The Price of Justice 2/14

The Price of Justice
Written November 2005
Rated PG-13
Synopsis: The rape and subsequent murder of a prominent judge leave the squad with no evidence and no suspects.

Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations.  No infringement is intended.


Pauley’s Cafeteria
Brooklyn, New York
Wednesday, October 20

“She’s late.”

Olivia nodded. “A little.”

Elliot peered out of the restaurant’s windows once more before leaning back and stretching his arm across the booth seat. “Those cheese fries are looking pretty good right about now.”

“Too much grease,” she said, poking him in the ribs. “You need to go running with me, open up those arteries.”

“I do run.”

“Chasing the twins around the house is not what I had in mind.” He didn’t say anything, a far away look on his face. She frowned. “Elliot?”

“Hey, what do we know about the sister? Anything?”

She let the change in subjects go – for now – and thought back to the research she had done on Carly Summers last night. “She’s twelve years younger than Judge Woodward.”

“Twelve years?”

“Vasectomy gone wrong.”

“Ouch.”

“She has a degree in business finance but runs a pretty popular private investigation firm that works in New York and New Jersey. They do process serving, security system installation, typical spy work.”

“Did you find out anything about the rape? Anything to tie it to the judge’s attack?”

Olivia shook her head. “The circumstances aren’t similar at all. In her junior year of college, Carly’s British Literature professor asked her to stay late to discuss an essay she had written. He raped her. Her roommate convinced her to go to the authorities. The criminal trial was carried out by one of the district attorneys. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t think there was enough evidence for a conviction and he was acquitted. Judge Woodward represented her in a civil case – quite successfully, I might add.”

“Big award?”

“Oh, yeah.” She took a sip of her water. “After the rape, she became addicted to barbiturates. She kicked the drug habit after a stay in rehab, but now she’s started drinking. She’s had two drunk and disorderly charges and one DUI, all of them dismissed.”

“Must be nice, having a sister around to bail you out of everything.”

“Actually, Carly’s own money and a little community service got her out of trouble. Judge Woodward didn’t do anything.”

“Though the fact that she’s a judge probably didn’t hurt.” His eye caught sight of a woman walking into the restaurant, the only female to come in alone in the last half hour. “Is that her?”

“Can’t be. She looks nothing like Judge Woodward.”

The woman approached and sat across from them. “Sorry I’m late. I had something I needed to take care of.” They stared at her. “You’re Benson and Stabler, right?”

Elliot was surprised. “There are probably fifty people in here, most of them couples. How’d you spot us so fast – or were you peeking in the windows with binoculars?”

“You look like cops.” At their frown, she sighed in annoyance. “You’re too business, she’s too casual. You’re on the same side of the booth, but you’re not a cutesy newlywed couple. Farthest booth back with a view of the door. Simple.”

Carly Summers was the polar opposite of her sister by way of physical appearance. Where Judge Woodward had fair hair and blue eyes, Carly’s features were rich brown, almost coffee-colored, and she wore her hair in a ponytail fixed loosely at the nape of her neck. Coupled with the fact that she was around six feet tall (another noticeable difference between she and her sister), she could have easily been a model.

She gave her order to the exhausted waitress then glanced down her nose at the detectives. “Aren’t you going to eat anything?”

“We already ate,” Elliot lied, making a mental note to order the fries after their meeting. “We’ll make this as brief as we can; I’m sure you’re very busy.”

“Business is booming.”

“Why don’t you give us your version of Sunday night?”

She stretched her long arms overhead as if she had not a care in the world. “I joined my sister for dinner at Primorski. Don’t ask me why I agreed to eat there; I hate Russian food. Anyway, dinner was at eight, and we left when the wine bottle was empty, which, not so coincidentally, was when it stopped being fun.”

Olivia raised her eyebrows. “Do the two of you get along?”

“That’s what I love about living in New York. Same city but we rarely see each other, although I see her more often than she sees me. Gotta love television. Marianne has been trying to reconcile for years, to make up for all the bullshit she put me through after I was raped.”

“Meaning?”

“Back then – it was ninety-three – Marianne was doing estate planning or personal injury or some type of civil casework. Hell, maybe she was a criminal defense lawyer. I don’t know. Marianne and I were never very close, and we had nothing in common. But when I was raped, she jumped on it like a lion going for the kill. The criminal trial was awful, and when the foreman said ‘not guilty’ and that bastard judge just let him go, let him walk right out of the courthouse…” She shook her head as if the action was enough to erase the memory. “I didn’t want to go through a civil trial. But Marianne … I don’t know, for the first time in my life, I really thought she cared about what happened to me, like she was trying to do what was best for me. Like I wasn’t a wrinkle in her lifelong plan.”

