The Price of Justice
Written November 2005
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.
Special Victims Unit
Thursday, October 21
“How much money do you suppose the judge pays Elena?”
Fin snorted at Elliot’s question. “Probably more than we make.”
“So why is her checking account empty?”
Olivia leaned over her partner’s shoulder. “Five hundred a month in deposits? Where does the rest of the money go?”
“Drugs?” Munch suggested.
“I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t have any of the signs.” Elliot stretched and hid a yawn. “We went by the apartment last night; she lives like a nun. Hardly any personal effects in her bedroom, fewer clothes than any woman I’ve ever known, no jewelry.”
“You think she has a savings account somewhere?” Fin asked.
“Only if it’s in Switzerland.”
Munch frowned and shuffled through some papers on his desk. “Do we have her tax records?”
“Excuse me,” came a voice, “is this the Special Victims Unit?”
They all looked up. A teenaged bicycle courier stood in the doorway, holding an envelope. Olivia smiled. “It is. Can we help you with something?”
“I have a delivery from The Honorable Marianne Woodward.” He handed her a form which she signed and then gave her the envelope. “Have a nice day.”
She opened it and pulled out a crisp white card with embossed gold lettering. “We’ve been invited.”
“To what?” Munch asked with a scowl.
“Some political pep rally tomorrow night,” Elliot replied. “Black tie only.”
“Why have we been invited?”
“She invited some colleagues. It’s a good way to interview other judges.”
Olivia skimmed the rest of the invitation. “It starts at eight o’clock. All Special Victims Unit detectives and their guests are invited.”
Fin shook his head. “Count me out.”
“What about the overtime?” Elliot asked.
“Those parties are all about who has the most money and the most connections. Besides, I’m volunteering at the homeless shelter tomorrow night.”
“Good for you.” Olivia fanned herself with the invitation. “Well, I’ll be there. We may not get another chance like this.”
“Pick you up at quarter til?” her partner asked.
She nodded then looked at Munch. “You coming, John?”
“Of course. There’s nothing I enjoy more than provoking the political elite.”
Cragen stepped out of his office. “Any leads?”
She handed the invitation to him. “Elliot, Munch, and I are going.”
He glanced at the card and nodded. “All right, but remember: you’ll be working. Lay off the wine.”
“Who said anything about wine?” she asked with a grin. “I’m going for the caviar.”
Elliot wrinkled his nose, and Munch said, “Hopefully she’ll serve those little hot dogs on a toothpick.”
“Hey, I’m just your average guy.”
“Settle down, children,” Cragen said, returning the card to Olivia. “What else?”
Fin held up the file. “We’ve been going through the housekeeper’s financials. She makes a decent amount of money, but her checking account is almost empty.”
“Is she a suspect?”
“The sister said Elena stole from the judge,” Elliot said. “In turn, Elena accused her of ‘legally stalking’ her. Sister’s a PI.”
Olivia continued, “Elena and Judge Woodward had been fighting after Chester Woodward’s death. According to the judge, Elena had been depressed, crying, unable to function. She disappeared for a day and half then returned as if nothing had happened.”
“Where did she go?”
“To the airport, supposedly with a ticket back to Moscow. Never took the flight, came back home.”
Cragen rubbed the top of his head. “All right, people, this is getting out of hand. Bring in the sister. Don’t let her go until she tells you about the housekeeper. Remind her that she’s interfering with an ongoing police investigation. Check with the airlines and see if you can confirm the purchase of a ticket to Moscow. If there’s nothing else?” They separated like football players receiving instructions from their coach and returned to the field to prepare for the next quarter.
Elliot lifted the papers from the fax machine’s tray and sat back at his desk. “Looks like Munch’s IRS friend pulled through.”
“Elena’s tax records?” Olivia was at his side before he even realized she had gotten up.
“Yeah. Look at this. She makes a little over thirty thousand a year.”
“Free room and board and still nets that much? Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.”
“You and me both.”
She frowned as she examined the forms. “Okay, so she owns no property, no car, has no dependents and yet she banks only five hundred a month. Where does the rest of the money go?”
He thumbed through the pages. “Wait a minute. Last year, she claimed eleven thousand dollars as a gift.”
“Eleven thousand? That’s an odd amount.”
“That’s the limit before you start paying taxes on the gift money.” He looked at the past few years. “She reached the limit every year. Not a penny over.”
“Who’d she give that much money to?”
“I don’t know.” The W-2 raised several red flags in his mind, and he did some quick calculations. “If we assume exactly five hundred a month makes it into the bank, that’s six thousand a year … add the eleven thousand in gift money, and that leaves thirteen thousand unaccounted for, minus taxes.”
“And she has no loans, she doesn’t rent anything… Jesus, Elliot. Is thirteen thousand enough to hire a rapist?”
“I don’t even want to know.”
“Carly told her sister that Elena was stealing. And if she knew that, maybe she also knew why – and what, if not money. We can ask her when she gets here.”
