The Point of No Return
Written May 2004
Synopsis: Elliot takes Olivia out for a birthday she’ll never forget.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
My eyes drifted between the paper in my hands and my wristwatch. It was a little after ten. I tried to hide the smile that I felt creeping to my lips and glanced at Olivia. She was oblivious to everything but her file, one hand shoved in her hair, the fingers absently massaging her scalp. She had no idea what was in store for her just ten hours from now.
“People, it’s after ten.” Cragen’s announcement was the catalyst to our plan, and I straightened just a little. “Go home, get some sleep. We’ll continue looking through the records of Rikers’ finest in the morning.”
Olivia stretched her arms overhead and began putting her things away. I tried to keep my attention focused on whatever it was I was supposed to be reading, but I could see Fin sliding on his coat out of the corner of my eye. I had to bite my lip to keep from grinning.
“Hey, you heard what the captain said. Time to go.”
I leaned back in my chair and looked at my oh-so-clueless partner. “You go ahead. I’m just gonna finish this file.”
She shrugged and turned to Munch. “You coming or staying?”
Fin shook his head at his own partner’s response. “Overachievers. Come on, Olivia. More beauty sleep for us.”
“You certainly need it,” Munch called out as they left the near-empty squad room. The two of us sat quietly, eyes fixed on our files, until we heard the gentle chime of the elevator and the thump of the doors. We dared to look at each other before I rose from my chair and walked to the exit that Olivia and Fin had used. I peered around the corner; the hallway was empty, and the elevator doors were safely closed. “Okay, they’re gone.”
Munch nodded, pulling open his top desk drawer and removing two walkie-talkies. He tossed one to me, which I clipped on my belt. He put his coat on and, with a half-wave, half-salute, started down the stairs. While I waited for him to reach the agreed position, I hurried to the crib. Under the bed was, I hoped, an oblong, unmarked box that Fin had hidden earlier in the week. I lifted up the blanket, which purposely hung to the floor and spotted the box. With a sigh of relief, I slid it out, picked it up, and carried it back to my desk.
The radio at my hip started to squawk with Munch’s voice: “Party Guest Two to Party Guest One. Operation ‘Over the Hill’ has commenced.”
I rolled my eyes. Leave it to Munch to treat the whole thing as some covert operation. “Any sign of Olivia?”
“Affirmative. Old Maid has reached the parking lot.”
Oh yeah, Olivia would really like that one. “You’re real funny, John.” Cragen appeared beside me with four pairs of scissors and an office-sized box of scotch tape. “Thanks, Cap. All the stuff is in the box.”
“She’s getting into her Oldsmobile,” Munch continued.
“Probably switching over to the oldies station.”
I was about to reply when Cragen touched my arm. “Don’t encourage him.” I chuckled. Munch began singing the chorus to Old Fashioned Love Song. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t quit his day job.”
His comment made me grin even wider. I took the lid off the box and pulled out a roll of black wrapping paper with white lettering that read ‘Over the Hill’. There was another roll with the words ‘Life begins at 40.’ Cragen took that one, and we held out our rolls like swords, ready to slay the dragon that was more commonly known as Olivia’s desk. I sighed. “Well, we’ve got to start somewhere.”
Munch’s voice cackled through the silence. “Old Maid has left the parking lot in her vehicle, traveling eastbound. Will wait for Party Guest Three to circle the block before returning to base. Get out the streamers, men. It’s time to decorate.”
Just like the night before when I couldn’t wait for Olivia to leave, I spent the entire morning staring at my watch anticipating her arrival.
I didn’t get home until close to one o’clock and even then I was too excited to sleep. The four of us, despite the fact that we were male and hard-wired to be lousy interior decorators, really did a number on the office. Of course, it looked more like Halloween than a birthday party, given the fact that we let Munch pick out the decorations. Still, I had to admit it looked damn good, even camera-worthy (too bad I let Lizzie borrow the thing to take to the beach last summer where she ‘accidentally’ dropped it into the ocean). Black streamers hung from the ceiling and seemed to form a curtain around the coffee pot and the death by triple chocolate fudge birthday cake. I could feel my arteries clogging already. We also hung a banner from the ceiling in the center of the room – it said ‘Happy Birthday Olivia’ because, according to Munch, the party store employees wouldn’t make one that said ‘Happy Birthday Old-livia.’
