleas as he raped her, delighting in her screams. She may have gone into shock and lost consciousness – that would’ve been more merciful. But it was more likely that she was still awake when he drew the knife across her throat. The blood had begun to trickle from the wound and then gush as the carotid was sliced. And he hadn’t stopped until her body went limp and her cries were silenced.
The voice of his partner, the soft touch of her hand, brought him back, and he blinked.
“Her mother’s here.”
He turned to see the tear-stained face of a young woman with the same golden hair as her daughter. She was being held back by a uniformed officer, but she didn’t struggle. Instead, she watched his reaction, searched his eyes for the truth that she already knew but refused to believe. He gave a small nod, and the officer released her. Very slowly, as if her body was heavy, she walked up to the cordoned-off area where her daughter had taken her last breath.
She knelt to the grass, eyes closed, and began to pray. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
He lowered himself beside her. “…thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…”
“Are you going to jump?”
“Are you going to stop me?”
He knew she was smiling, and he stepped off the ledge, back to the gravel rooftop of the 16th precinct. “What are you doing here, Liv? You should be at home, sleeping.”
“I could say the same about you.”
There was no point in lying; she knew everything about him. “Just a few.”
Jillian, the little girl he had prayed for just three days ago. He nodded, biting his bottom lip.
“Elliot, you need sleep. If you won’t go home, then catch a few hours in the crib. Munch and Fin have a lead; they think we’re getting close.”
“I’ll kill him,” he said quietly. “You find that son of a bitch and leave me alone with him, I will kill him.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary. Casey thinks she can convince the jury to give him the death penalty.”
“The death penalty isn’t any good if we don’t know who he is or where he is.”
She was silent for a moment. “We’ll find him.”
“It won’t bring Jillian back. It won’t erase the memory of her body laying in a patch of dirt.”
“She’s in a better place now. You know that. She’s free of this life.”
“I’m glad,” he said, turning away from her to stare out at the city. “At least someone is.”
For a moment, he thought she had left. Then he felt her hand slip into his as her voice whispered, “I’m glad you’re here.”
He gazed at her profile before placing a soft kiss to her temple. “Thank you.” She drew in a breath and faced him. “I couldn’t do this without you, Olivia.”
The admission brought tears to her eyes. It was so simple, something she knew in her heart but had never been said aloud before. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held him.
“No, leave me alone!” She runs from the playground and into the woods. He won’t find her there; it’s safe, and she’s traveled them for all of her seven years.
She screams as a hand grabs her hair and pulls her back. He smells of cigarette smoke and cotton candy. Her sandal comes unbuckled and one foot becomes bare, toes wiggling into the dirt beneath. “Mommy!”
He cackles. “Mommy can’t save you now.” He shoves her to the ground and flips her onto her back. Her breath is lost and she begins to pant, her eyes widening. His hands are so rough. They roam over her arms, her chest, until they find the hemline to her dress. There, he rips the skirt up to her waist and pulls her panties to her knees. She tries to shake free. He spreads her legs apart and presses them to the ground with his knees. She hears a zipper and–
His body jerked upright, his breath coming in painful heaves. The thrashing awakened his wife. “Elliot?”
He didn’t say anything, launching himself out of bed and to the dresser.
“Elliot, what’s wrong?” she asked, more urgently this time. She turned on the lamp on her nightstand.
“Sorry, Kathy,” he muttered, finding it difficult to sound apologetic. He rummaged through the drawers, pulling items out and shoving them back in haphazardly. “Go back to bed.”
“Where are you going?”
“For a drive.” He found a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt in the bottom drawer.
“Is something wrong? I mean, do–”
“No, I just need time to think.” He tied up his sneakers. “This case is getting to me, that’s all.”
“About the dead girl in the park?”
He wanted to tell her that she wasn’t just a dead girl in a park. Her name was Jillian. She was seven. She liked to play with miniature horses. She had a love for pink cotton candy that she would buy from the street vendor nearby. But he couldn’t.
