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.
“I thought all these celebrity types showed up fashionably late.”
Olivia chuckled. “I think we’re the late ones – and it’s only quarter after.”
Judge Woodward’s gathering-cum-political-pep-rally was already in full swing when she and Elliot arrived. An orchestra had been set up near the far wall, and several couples waltzed nearby. A long, white-clothed buffet table was topped with various delicacies on bright silver platters, and opposite it was a full service bar staffed by a handsome man in a tuxedo. Crystal chandeliers, candlelit tables, and elegant chairs completed the scene, and Olivia wondered if she had stepped into an entirely different world when she had walked through the door.
“Jeez, Elliot … it’s like a cross between senior prom and the Academy Awards.”
“I feel a little underdressed,” she said, gazing down at her black slacks and pale grey blouse then comparing them to the gowns of the other women.
“You look nice.”
“Nice compared to knock-out.”
“You wanna go back and change?”
“No.” She lifted her chin. “Besides, I may have to kick some ass, and I can’t do that in three inch heels and a floor-length dress.”
“That’s my girl.” He spotted Judge Woodward and nodded in that direction. “There’s the guest of honor, and look – she’s wearing pants, too. So’s Judge Petrovsky, over there. You’re in good company.” He put a hand on the small of her back and guided her toward the buffet table. “Come on, I’m starving.”
“I guess I could go for some caviar.” They picked up plates and utensils from one end of the table and made their way down. Olivia glanced over her shoulder while waiting for Elliot to spoon out some cocktail sauce. “When she said ‘small gathering’, I expected to see ten, fifteen people. This is more like forty or fifty. We need to think up a game plan.”
“We’ll eat at one table, drink at another, dance a few times-”
“I don’t dance.”
“-mingle with the small groups.” A smile spread across his face, and he pointed to a chafing dish. “Look, Liv. Hot dogs on a toothpick.”
“Munch will be happy. Speaking of Munch, where is he?” Her eyes drifted to the entrance, and as if on cue, he stepped into the room, a woman on his far side. “It’s about time.”
Elliot waved, catching Munch’s attention. He said something to his companion, and they headed toward them. When Elliot realized who was walking beside the other detective, his jaw went slack. “Wow.”
Olivia looked at the couple with wide eyes then glanced at her partner. “Close your mouth; you’re a married man.”
Casey Novak’s smile was like a spotlight, bright and beaming. If this had been a senior prom, she would’ve won the title of Prom Queen. She wore her strapless, scarlet gown like a second skin, and her hair was styled elegantly atop her head. The perfect shade of makeup, alabaster skin… She looked nothing like herself. “Good evening, Detectives.”
Chin still dropped, Elliot said, “Knock-out Novak, way to go.”
She gave Elliot a small curtsy before blinding Olivia with her smile. “Hi, Olivia. You look nice.”
“Thanks, but there’s really no comparison. Hi, John.”
Although he would deny it if someone happened to mention it, he stood taller beside Casey, chest puffed out with pride. “Olivia, Elliot.”
She resisted the urge to laugh at his formal tone. “We were just getting something to eat. Then we need to work out a strategy for this evening.” She glanced at Elliot, whose eyes were still locked on Casey. With a sigh, she pushed his mouth shut. “Come on, before you drool all over yourself.”
That snapped him out of his reverie. “We’ll save you a seat.”
Munch guided his date to the buffet table. “Time for everyone’s favorite party game: name that food.” He stared at the first plate which held a pile of colors on top of a cracker. “What bizarre yet bland concoction is this?”
“We’ll see.” She put one of the items on her plate. “There’s shrimp,” she said, pointing to the various dishes down the line. “Caviar. Pâté.” She ignored them but took a few of the crackers that had been reserved for them.
“No, thanks. I like my food dead.”
He smiled at her. “Let’s see… Hey, hot dogs on a toothpick.”
“L’il smokies,” she corrected, plucking a few of the hors d’oeuvres out of the dish. “My kind of appetizer.”