I knew I should’ve been suspicious when Munch offered to buy all the decorations.
But then there was the centerpiece, that which had taken the bulk of our time last night – well, actually, Cragen and I worked on it the whole time while Munch and Fin got a brief reprieve to hang the banners and streamers. It was magnificent, glorious – as awesome as the obelisk in 2001. It was the surprise to end all surprises.
We had wrapped Olivia’s entire desk.
I’m not just talking about her desk and her chair, I’m talking about the whole shebang. Her keyboard, monitor, CPU. Every file, every picture frame, every pencil and the cup they were in. We left no stone unturned – or, rather, no item unwrapped. From the stapler to the tape dispenser, the lamp to the telephone, to the legs that offered support to the entire desk. Even her chair was plastered with ‘Over the Hill’ wrapping paper. It looked good albeit a little haphazard. (We’re men, after all, not bound by whatever gene forces women to make a package a beautiful piece of artwork with bows and ribbons and whatnots.)
I looked at my watch again. 8:01 a.m. Leave it to Miss Punctuality to be late today, of all days. Probably slept in, took a bubble bath instead of a shower, spent an hour doing her hair. I started to wonder if she suspected our plans. Maybe she was going to take the day off and then laugh at us on Monday.
My telephone rang. It was Susie downstairs, calling to let me know that Olivia had just come in. I thanked her and hung up. “Okay, people, Liv’s on her way up. Take your places.” I had it all figured out. If Olivia wasn’t onto our scheme, her fight-or-flight mechanism would most likely kick in. Since she wouldn’t open fire in the squad room, she would most likely turn around and run away. At least that’s what I would do if I was in her situation. So I made sure all the exits were covered by uniformed officers, and Casey and Huang were waiting by the elevator to escort her to the party. I sat back in my chair and allowed myself a huge grin. There was no way she was going to get out of this one.
Finally, I could hear her voice. Huang said something back to her, and Casey laughed. When they appeared at the doorway, everyone began to sing “Happy birthday to you…” Olivia looked like a deer in headlights and, as I suspected, turned around and tried to escape. Casey grabbed one arm, Huang took the other, and they dragged her into the squad room, stopping only to push her into her wrapped-up chair. By that time, the song had ended, and everyone was applauding. Olivia, on the other hand, gave me a dirty look. Daggers could’ve been popping out of her eyes for all I cared.
“Happy birthday, Liv.” The shit-eating grin on my face only made her glare at me more.
She continued with the death stare; I continued with the evil grin. No one else moved. I’m not sure they were even breathing. Was she going to reach for her gun and shoot me, or just lean across the desk and strangle me with my tie? She stood up and sauntered over, making the few steps between us seem like miles. She crooked her finger and made that come-hither motion that I, like an idiot, fell for. I closed the distance between us which gave her ample opportunity to grab my tie. I lifted an eyebrow; the gun would’ve been less painful, I think. I heard everyone draw in a sharp breath as she hissed, “Elliot Stabler, you’re a dead man.”
I could see the smile in her eyes, but there was no way she was going to back down without cause. I had just the thing. “And to think I went to all this trouble just for you. Well, I guess Fin will have to take the fudge cake back then.”
That got her attention. “Fudge cake?”
Fin shrugged. “I doubt the shop will want it back. Can’t be too many women named Olivia turning 40 today.”
“Actually, my neighbor’s name is Olivia,” Munch declared, even though I doubted he even knew who his neighbors were. “She’s turning 34. Maybe we can just add a three in front and smear the zero into the icing. You know, that delicious chocolatey fudge icing with just a hint of delicate coffee flavor.” He stood up and approached the cake. “Yeah, you probably wouldn’t want it anyway.”
Olivia must’ve been a sprinter in high school because I’d never seen someone cover fifteen feet faster than someone who only had to cover two. She blocked Munch’s access to the table. “Oh, but I do want my cake.”
“Olivia, it’s death by triple chocolate fudge cake.”