When there was no answer, she leaned forward. “You can talk to me, you know that.”
He shook his head. She didn’t understand, and they had this same circular argument nearly every day. He could never tell her about the things he saw. She still believed in the inherent good of society and that people like him would protect her from harm. That was her reality, and she needed it. What kind of man would he be if he shattered that dream?
“Elliot, what’s so hard about opening up to me? I’m your wife!” She gasped, drawing the blankets to her chest. “Or are we only together because we’re too afraid to get a divorce?”
“Kathy–” He contemplated yelling but settled for a heavy sigh. “Forget it. Go back to sleep. I’ll be home later.”
“We’ll see,” were her final words as he walked out the door.
He looked like hell when she opened the door. With a concerned frown, she stepped aside and let him into her apartment. He’d told her last week that he’d been staying at a hotel and going home only to see his children. And then, like now, she was worried but said nothing. He would open up to her when the time came. Maybe now. Maybe never.
She walked to him and gave him a hug. “Nightmares again?”
“Oh, God, Liv, it’s awful,” he confessed, squeezing the tears from his eyes. “I’ve seen her die a hundred times, and I can’t do a damn thing about it.”
His body shook as he lowered himself onto the couch, and he rubbed his face with his hands. “Lab still doesn’t have the DNA results from her rape kit?”
“No.” She sat beside him, her hand rubbing his back. “Just a few more days.”
“We have to find him. I think I’ll go crazy if we don’t.”
“You’ve got a lot going on in your life right now, but you’ll make it through this. And I’ll be there every step of the way–if you want me to be.”
“I don’t deserve you,” he said with a smile, the first one in a long time.
“You’re right,” she agreed, standing up and grinning down at him. “Let me make you some tea. It’ll put you–” The warmth of his hand as it encompassed hers made her pause. He rose and stood beside her, not letting go of her hand. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he whispered. “I don’t want you to go.”
“To the kitchen?”
“Anywhere.” The back of his fingers trailed gently down the side of her face. “I told you I couldn’t do this without you, and I meant every word.”
He stepped forward, closing the distance between them until he could see the flecks of gold in her eyes. His heart hammered in his chest. She said she knew, but did she really comprehend the depth of his feelings for her? Did he really believe them himself? It had taken them over six years to forge this relationship, six years for him to realize how he truly felt about her. Six years to build something so perfect – and six seconds to affirm it, or destroy it.
His hand cupped her chin, and he tilted his head toward her. He could feel her breath on his face. There was still a chance to pull away, to return to their comfortable relationship with the teasing and the lingering gazes. Would she take it? Would he?
His cellphone rang, and they each took one step back. He picked it up, avoiding her gaze. “Stabler.”
“Elliot, it’s Munch. We just arrested a guy. We think he may have killed Jillian.”
“The part-time park custodian and recent parolee, Victor Lucas. We’ve put a rush on the DNA sample from Jillian’s rape kit.”
Victor Lucas. The name shot fury through his veins. “How did you find him?”
“I suppose you could say we caught him with his pants down.”
“I remember the way she felt when I was inside her. It was … so pure, so different than a woman. Soft. Nice.”
He wanted to reach across the table and choke the life out of Victor Lucas, but he managed to restrain himself. He almost didn’t attend the interrogation in the first place. The anger he felt was beginning to smother him. If it wasn’t for his partner’s calming presence beside him, he didn’t know how he would survive.
“You’re a sick bastard, you know that?” Fin said to the perp seated at the table.
Victor looked smug. “Yes, I do. And that’s exactly what I’m going to tell my lawyer.”
Everyone filed from the room when his attorney arrived moments later. He was not in the mood to celebrate, even when Munch offered to buy a round of beers. Instead, he left alone and drove around the Upper East Side, hearing voices on the radio but not paying attention. He could go back to his hotel room and sleep. No, there were still nightmares. He could go to Olivia’s apartment, but she was out at the bar with the rest of the group. Since it was Friday night, his children were probably not home.
How could one living in New York City feel so alone?