He glanced at his watch. “She’s late again. You get the feeling she doesn’t want to talk to us?”
“Would you want to talk to us?”
“Good point. Maybe she’ll want to talk to Munch. He has a way with women.” The joking expression on his face disappeared when he realized Munch wasn’t even paying attention. Instead, he was on the telephone, speaking in a hushed tone. “Who’s he talking to?”
“I don’t know.”
Elliot frowned, rolling his chair over to Munch’s desk. “…thought you might like to come,” the man was saying. When he noticed Elliot lingering nearby, he turned away from him and cupped his hand around the receiver. “Yeah, eight o’clock tomorrow night. Formal attire.”
Elliot shot a glance at Olivia. “I think he’s trying to find a date for the judge’s party.”
“Really?” She hurried over to them and put her ear against Munch’s head, straining to hear the voice of the woman on the other line.
Munch slapped his hand over the mouthpiece, hissed “Go away!”, and returned to his conversation. “Okay, I’ll see you at seven-thirty then. Bye.” He hung up and glared at Elliot and Olivia. “Can’t a guy get a little privacy around here?”
“No,” Elliot said, and Olivia slapped his arm. “So who’s the lucky lady?”
“What makes you think it’s a lady?”
Carly Summers walked into the squadroom, holding a dark brown briefcase in one hand and a styrofoam coffee cup in the other. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Glad you could make it,” Elliot told her, and she sneered in response. “We’ll be meeting in the interview room right in there. If you want to go in, have a seat, we’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
She walked past, giving him a cool stare, and entered the room next to Cragen’s office. Munch peered in her direction. “That’s the judge’s sister?”
“Different as night and day,” Olivia confirmed. She took the file and followed Carly.
After exchanging glances with Munch, Elliot joined them. “What did you and your sister talk about over dinner?”
“What did we talk about? That’s why you brought me down here?” She scoffed and sat down. “Well, we talked about the weather, and the direct connection between reality TV and the degredation of society, and how I could probably make more money if I relocated to California. All in all, a pretty boring conversation.”
“Your sister said you brought up Elena, and you hinted to us yesterday that you didn’t think too highly of her. Any reason why?”
“She’s not the sweet, innocent girl you think she is. She’s … crafty.”
“What did she steal?” Olivia asked. “Money?”
Carly gave her a haughty smile. “No. You’ve got it all wrong.” Her hard expression faltered, and she became somber, timid. Even her voice, usually so full of arrogance, softened. “Over the years, even when we weren’t speaking, I would keep track of my sister. She always did so well for herself. Married her law school sweetheart, got herself on the right career path, became popular in all the right circles. Everything she’s ever wanted, she’s gotten. Except one thing. Elena took that from her, and if Marianne knew, she would be devastated.”
Elliot’s eyes widened. “She-”
“I love my sister. Keeping this from her is the only way I know how to prove that.” Carly opened her briefcase and removed a slim manila folder. “Please use your discretion. We’ve both been hurt enough.” She gathered her items and left the station.
Olivia watched her go then turned to the folder. It had no markings or labels. She lifted the flap. The document on top was written entirely in Cyrillic, but fortunately a translation to English was attached. It was a birth certificate. Nikolai Petrova, born on December 23, 1999 in Moscow. The mother was listed as Elena Petrova, the father … blank. Olivia felt a small twinge in her chest; her own birth certificate looked similar.
“Is the year right?” she muttered to herself. “Wasn’t she raped in ninety-seven?”
“It’s not the rapist’s baby, Liv. It’s Chester Woodward’s.”
Her lips parted, but she said nothing. Carefully, she set the birth certificate aside and found a black and white photograph underneath. A very young Elena and a much older man – Chester Woodward? – having sex in what looked like a hotel room bed.
Elliot let out the breath he had been holding. “No wonder she didn’t tell her sister.”
“That’s where the money’s going. To Russia, for the baby.”
“He’s four now.” He frowned again. “That’s an awful lot of money, though. Eleven thousand a year in US dollars? Maybe she did pay someone to attack the judge.”
“What’s the point?”
“Humiliation? Maybe she secretly hates her.”
“I don’t know. But if she didn’t do it, that leaves Carly.”
She was already shaking her head. “She’s angry and bitter, but there are other ways she could hurt her sister. Telling her about Chester and Elena’s child, for one.”
“Then the judge herself. The whole thing could’ve been staged. What did the doctor’s report say? Cuts, bruising, bleeding. That’s possible even during consensual sex. She was tied up, blindfolded, and gagged. Again, possibly consensual – or intentional, to make it look like she was raped. Her lover wore a condom so he wouldn’t be implicated by the investigation.”
“To what end?”
“Political gain. It’s the sympathy factor. Voters see her name on the ballot, and they think, ‘That’s the judge who was raped. She’ll definitely change the laws to protect the victims.’ They’ll eat it up.”
“I don’t know, Elliot. I just don’t see her as being that malicious. I think that by staging her own rape, she’d be going against everything she believes in.”
“People do it all the time.”