“Really?” her voice oozed, a serene expression on her face. “I changed my mind. Elliot, you’ve received a pardon from death row. Thank you for the fudge cake.”
“You’re welcome,” I said with a chuckle. It would be only a matter of time before she started drooling, and it was best to accept her apology now than let her embarrass herself. There are fudge cake addicts, and then there is Olivia.
Munch shook his head. “I’d like to go on the record as stating that eating something with the word ‘death’ in the name is probably not a good idea.”
Casey made her way to the table as well, rubbing her hands together. “So noted, John. Now where’s the knife?”
It took a while for Olivia to unwrap her gifts because we had them stacked on her desk with all of her wrapped office supplies, making them nearly impossible to find. She found Huang’s gift certificate to Barnes and Noble and Starbucks right away (which was a good present, considering the coffee in the precinct is about as tasty as toilet bowl cleaner). The next package, however, held her back-up files on three CD-ROMs.
Casey laughed at the efforts, bringing another garbage bag to Olivia’s side. After setting it down, she reached inside her purse and pulled out an envelope. “I wasn’t sure how long it would take you to go through all of your … gifts … so I made sure to keep mine separate. Happy birthday.”
“Thank you, Casey.” She looked at me and sneered. “See, we women are smarter. Keep the gifts separate from the gag.” She opened the envelope and gasped. “Oooh, an afternoon at Le Chic Spa! Thanks, Casey!”
“It’s a great package. You get a one-hour skin care treatment, a one-hour body mask, a forty-five minute full body massage, and a facial.” Describing it, she was almost as giddy as Olivia. “Le Chic uses herbal toners, aromatherapy compresses, and a really wonderful sage foot soak. You’ll think you died and went to heaven.”
“Let me see that.” Munch took the brochure and skimmed it. “Oh, look, Olivia. You get to be wrapped in seaweed!” He scoffed and tossed it on her desk. “Suddenly, dying and going to heaven doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.”
Casey rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him.”
“I don’t.” She picked up the certificate and tucked it in her purse. “This is fantastic. Thank you.”
“Our appointment is at one o’clock. Have a light lunch.”
Cragen held up a hand. “You have the afternoon off. That’s my gift to you. Of course, you can come in tomorrow to make up for it, assuming you don’t stay out too late.”
“Stay out too late? What am I doing?”
I bit my bottom lip and tossed a wad of wrapping paper at my partner. “Maybe you’d better finish opening your presents first.” I threw another ball at the captain, knocking him in the shoulder. “Ssshh.”
“Ohh.” He gave me a broad albeit fake smile. “In that case, I’ll see both of you in the morning.”
Munch picked up the piece I had thrown at Cragen. “That makes four of us then. Fin and I drew the short straws last week.”
“I remember,” I told him. “Your punishment for sticking us on the graveyard shift stakeout.”
Olivia wasn’t paying attention to our banter; she had continued unwrapping her desk. I noticed she had found her container of paper clips (we didn’t wrap each clip individually; we were neither that stupid nor that patient). She looked at the holder as if it was something she’d never seen before then stacked it on a nearby chair with the rest of her office supplies. “Hey, I found one with a tag. To Olivia from Munch.”
I raised my eyebrows and watched her rip open the thick package. I didn’t know what he had gotten her. Once the paper was cast aside, I could tell it was a hardcover book, but the back of it gave no indication of the subject matter.
It was only after Olivia read the title aloud that I burst out laughing. “Hovering Black Helicopters,” she said with only the slightest hint of suspicion. “A True Tale of Deceit and Betrayal by the U.S. Government. Gee, thanks, Munch.”
“It’ll make a great coaster,” I said, verbalizing what I knew Olivia would never say aloud. “Or a T.V. tray.”
Munch sighed heavily. “You know, maybe if you guys would read some of this stuff, you’d realize that the government knows more about you than you think.” He pulled the book from Olivia’s hands, and she looked at me, wide-eyed. “For instance, Chapter 12: Big Brother is Watching. This chapter details the numerous ways that the government collects information about you. Listen, listen. Your library card is connected to the FBI’s computers. When you check out a book on gardening, they’re aware of it but take no action. I mean, gardening, who cares, right? However, you check out a book on combat techniques or nuclear weapons, your name goes on their list with a little yellow flag. Caution. They’re keeping their eye on you.”