He found his way back to the crime scene, back to where he first saw Jillian’s body. Flowers, cards, and teddy bears still sat on the patch of dirt. She was so young… The pain he felt just being here was almost unbearable. There was a lump in his throat as he whispered the Lord’s Prayer over and over again.
A soft voice called “Detective Stabler?” and he turned around. “We met a few weeks ago. My name is Diana Wells, I’m–”
“Jillian’s mother.” He tried to smile but it was a meager attempt. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” She had a bunch of daisies in her hands which she placed with the other flowers. “They were her favorite.”
“We caught a man who claims to be your daughter’s killer.”
She nodded but said nothing, staring at the tiny shrine. “I was told that I could never have children. Then Jillian came along. My husband died before she was born, and I don’t know how I would’ve made it without her. I called her my little miracle baby.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he were anywhere but here. He had no words of comfort except a weak “I’m sorry”.
“I had seven wonderful years with her, seven years that I wasn’t even supposed to have. I guess God needs her now.”
Despite his upbringing, his faith was not nearly as stout as hers. “I…” He shook his head. He was used to talking with victims, helping them with their pain, but he was the one with the pain. Diana seemed to be coping well.
At least, that’s what he thought until she started to cry.
“Diana, you–” He put a hand on her shoulder, and she curled into his embrace. “It’s okay.”
“I keep telling myself that I’m going to be okay, that I’m going to make it through this, but there are so many memories…”
“You have to work through the other four stages of grief before you can reach acceptance.” His partner would’ve had something more sympathetic to say, and he tried to guess what it would be. “Do you have family you can visit, some sort of support group? What about your church group?”
She pulled away with a heavy sigh. “You’re right, Detective. These things take time.” She looked down at the plot of land beneath the flowers. “I saw you at her funeral. Do you often go to victim’s funerals?”
“No, not often.”
“Well, I appreciate the gesture.”
He pulled two business cards from his wallet. “Look, if you need anything, you can reach me at the precinct or on my cell. Any time, day or night. The second card is a support group for victims’ families. You shouldn’t deal with this alone.”
She nodded, clutching the cards in her hand. Without another word, she turned away from him and walked into the dark night.
They sat on her apartment floor, nestled between the couch and the coffee table. Two shot glasses, one half-empty bottle of tequila, and Chinese takeout shimmered blue from the television glow. She sliced another lime into fourths and poured another shot. She gestured to his glass and he shook his head.
He rolled his neck onto the couch cushions, staring at the ceiling. “You know, Liv, I’m just so…”
“Drunk,” she offered, slurping on the lime.
“Yes. No.” He shifted his position so that he was kneeling. “I used to be able to take more of this.”
“Eh, college. We’re older now, more sensible. Well, you maybe – this is the second night in a row I’ve had too much to drink.”
He shook his head, only mildly concerned when he saw her in triplicate. “I don’t mean the alcohol, I mean work. These cases, this case in particular.” He wondered if he pronounced ‘particular’ right. “The whole thing’s been bothering me more than usual, but today … today just really pissed me off.”
“You know, I don’t get why he would confess to killing her if the DNA didn’t match. Why would you do something like that?”
“Ah, good old Victor Lucas, wannabe child rapist and murderer. Remember Albert DeSalvo?”
“Right, but he didn’t do it.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You don’t think so?”
“No.” He took a swig of tequila from the bottle, slamming it back on the table when he miscalculated the distance. “He confessed to it because he thought he’d get a book deal out of it, some notoriety, maybe lots of money.”
“Well, then who did it? How did he know all the crime scene details?”
“His cellmate was the killer! He just told DeSalvo about it, and DeSalvo confessed. He got some of the details mixed up anyway.”
“Oh. Well, maybe the real killer was Lucas Victor’s – I mean, Victor Lucas’s cellmate.”
“No ’cause the DNA didn’t match anyone in the system, and any prisoner’s DNA would be in the system.”
“Oh,” she said again, staring blankly at the television.