Olivia gave a small shrug. “I just don’t get that impression from her.”
“Okay. If not Elena and not Carly and not the judge herself, then who?”
“Someone who has easy access to the building. Resident, on-site maintenance worker, doorman.”
“Then we need to go back through the list of all the employees and residents. Cross reference it with the sex offender database, check their rap sheets, watch all of the security tapes from that day.”
“Yeah,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s get started.”
Casey walked toward the elevator in the courthouse, trying not to grin too broadly. She’d just won her motion – and won it by a landslide, leaving the defense attorney speechless and the judge impressed. There was no greater feeling than that. Too bad there was no one she could call and gloat to.
She turned around to see Judge Woodward looking up at her. “Yes, Your Honor?”
She opened her mouth to speak then chuckled when no words would come. “You argued your motion brilliantly this afternoon.”
“You were there?” The hearing had been before Judge Terhune; Casey had been so focused on her speech, she didn’t even notice anyone else in the courtroom. “Well, thank you.”
“You work with the detectives assigned to my case.”
It wasn’t a question, but Casey nodded her reply.
“You’ll be prosecuting my case after they make an arrest.”
“I’m glad.” Woodward gave her a slight smile. “You’re a good attorney, Casey. There’s no one else I’d rather have on my side. You … remind me of myself when I was younger.”
Whether it was a sincere compliment or a well-placed trick, it had the same effect. Casey’s cheeks turned the same color as her hair. “I appreciate that very much, Your Honor.”
Her grin widened. “I’ll see you in court, Ms. Novak. I look forward to another performance like today’s.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Woodward squeezed her upper arm. “I know you will.”
“Did you spot Zorro yet?”
Olivia dropped her forehead against the arm that she had slung across the table. Elliot chuckled then looked at Munch. “Nope. You have any luck with the Russians?”
“Believe it or not, I found someone who confirmed that Elena gave birth at the Savior’s Hospital for Peace and Charity in Moscow. A boy named Nikolai. No father.”
“So Carly was telling the truth.”
“And the airline confirmed that Elena purchased a ticket to Moscow in August but never took the flight.” He gestured to the VCR. “How much do you have left?”
“We’ve gone through the front door camera’s first twelve hours. Nobody in a black cape or a black hat.”
“You know, maybe we should take into account that perhaps our mystery man donned his outfit after coming through the front door.”
Olivia lifted her head. “We already went through the cameras outside of the fitness center and parking garage. Nobody suspicious.”
“Did you look at the janitor’s locker room?”
“No.” She exchanged glances with Elliot.
Munch leaned against the door frame. “The other day, the Post reported a recent string of robberies in some of the high rise apartments in Manhattan, particularly on the Upper West Side. Now as we all learned back at the academy, some sexual crimes are secondary crimes.”
“To things like robbery,” Elliot finished. “If he’s an employee, he might have seen both Judge Woodward and Elena leave. Then when his shift ended, he headed upstairs-”
“He would know the positioning of the cameras,” Olivia added.
“-was robbing the apartment when the judge came home. Boom – crime of opportunity.”
Munch nodded. “Then, when Elena returned, he got spooked and left. He could’ve kept the cape and hat in his locker and put it back when he was done.”
“Wouldn’t that draw suspicion though?” Olivia asked. “Leaving the locker room in his disguise and heading for the stairwell?”
“I’ll call the superintendent, see if we can get a building layout or a set of blueprints.” Munch disappeared from the room.
She sat up straight and stretched. “I’m going to grab some dinner from across the street. You want your usual?”
“Yeah,” he said absently, his face contorted into an expression of concentration. “You know, Liv, there are bits and pieces that still don’t make any sense. Why didn’t he rape Elena, too? If it was really a crime of opportunity, the judge was still bound and gagged. He could’ve overpowered Elena just as easily.”
“Greater risk of being caught maybe. He attacked Judge Woodward in a dark bedroom then blindfolded her. Elena probably turned on the lights when she came home. If he wasn’t wearing a mask, she might have been able to identify him.”
He propped his head up with his hand and looked at her. “I don’t think robbery has any play in this. I think Judge Woodward was the target.”
“Which brings us back to square one.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky at the party.”
Cragen poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip. The staleness made him wince. “How old is this?”
“We made it at four,” Fin answered, not looking up from his computer screen.
“Already? Damn.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched. “I think I’m gonna call it a night.”
“How far did you get?”
“Two years back. Judge Woodward sentenced a lot of perps. A handful have been paroled; I’ve made a list to check out tomorrow, see if any of them have been in the neighborhood.”
“What about residents?”
“Munch has that list. A few have some serious violations, the rest have unpaid parking tickets. That’s another goal for tomorrow: talk to the people who live there.”
“And the employees?”
“Elliot and Olivia have that covered.”
“Take a few patrol officers with you; you can finish a lot faster.”
“Will do, Cap.” Fin slid on his leather jacket. “See you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here – with a fresh pot of coffee.”
End of part three