“And?” Olivia prompted.

“I was wrong. She paraded me around New York as the sweet victim, an innocent college girl trying to better herself, and my Brit Lit professor as the Doctor Jekyll, Mister Hyde type, taking advantage of all those innocent college girls. But to my sister’s credit, she was brilliant. The jury bought every word.”

“What happened when it was over?” Elliot asked.

“I think I was more scarred because of the trial than I was because of the rape, and I stopped speaking to my sister. She sent letters, placed calls, tried to communicate with me, but I refused. I was angry. We tried a few times to be friendly, mostly at holidays, but it never worked out, and I just gave up. But then our father died suddenly, and I thought that maybe I should make nice with her because you never know how long you have. That was a mistake. She’s still the same power-driven woman she was when I was raped, and I’m still the same sweet victim.” She scoffed. “I put that rape behind me years ago, and now she’s bringing it up again – during a city wide press conference, no less. I’ve already lost two clients because of her announcement.”

Elliot looked at his partner then back at Carly. “Back to Sunday. What happened after you went home?”

“I watched the news, fell asleep sometime during the weather. A few hours later, the phone rang.”

“Who called you?”

“Officer Davies. He told me that Marianne had been raped and to come over to Mount Sinai. I remember thinking, ‘Well, now we finally have something in common’.” The waitress returned with a small side salad and a glass of water, and Carly nodded her thanks. “She was still in with the doctor when I arrived, and her good-for-nothing housekeeper was gone, as usual.” She stuffed half of a boiled egg into her mouth and chewed.

Olivia decided to ignore the comment about Elena for now. “Did Marianne stay with you that night?”

“She needed a place to stay and like I said, we finally had something in common.”

“Can you think of anyone who would want to hurt your sister?”

“Detective, she spends eight hours of her day putting sex offenders and other violent criminals behind bars. I’m surprised she hasn’t been threatened yet – or worse.” She took a few more bites of her salad and stood, tossing a ten dollar bill on the table. “If that’s all?”

“You don’t seem too concerned about your sister’s attack.”

“She never gave a damn about me. Why should I give a damn about her?” She walked out of the restaurant without a glance over her shoulder and disappeared into the crowd.

“Well, that was interesting,” Elliot said, flagging down the waitress. “Can we get a large order of cheese fries, please?”

Olivia rolled her eyes at his order. “When you’re in the hospital having bypass surgery, I’m not visiting you.”

“You don’t have to. You’ll be in the bed next to me having the same surgery. Maybe we can get them on special – a two-for-one deal.” He looked at Carly’s nearly-full salad plate. “So what do you think?”

“She has a lot of guilt and a lot of anger.”

“Did you hear her comment about Elena? ‘Good-for-nothing housekeeper’? ‘Gone as usual’?”

“We should talk to Elena again – and Judge Woodward. Get their sides of the story.” The plate of french fries, coated mercilessly with a rich cheese sauce, appeared before them. “Oh, El.” She reached for a fry, but he pulled the plate away.

“I don’t recall you wanting any.”

“I don’t, but I have to save you from coronary difficulties.” She grabbed one before he could stop her and put it in her mouth. “Mmm. Very good.”

“So you wanna go to the judge’s chambers then over to the hotel and talk to Elena?”

“Yeah,” she said, sneaking another fry. “Later.”

***

“You owe me for this.” Casey unloaded an armful of court transcripts on the nearest unoccupied desk. “And that’s just the civil trial. Criminal trial is larger.”

Munch picked up the first thick transcript. “Carly L. Summers v. Devon R. Castle, circa nineteen ninety-six. Three years after the rape?”

“There was a lot of discovery. Judge Woodward milked it for everything it was worth. I skimmed a few pages; it made me want to do civil work.” She glanced around the squadroom. “Where is everybody?”

“Elliot and Olivia are interviewing the judge’s sister. Fin’s having an early lunch with his friends from Narcotics.” The telephone rang, and he picked up the receiver. “Special Victims Unit, this is Detective Munch.”

Munch, it’s Elliot. We just finished meeting with Carly Summers. She and her sister don’t speak much, and she implied that it had something to do with her rape trial. Did Casey come back with the transcript?

“Hot off the presses.”

Good. See if there’s anything useful in there.