“And Diana…” His vision was blurred again, only this time it was from the tears that pooled in his eyes. “I think that’s what bothers me the most.”
She got up on her knees as well, wrapping her arms around him, smoothing the hair on the back of his head. “Elliot, that wasn’t your fault. You did everything you could.”
“Liv, her body was found with my business card in her hand, like she was rethinking her decision but decided it was too hard to ask for help and she…” Tremors rocked his body as he sobbed harder. “People who commit suicide don’t go to Heaven. Diana won’t go to Heaven, she won’t ever see Jillian again.”
“Elliot, listen to me.” She held his face in her hands and was suddenly very sober. “This is not your fault. Okay? None of this is your fault.”
“I could’ve saved her.”
“No.” Shaking her head, she felt the tears pool in her eyes, and she pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. “If you keep thinking that, you’ll go crazy. We can’t save everyone; sometimes, it’s hard enough to save ourselves.”
He crumbled into her arms, the warmest sanctuary he’d ever found. “Don’t leave me, Olivia,” he whispered softly as she rocked him back and forth. “Don’t ever leave me…”
“You sure you want to come? You don’t have to if you don’t want to, you know.”
“Okay, okay, sorry.” He looked at the plastic container in his hands. No one had claimed Diana Wells’ body. He had called everyone he could think of for two days until he finally located a sister in Kansas – a sister who hung up when he told her the circumstances surrounding her death. A friend in the morgue owed him a favor and, after the cremation, he went to pick up the remains. Now he sat in his partner’s car in a parking lot near the Atlantic shore, holding the ashes of Jillian’s mother.
“You okay?” she asked, squeezing his shoulder gently.
“No.” He rotated the object in his hands. “She was a good woman, completely devoted to her daughter, the only light in her life. To have everything you love taken from you … no wonder she killed herself.” He climbed out of the vehicle and started down the pier. There was a good wind today; he hoped it would take her ashes far, far from here. He began to unscrew the lid.
“‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures’–” She realized he hadn’t poured the ashes yet and stopped. “What?”
She shrugged. “It’s the only one I really know.” When he smiled, she continued. “‘He leadeth me beside the still waters…'”
The wind gusted, and he turned the makeshift urn upside down. Diana’s ashes were lifted higher and higher as they were carried out to sea. He joined in Olivia’s recital. “‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'”
They stood together silently for a while, their hands clasped together, listening to the gulls cry and the waves crash. He was convinced he had done the proper thing, the Catholic thing, even if Diana’s death was like a denouncement of the faith. A mortal sin.
“Rest in peace, Diana,” he whispered softly.
He heard her whisper something, and he opened his eyes. “What did you say?”
“Oh, Elliot, I’m sorry. Did I wake you up?”
“No, I wasn’t really sleeping. What did you say?”
“I, uh, I asked ‘What am I to you?’.”
“Why?” It was a stupid question because he already knew the answer. Her doubt had arisen a week ago, after they had put Diana’s ashes out to sea. He’d needed someone that night, she had too, and… He hadn’t had sex like that before – raw, passionate, angry. She still had a bruise for which he hadn’t stopped apologizing, and he was still fascinated by the small tattoo on her hip that she’d never told him about. He traced it now – Kanji for ‘strength’ – and thought that it suited her well.
He hadn’t meant to have sex with her that night, but they’d been together every day since and he was becoming more and more culpable. He could offer no excuse, no explanation, just that it felt right. It fulfilled a physical need, of course, but there was something else, something deeper, that was satisfied when he made love to her.
“Are you upset, Liv?”
“No, but I thought you might be.”
“Me? Why?” Another stupid question. He’d probably broken eight of the ten Commandments in the last two months. He couldn’t remember how many were mortal sins and needed to be confessed. Probably all of them. Definitely this one. But going to confession was the last thing he wanted; he knew his penance would be to go far away from her and he couldn’t, wouldn’t. He needed her so much.
She gave him a weak smile. “Never mind; it’s not that important.” She rolled onto her side so her back was to him and her tattoo was pressed against the sheets.