By that time, my expression mirrored Olivia’s: one of amused disbelief. “So when Kathleen did her report on Area 51…”
“Red flag. Anything directly relating to the government and their numerous cover-ups is red-flagged. Your daughter has an FBI file the size of China, my friend. She will be under close watch for the rest of her life.”
Fin, who had been listening to Munch’s cautionary tale, rolled his eyes and sighed. “Man, this is ridiculous. Where’s your little foil hat, Munch? You know, the one that protects you from the aliens’ cosmic death rays?”
“I had it permanently implanted in my skull,” he replied, handing the book back to Olivia. “If you read this, you will be safe.”
“If you read that, you’ll be red-flagged,” I reminded her. “Say it with me, Liv. T.V. tray.”
She gazed up at Munch, clutching the book to her chest. “I appreciate your concern for my safety, John. Thank you.”
He bowed slightly. “At least someone here will be safe.” Then he pointed a finger at me. “The feds have a silver bullet with your name on it, pal.”
Once Munch had settled down and Olivia resumed her unwrapping, I began to wonder if she would like my gift. It was a silly thought; of course she would. I’d been planning it for months, and Casey’s spa afternoon coupled with Cragen’s early release added to my excitement. Of course, I’d made sure my present was as close to her desktop as possible; I only hoped she didn’t get tired of opening things by then.
“There’s mine,” I heard Fin say, pointing to a thin, square-shaped package. “Go ahead, open it.” He could hardly wait until the paper was off before telling her what it was. “Queen Latifah.”
“She’s a Queen: A Collection of Hits,” she said, citing the title. “Rap music?”
“Gotta bring you into my world somehow. The Queen’s probably right around your speed.”
“Really?” She flipped the case over to read the song listings.
“Maybe you’ll start to appreciate some rap. The Queen’s all about respecting women.”
“Well, I certainly appreciate that. Thanks, Fin.”
Huang, Casey, Cap, Munch, Fin. That left my gift, and Olivia knew it. She gave me a sly look and began unwrapping office supplies at an increased speed. Miniature calendar, tape dispenser – these items were tossed aside with less care as she worked on minimizing the pile that still loomed on her desk.
Finally, I spotted my envelope tucked beneath her wrapped stapler (obvious because of its unique shape). Olivia saw it too and grabbed it. I grinned. This was it. The moment I had been waiting for for months.
She held it in her hands for a moment before turning it over and pulling the tip up. There was silence. Everyone was watching her expression. As she removed the two tickets, she drew in a breath. “Oh … Elliot.” She looked at me, the corners of her mouth slowly rising upward. “How did you know?”
Before I could answer, Munch interrupted, “Come on, Olivia, he knows your bra size. You think he wouldn’t know that you wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic for your birthday?”
His words broke her spell, and she blinked. “Thanks, Munch.”
“Yeah, thanks, Munch,” I said, equally annoyed. She didn’t need to know that I knew her bra size. I shot one more glare at Munch before turning back to Olivia, who was studying the tickets. “I’ll pick you up at 5:30. We have dinner reservations at 6:00. Show’s at 8:30.”
“Good thing I have the afternoon off.” She gasped, her eyes widening. “I have to buy a dress. Casey–”
“There is a boutique right across from Le Chic.” Casey squinted, and I could tell she was envisioning the layout of the store and scanning the inventory. “I bet we could find you a really fun dress.”
“Fun?” Munch repeated.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Fin told him, “it’s a girl thing.”
“Well, Liv can explain it to you at lunch,” I told them.
“What about you?” she asked.
“I have to run a few errands. Not all of us get to leave after lunch.”
“You may not get lunch.” We all turned to Cragen, who had just set the telephone down. “We’ve got a rape victim at Bellevue.”
For once, everything was going my way. Our victim knew her attacker, a relatively rare event as of late. Turns out she had been a temp at his insurance company, and he had promised to let her keep her job if she performed certain “duties” on the side.