“Will do. You two headed back to the precinct?”

Not yet. We’re going to talk to the judge. Carly also had some pretty interesting comments about Elena, so we’re going to pay her another visit too.

“All right, see you later.” He hung up and looked at Casey. “You busy?”

“Not at the moment. Why?”

He held up the first transcript. “I need your help.”

***

Judge Woodward ushered Elliot and Olivia into her chambers. “I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we talk. I have an emergency TRO hearing in half an hour.”

“Not at all,” Elliot replied, “but we do have some additional questions.”

“Like why you decided to schedule a press conference,” Olivia said.

“With all due respect, Detectives, this is my life we’re talking about. If I know my investigative procedure, at some point you would have to interview my friends, family members, co-workers. That’s bound to turn a few heads, maybe even attract the attention of some journalist hanging around the courthouse. I thought it would be more appropriate coming from me rather than a talking head on the evening news.” She waved her hand before Olivia could speak again. “Don’t worry, Detectives. The details of my attack will remain privileged. I don’t want to jeopardize your investigation.”

Olivia smiled and folded her arms across her chest. “Why didn’t you tell us you were running for Supreme Court Justice?”

She stopped in mid-bite. “Was that information pertinent?”

“You’re a judge. You know how it looks to a jury when something gets left out. Even the little things, like political ambitions.”

“I see your point,” she conceded with a nod. “It’s … unsettling to be on this side of the fence. I had a dream once, that I was presiding over my own rape trial. You ever have a dream like that, where you’re investigating your own rape, or the rape of a loved one?”

“We have a photograph of your attacker,” Elliot said. “Unfortunately, it’s not clear enough to make out any features, but it appears that he escaped through the stairwell. Do you know the people who live on the floor below you?”

“You think they did it?”

“We’re just examining all possibilities.”

“Well, two families live below me. Mr. Taylor is paralyzed from the waist down, and Reverend Jacobs is a Presbyterian minister.”

Olivia looked at her partner then back at the judge. “A reverend can afford to live in your building?”

“His wife is a stockbroker.”

“Have you had any problems recently?” she asked. “With other residents, management, attorneys, judges?”

“No.” She sat her sandwich down and folded her hands together. “I honestly can’t think of anyone who would do this, and it would take you years to interview everyone that I’m acquainted with.” Her eyes lit up. “I am hosting a small get-together on Friday night, however.”

“What kind of get-together?” Elliot asked.

“To celebrate my nomination for Justice. A pep rally, though without all the balloons and lengthy speeches. I’d be glad to extend an invitation to the members of the Special Victims Unit. You can speak to some of my friends and colleagues.”

“We’ll be there.”

“Black tie,” she said.

Elliot chuckled. “Good thing I own my own tux.”

Judge Woodward nodded and picked up her sandwich again. Before taking a bite, she asked, “Is there anything else?”

“We talked to your sister,” Olivia said. “She had quite a lot to say.”

“Yes, I’m sure she was angry with me. She has been ever since the day she was born. We have a significant age difference, and while I was planning for college, she was starting kindergarten. We were never close, but when she was raped-” She sighed. “Forgive the way this sounds, but I saw that as my opportunity to gain her love. It seemed to have had the opposite effect, and we’ve hardly spoken since.”

Elliot hesitated before speaking. “She doesn’t like Elena either, does she?”

“No.”

“Any idea why?”

“If you had asked me a week ago, I would’ve said jealousy. Elena is younger, yet we get along better than Carly and I ever did.”

“And if we ask you now?”

Judge Woodward dropped her sandwich again and pushed it away, frowning. “After her fourth glass of wine that night, Carly started chastising me over my lifestyle, my late husband, my housekeeper, everything. Most of it was ridiculous, but then she told me that she knew things about Elena that I didn’t know. She said Elena had stolen something from me, but she wouldn’t say what.”

…good-for-nothing housekeeper… The words echoed in Elliot’s head. “Did you find any evidence that she had been stealing? Money, valuables?”

“Valuables, no. Money, I suppose it’s possible. If she has, I’ve never noticed. I give her a weekly sum that she uses to do grocery shopping, make household purchases, that sort of thing. She gives me all of the receipts at the end of the week.”

“Do you look through them?” Olivia asked.

“Chester was always good with finances; he used to go through them. I glance over them, but I don’t scrutinize.” She sighed at them. “She’s been a member of my family for years. I trust her.”

He noted the slight hesitancy in her voice. “Have the two of you fought lately?”