“It is important, Liv. Please talk to me.” He smoothed her hair, nuzzled his nose against her cheek. “I don’t want you to be angry with me.”
“I’m not angry, I’m just … worried and frustrated and afraid.” She shifted her position so she could face him. “I mean, what am I? Your partner? Lover? Paramour? I don’t want you to regret any of this, but I need to know where I stand.”
He should’ve told her before, should never have let her doubt. She deserved more than him, better than him. “You need to know what you are to me.” He pressed a kiss to her temple then her lips. “You’re everything.”
“Munch, you throw one more paper airplane at me, I’m going to shoot you.”
“Come on, Olivia, lighten up. This is like those lazy grade school days when it was so hot that you lost all ambition.”
“It’s like grade school maybe.” Another intricately folded sheet of notebook paper whizzed in front of her face. “Dammit, John–”
“Can we all play nice please?” Cragen strode into the bullpen, his shirt crumpled, his eyes sunken. “I’m not in the mood to babysit. Munch, Fin, how are you coming on that rape on the Staten Island ferry?”
“DNA’s being run through the database,” Fin told him. “Just waiting on the results.”
“Good. Benson, Stabler, any ID on your vic?”
She rummaged through her notes. “Yeah, Lisa Graystone, thirty-five. Ran a bakery on Forty-Third, but no one there had seen her for a week before her death. She just disappeared.”
“What about her neighbors?”
“Same story. Paid next month’s rent and vanished.”
“Then how’d she end up in the Hudson?” Cragen paused. “Care to offer a theory, Elliot?”
He was silent for a moment, chewing on the end of a pen. When Cragen repeated the question, he realized it was being directed to him. “We have someone with CSU checking on the current speeds, wind speeds and what-have-you speeds from the week leading to her disappearance, trying to get some idea of where she was dumped – or jumped. We’ll know more when he gets back to us.”
“All right, keep on it, people. I want solid progress by the week’s end.”
“You okay?” she asked quietly after the captain disappeared into his office.
“Yeah, just – got a lot on my mind.” He hadn’t told her about the divorce papers that his wife had finally filed. Finally? It had only been a couple of months. Evidently, Kathy had been thinking about it for a while. Once that matter was settled, she would probably file for an annulment so that she could remarry and have it recognized by the church. Good Catholic Kathy.
“Is there an Elliot Stabler here?” came the voice of a courier, lingering in the doorway.
“Yeah.” He waved the boy over. Hand delivered mail. His wife couldn’t be working that fast; of course, once she set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.
“Sign here, sir.”
He grabbed his letter opener and removed a neatly folded sheet of bright white stationery. As he read the typed message, his throat swelled, making it difficult to breathe. “Son of a bitch.”
That got the room’s attention. “What is it?” Munch asked.
“‘Dearest Detective,'” he read aloud, his voice still reeling from the shock, “‘it’s been a while since I had my last taste, that sweet taste of seven year old flesh. I know you’re hunting me, just as I am hunting another Jillian, but I think I will catch my prey before you catch yours. Rest assured, as I take her innocence, I will be thinking of you.'”
“What’s that notation at the end, Lev 17:11?” Olivia asked. “Scripture?”
“Somebody get us a Bible!” Fin shouted, sending three other officers scrambling for the bookshelf.
Elliot knew the passage but said nothing. He simply stared at the letter. He should let go of it, let CSU examine it for fingerprints or ink blots or inconsistencies in the paper. But he continued staring at it, paralyzed.
Munch grabbed the Bible from the officer who brought it and started flipping pages. “Here it is. Leviticus 17:11. ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.'”
The 36 hour manhunt for someone who could literally be anyone was futile. Chrissy Preston’s body was found just a few feet from where Jillian was murdered, although there was doubt that she was actually killed there. A week after the funeral, Chrissy’s mother, driving to Sunday Mass, was struck by another vehicle, and she died instantly.