Olivia and I went to pick him up at his office. He ran, which I thought was odd given his reputation, but Olivia gave him a good chase, down the stairs and out the building, tackling him on the sidewalk in front of a dozen or so businessmen. I teased her about it as we returned to the precinct – “Way to work off those calories from the death by triple chocolate fudge cake.”
Of course, when we got the perp in the interrogation room, he refused to talk. He said he didn’t need to rape women; they all wanted him. Besides, he’d never have sex with a woman from his office. We did a little good cop/bad cop interrogation. I let Liv be the bad cop; it was her birthday, after all. After a few minutes of her wrath focused on him, he lawyered up, but Munch and Fin found a used condom near the scene with an army of his little soldiers taking refuge in the tip. The perp confessed to having sex with her, but that was all; he didn’t rape her. I frowned at him and leaned forward on the table. “So why did we find traces of your skin underneath her fingernails?” He mumbled something about her liking it rough, even though he was the one with the five inch claw marks down the front of his chest. Casey did a little bargaining with the guy’s attorney, and they struck a deal that I could live with.
All this in time for Olivia to go to lunch with Munch and Fin. If only every day was so cut and dry.
I used my lunch hour to pick up my dry cleaning and have my hair trimmed. Of course, that didn’t stop me from running behind schedule. One thing I’ve always admired about Olivia is her ability to look fantastic in less than ten minutes. She could have had one hour of sleep and manage to be at the stationhouse within half an hour of being called in – and that’s with twenty minutes of driving time. So I knew she’d be ready when I picked her up a few minutes late. Just as I had guessed, when I knocked on the door, she opened it almost immediately.
I seem to remember my jaw dropping to the floor at the sight of her. The thoughts going through my mind actually made me blush.
“Do you like it?” she asked, doing a little twirl.
I nodded dumbly. She had way too much skin exposed for the month of January.
“I don’t know if it’s really appropriate for the Majestic, but it’s my birthday and I look damn good for my age.”
“Damn right.” Well, so much for once-overs. I think I was giving her a tenth-over. Her outfit consisted of two relatively simple pieces: a shirt and a skirt. The shirt, however, was a deep red halter top that matched her lipstick shade. How did women do that? I’m lucky if my socks matched half the time. The skirt she wore was black and it had some kind of fabric sewn in at the hem line to make it look fuller around her knees. Hell, I don’t know the first thing about fashion. All I knew was that she looked incredibly sexy in that outfit. The rest of it was semantics.
“Is it cold outside?” she asked, hands folded in what looked like a prayer.
“If I tell you yes, are you going to change clothes?”
“No, I’m going to wear a heavier coat.”
Relief swept over me. “Go with the heavier coat. If you get too cold, I’ll let you wear my tuxedo jacket.” Cause let’s face it, I could use a little cooling off right now.
“Oh! I almost forgot.” She slid over to the refrigerator in her stocking feet like Tom Cruise in Risky Business and yanked it open. Whatever was inside, she found immediately and brought over to me. It was a small, see-through plastic container. “I knew you’d choose a black cummerbund so I got you this.” She removed the red rose boutonniere with a smile and began pinning it to my lapel.
“I’m having flashbacks of my high school prom,” I said. “Does this mean we get to make out under the bleachers?”
I should’ve known better than to tease her when she had a sharp object in her hand. I felt the tip of the pin graze my flesh, and I jerked back. She gave me an impish smile and an unapologetic “Sorry.”
When she was done, I straightened my shoulders, catching a glimpse of myself in her entryway mirror. I may have looked dressed for the prom, but my age definitely showed. “You ready, Liv?”
Her reflection appeared behind me as she slid on her coat. “Absolutely. I’m starving. While Munch and Fin inhaled double bacon cheeseburgers, I was stuck nibbling on a garden salad with all veggies, no cheese, no meat, and very little oil and vinegar.”
“That’s the price you pay for being beautiful, huh?”
She rolled her eyes. “No way do I ever want to be a supermodel.”
“Well, come on, birthday girl,” I said, crooking my elbow so she could take it. “Your calorie-fest awaits.”
End of Part 1