“Since Chester’s death, it’s been … hard.”

“Why?”

“I think she saw us as surrogate parents, and she was very upset when he died. She would lock herself in her room and cry for hours on end. When I tried to talk to her about it, she grew hostile. I suggested therapy; she screamed obscenities in Russian and stormed out.”

Olivia straightened. “When was this?”

“In August. She was gone for a day and a half. I was about to file a missing persons report when she suddenly reappeared. Everything was fine after that.”

A dozen different ideas formed in his mind, but he wasn’t about to say them in the presence of the judge. He felt Olivia shift her weight to the other foot, a sign that she had something to tell him as well. “If you think of anything else, you’ll give us a call?”

“Of course.” She stood and reached for her robe. “It’s almost time for my hearing anyway.” She walked out with them then disappeared into the elevator.

Elliot sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands. “Think it’s political?”

“Everything is political,” his partner said. “But now I’m wondering about Elena and her thirty-six hour sabbatical.”

“Yeah. Where do you think she went?”

“Losing a loved one like that, especially someone she saw as a father figure… Maybe she couldn’t handle the stress and had to get away.” She paused. “What do you think Carly was reluctant to tell the judge? Think it’s related?”

“I don’t know.” He paused. “If she stole money, do you think it was for drugs?”

“Could’ve been to pay a man to rape her boss. She left the door unlocked; what if it wasn’t an accident?”

He nodded. “Let’s go talk to Elena.”

***

“This is incredible.”

Munch raised an eyebrow. “Your burger?”

“No, this report.” Casey took another bite, her eyes focused on the Woodward rape file. “‘I love it when a plan comes together’? Classic television fodder.”

“I always assumed you were a vegetarian.”

The comment caught her off guard – hell, it even surprised him – and she looked up with a curious smile. “Why?”

‘Because I have an unnatural interest in the kinds of food you eat’ would probably make him sound too much like a stalker. “Well, I seem to remember you eating a giant meatless salad once.”

“I had a craving for ranch dressing.” She met his gaze and repeated, “Why?”

“I guess I was surprised by your food selection, considering your high level of physical activity. Salad, loaded with dressing or not, I could understand, but the cheeseburger and fries…”

“Always keep them guessing.”

“Indeed.”

She closed the cover to the file and leaned back in her chair. “Well, your burger is twice as big as mine.”

“Yeah, but it’s got all the vegetables on it. Tomatoes, lettuce.”

“But the mayonnaise…”

“It’s Miracle Whip.”

Casey laughed. “Somehow, I don’t think that matters in the long run.”

He chuckled, swirling a french fry in the pile of ketchup. She was still looking at him; he could feel it. He hadn’t needed her help in deciphering the court transcript, nor did she have to read the investigative reports they had collected thus far. He was certain that she knew this. No, his invitation had been yet another masked attempt to get to know her better, when it would be easier to just ask her to dinner. Of course, without an underlying and innocuous reason, the chances of her turning him down increased by a factor of-

“Do you like Indian cuisine?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“Best indigestion I’ve ever experienced.”

Her smile was genuine, and for the first time he noticed the brilliant emerald color of her eyes. Bad idea, he told himself. If he was going to start giving a name to the exact shade of her irises, he might as well dig his grave now.

She shifted in her seat. “Well, I know this little place-”

His cell phone rang once. He held his breath and waited, gaze locked with hers. The ring sounded again. Casey shook her head and went back to eating her burger. He removed the infernal device from his pocket. “Munch.”

Hey, man, where are you?” came Fin’s voice. “We were supposed to work on these transcripts, remember?

“A man’s gotta eat. I’m almost done; I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

There was a pause. “You’re not alone, are you? Who-

Munch disconnected the call before his mouth got him into more trouble than necessary. “I’ve been summoned back to the precinct.”

“Go ahead. I’m going to catch a cab back to my office. I have a hearing this afternoon, and I need time to prepare.”

For a reason that he shoved into the farthest corner of his mind, he was sorry to see her go.

***

“Detectives.” Elena looked surprised to see Elliot and Olivia standing outside the hotel room. “Can I help you?”

“May we come in?” Olivia asked.

With a suspicious glance at them, she let them enter. “When can I return to the apartment?”

Elliot took a quick glance at the suite. It was almost as elaborate as the judge’s residence. “CSU hasn’t finished their investigation, but it should be available to you tomorrow or Friday. Is there something you need in the meantime? I could have a patrol officer bring it by.”