That’s when Munch noticed that the Prestons had attended the same church as the Wells…
With a new lead, Munch and Fin headed to the church to talk to the priests and the parishioners, hoping to connect Victor Lucas to someone there as well. Cragen looked at his other pair of detectives, saw the dark eyes and hunched shoulders, and immediately sent them home.
They were walking down the corridor to her apartment when his cell phone rang. It was the lab. Maybe their investigation was finally winding to a close.
“…I think the sample was contaminated,” the scientist told him, “but frankly I’m not sure how.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we got a match on the DNA from Chrissy Preston’s rape kit.”
“And you think it’s contaminated? Why?”
“Because the DNA is a perfect match to you, Detective Stabler.”
“What?” he shouted, causing Olivia to drop her keys. “How did–” His brow furrowed and with his free hand, he drew his weapon. “Let me call you back.”
She removed her gun as well, matching his movements. “What’s going on?”
“He’s been here,” he said, fishing for the keys, his eyes fixed on the door.
“The man who killed Jillian and Chrissy.”
“He’s been in my apartment?” Her voice raised an octave, and she forced it into a whisper. “How do you know that?”
“Because my DNA was a match to Chrissy’s rape kit.” Realization touched her face, and for a minute he thought she might burst into tears. “God, Liv, I’m so sorry.”
She shook her head. “Why would he do that? No one would believe that you did it.”
“I think he was just trying to make a point.” He pushed open the door and crept inside, his partner close behind. The likelihood that the killer was actually inside was slim, but he continued to search anyway, checking the linen closet while she examined the kitchen. Suddenly, there was a soft scraping noise, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “Did you hear that?”
She was immediately by his side. “No.”
“Sounds like– There it is again!”
He edged toward the door, gun out, heart hammering in his chest. What had the killer done? Was he waiting for them? Saying a silent prayer, he turned the handle slowly and inched the door forward. It creaked open an inch. With a gesture to his partner, she pushed the door open further and he barged in.
Nothing, except the gentle scraping.
She mouthed ‘closet’ and he nodded. They flanked the closet door and he grabbed the knob, pulling it open. She pivoted around and faced whatever dangers were inside.
“Jesus,” she muttered, “Elliot, help me.”
He finally saw what had been making the sounds. A naked young girl, bound and gagged, trapped in Olivia’s closet.
He sat a cup of coffee on the table beside her, but she ignored it. “You okay?”
“Are you kidding me?” She left out a frustrated sigh and held her head in her hands. “There was a seven year old girl tied up in my closet! Of course I’m not okay!”
“Oh, Liv…” He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “She’s gonna be fine. The doctors are examining her – room 512, remember? We just saw her.”
“Yes, I remember. I’m not completely out of touch with reality.” She gave him a small smile and accepted his embrace.
“Everything’s gonna be just fine,” he said, thinking of her tattoo. He didn’t give her enough credit; she was stronger than he liked to think.
Cragen, Munch, and Fin appeared in the waiting room, worry clouding their faces. The captain motioned to him. “I need to speak to you, Elliot.”
He rose and followed him out. They rounded two corners until they were alone and out of the earshot of the staff and patients. “What’s up, Cap?”
“What the hell is going on?”
There was a lot going on, and he wasn’t sure which part had him so upset. “Uh–”
“Imagine my surprise when one of our lab techs called to tell me that our main suspect in the rape of Chrissy Preston is you!”
“This guy has been in Olivia’s apartment, Captain. He’s been–”
“What is your sperm doing in Olivia’s apartment?” The minute the words came out of his mouth, Cragen waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind, don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.”
“Yes, sir.” His cell phone rang and he checked the caller I.D. Bellevue Hospital. Well, he was standing in it; why didn’t they just come looking for him? “Stabler.”
A raspy voice, one he didn’t recognize but somehow knew exactly who it was. “I see you and Detective Benson found my little surprise. Did you like her? I wanted you to see what stolen innocence looked like before you saw another stolen life.”
“Listen to me, you sick son of a bitch–”
The man tsk’d him. “Such language–and in front of the captain, too.”
He scanned up and down the hallway carefully before backing against the wall. “Where are you?”