“No. Thank you.” Almost as an afterthought, she asked, “Did you find out who did this to Ms. Woodward?”

Olivia shook her head. “Actually, we have a few more questions we’d like to ask you.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Were you close to Chester Woodward?”

She blinked. Elliot could see the tears begin to form in her eyes. “Yes, very.”

“Where did you go?” At her confused look, Olivia asked, “When you left for a day and a half after his death, where did you go?”

She hesitated. “I went to the airport. I even bought a ticket back to Moscow, but I couldn’t get on the plane. I sat in the terminal until the next morning, when some security guards made me leave. So I went back to the apartment and told Ms. Woodward I was sorry.”

He looked at Olivia and could tell by her expression that she had trouble believing her story. He wasn’t so sure either. “What’s your relationship like with Carly Summers?”

“Ms. Woodward’s sister? Why? What did she say about me?”

“What do you think she said?”

She opened her mouth to reply but shut it just as quickly. “We are not friends, but Ms. Woodward is not friends with her sister either.”

“What kind of things do you do for the judge?” Elliot asked.

“I clean house, cook dinner, do the grocery shopping-”

“Where do you get the money to go shopping?”

“From Ms. Woodward.”

“She told us that you bring back the receipts and the remainder of the budgeted amount at the end of each week.” He caught her gaze; the tears were gone, replaced by dark clouds of anger and frustration. “You fairly consistent in your spending?”

Elena exploded like a tea kettle. She began screaming in Russian, pacing the living area and pulling at her hair. Occasional bits of English – phrases like ‘that lying bitch’ – escaped her lips. When she raised her fist up, Elliot grabbed her wrist, and she cried out. “No!”

“That’s enough,” he spat. “Now sit down.”

He released her, and she fell onto the couch, glaring at him. “I never stole from Ms. Woodward. That money is in the household expense account. I have my own money, and she has her own money. I pay the bills and buy the supplies, but that’s all. I don’t steal.”

“Carly thinks you do.”

“Elliot, come on,” Olivia said gently.

Elena tilted her chin up, eyes glimmering with defiance. “She thinks that because she can stalk me legally with her investigator license that she knows everything. But she doesn’t – and she never will.”

***

“Here, put these on.”

“Thanks.” Elliot took a pair of booties from the investigator and slipped them over his shoes.

Olivia gave him some latex gloves. “What are we looking for?”

“Anything. Nothing. I don’t know.”

“You okay?”

“Fantastic.” He headed into the judge’s apartment, careful to avoid the areas where CSU was still working. “Which way should we go? Left, right, or straight?”

“Well, straight takes us to the conservatory. Right is the kitchen and judge’s bedroom. Left is … Elena’s room, perhaps?”

“We’ll go left.” He scanned the living room. “Who’s in charge here?”

“Me. Andy Baker.” A lanky man with wire-rimmed glasses stood up. He had a pudgy, youthful face and a head of thick brown hair. His green eyes shifted to Olivia more than once. “You the lead detectives?”

“Elliot Stabler; my partner, Olivia Benson. Are the rooms to the left cleared?”

“Yes, sir. We started on the outside and worked our way in. Doesn’t look like the perp even went that way.”

“Okay, thanks.” He headed down the hallway, Olivia close behind. The left wall of the short hallway was bare. There were only two rooms on the right, the first of which was a bathroom decorated in solid blue. He passed it and entered the second room, a scarcely furnished bedroom with peach walls. A pastel floral quilt covered the twin bed. There was a small dresser next to the door, but the top of it was void of any personal effects. Plain, mostly colorless clothes hung in the closet and three pairs of shoes sat neatly on the floor beneath them. The only hint that someone actually lived there was a small framed photograph of Elena on the nightstand.

“Is this Elena’s room or a guest room?” she wondered aloud.

“It looks like Martha Stewart’s prison cell.”

“We should get a copy of her bank statements. She may have free room and board, but Judge Woodward has to pay her some kind of stipend.”

He nodded, walking over to the nightstand. “Liv, how many pictures of yourself do you have in your apartment?”

“Of myself?”

“Of yourself by yourself.”

She frowned. “Just one. Academy graduation picture. It was my mother’s.”

“Look at this.” He held up the photograph from Elena’s nightstand. The housekeeper had been captured in a casual laugh. “Typical?”

“I don’t know. Then again, I’m not Russian.”

He replaced the frame but continued to stare at it. “I want to see her financial records. Something doesn’t make sense.”

“A lot of this doesn’t make sense.”

“You can say that again.”

End of part two

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