“Wrong question, Detective.”
“Really. The question isn’t ‘Where am I?’, the question is ‘Where is Olivia?’.”
If he hadn’t had the support of the wall behind him, he might have fallen. “What?”
“Olivia…” the man whimpered. His voice turned to a hiss. “Liv…” With a cackle that seemed to echo down the halls, the line was disconnected.
Olivia. He heard Cragen shouting to him as he ran toward the waiting room, phone in hand. He wasn’t sure what was being said, but at the moment he didn’t care. His mind was focused on one thing only. One corner, then another. The sign that read ‘Waiting Room’ was finally in view.
He slid to a stop in the entryway. Munch and Fin looked up, startled. Munch and Fin … but no Olivia. “Where is she?” he cried.
“Ladies’ room,” Fin answered, pointing to the right. “What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer, turning down the hallway in search of the restrooms. Nurses station, patient rooms, patient rooms–ladies’ room! “Olivia!” he yelled, drawing his weapon. There was no response. He hesitated for just a moment before barging in.
She stood at the sink, splashing water on her face. Her eyes widened when she saw him. “Elliot? What’s wrong?”
He put an arm around her shoulders, dragging her away, scanning for feet beneath the stall doors. “Come on, come on.”
They were met in the hallway by the other three. Cragen frowned at the gun. “What’s going on?”
Before he could answer, a high-pitched shriek reverberated through the halls. They looked around, unable to pinpoint the location of the woman making the sounds, until they saw a nurse backing out of a room a few doors down, her hand over her mouth. Other staff members swarmed around to console her; a few others peeked inside and cried out.
Cragen unholstered his weapon, Munch and Fin following suit. “Come on.” Everyone hurried to the room, but only Elliot paused to check the number.
His fears were confirmed when Olivia muttered, “Oh my God,” and turned away, embracing him. He looked over her shoulder as Munch drew aside the curtain. The hospital bed was soaked with blood, and the latest victim lay on top, her lifeless eyes staring back at him.
The word affected every cop on the planet, imposing a sense of guilt and worthlessness upon them. What good were you if you couldn’t bring peace and justice to those who needed it?
He pulled the Wells/Preston/McCarthy file from the drawer and spread it onto the cabinet top. Three rape/murders, three suspicious deaths. First, Diana Wells’ pill overdose. The M.E. ruled it a suicide, but he had his doubts. She was found with his business card in her hand; perhaps that was how the killer found his contact information. It was their first clue, and they had overlooked it. Second, Monica Preston, the victim of a hit-and-run. There had been no witnesses, even on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, and neither the driver nor the vehicle had ever been found. Lastly, Ella McCarthy, the mother of the little girl found in Olivia’s closet. She had drown in a swimming pool, even though friends said she could not swim and was afraid of the water.
If it had been his decision, all six deaths would have been considered unsolved.
He pressed his forehead against the cool steel of the cabinet. There had been one final piece of communication from the killer. He had left it in the hospital room beside Jessica’s body. It said that he was “satiated” but would return again, when it was time to “fulfill his desire for innocent flesh.” And so far, three months later, he was still true to his word.
“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.” She tilted her head to the side. “Elliot?”
“Shift’s over. Time to go.”
Her eyes fell on the open file beside his head. She didn’t have to read the label to know which one it was. “It’s been a long time.”
“Not long enough.” The nightmares still came, the ones when he woke up sweating and sometimes screaming. She was always there to console him; she knew his dreams better than anyone because she often shared them. He knew she was worried about him. He rarely ate, true sleep was a rare occurrence, and he had a custody hearing in the morning which he probably going to lose. When it came right down to it, he was worried about himself.
He collected the file from the top of the cabinet, straightening the papers and setting them neatly inside. He slid it into the drawer and closed it with a gentle thud. The ugly word on the filing card echoed in his mind: ‘unsolved.’ He gritted his teeth. He had just one word, too, and he said it aloud, without explanation, even though anyone within earshot would understand its meaning.