At the other end of the table was a display of fresh fruit, and she filled the empty space on her plate with that. “All right, let’s see if we can find Elliot and Olivia.”
“Over there.” He pointed his plate to a table near the dance floor. “Who are they with? Aside from Judge Woodward, that is.”
“Hmm, looks like Judge Leonard, Judge Brady, and Judge … Phillips? Wow, haven’t seen him since I was prosecuting white collar crimes. He’s grown quite a beard.”
“He looks like Santa Claus.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, he kind of does.” They headed toward the table. “The man next to him is Martin Leonard. He presides over a few SVU cases every now and then. Nice guy. Also a member of the Judicial Advocates Against Sexual Assault.”
“Judge Big Head, got it.”
“John!” She tried not to laugh.
“Well, look at it. Not the kind of guy I’d like to sit behind in a movie theater.”
“Gloria Brady is the last one. She moved to the civil circuit a few months ago.” She paused. “No nickname for her?”
He looked at the plump grandmotherly woman at the table and pressed his lips together in thought. “All in good time.”
“Ms. Novak, it’s good to see you,” Judge Woodward greeted when they reached the table. “A guest of the police, I take it?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Well, you look quite lovely.” The other judges at the table nodded in agreement.
Alfred Phillips leaned over and took her hand. “Counselor, I haven’t seen you for a while. Where have you been hiding?”
“Special Victims Unit,” she answered.
“Ooh, quite a change from white collar.” He laughed, a deep, jolly chuckle that reminded her exactly of Santa Claus. Munch nudged her under the table. “Any desire to come back? I could talk to Arthur, if you’d like.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary, but thank you.”
“Well, if you’ll all excuse me.” Judge Woodward stood up and approached a small cluster of other judges.
Martin Leonard took a sip from his wine glass. “So, Detectives, any luck in finding the bastard who attacked Marianne?”
“We can’t discuss an ongoing investigation,” Elliot told him.
“Of course not. My apologies.”
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t help us out,” Munch said. “Do you have any idea who would’ve done it?”
“She does have one of the toughest dockets on the bench,” Phillips said. “Maybe it was one of the men she put away.”
“Or just some random psycho,” Leonard added. “This is New York City, after all. He could’ve seen her on television, fixated on her.”
“Is she on TV a lot?” Olivia asked before popping a caviar-loaded cracker into her mouth.
“A decent amount.”
Judge Brady made a sound, and Elliot turned to her. “Doesn’t sound like you agree.”
Martin and Phillips both looked at her. She opened her mouth then closed it, finally settling on a non-committal “I agree.”
The orchestra began playing a new song, and Judge Phillips smiled. “Come on, Gloria. A little two-step will cheer you up.”
Brady’s eyes met Elliot’s as she rose. “Enjoy the party, Detectives.”
“I, too, must be going,” Leonard announced. “If you have any further questions, you can reach me in chambers.”
“Did you see that?” Olivia muttered once he was gone. “The power they had over Judge Brady.”
“She wants to talk,” Munch agreed.
“Well, that’s convenient because I want to dance.” Elliot stood, straightening his jacket. “Maybe we can help each other. Excuse me.”
Olivia leaned forward and looked around Munch. “Casey, are all the guests judges?”
“No. See the guy in the white tuxedo? That’s Brad Schroeder.”
“From Channel Five?” Munch did a double take. “He looks different without makeup.”
“I also saw Paige Turner from the Post and Jacob Sweeney from the Times. Separately, of course. Check tomorrow’s society pages; there’s bound to be a write-up.”
“The blonde over by the buffet table is Doctor Shaw,” Munch said.
Olivia raised an eyebrow. “The doctor who did the rape exam? What’s she doing here?”
“These parties are all about money,” Casey explained, emphasizing her point by stabbing the air with her toothpick. “Doctor Shaw is probably making a nice donation to Judge Woodward’s campaign fund.”
“Hey,” Munch said, “I think I see my dentist.”
“The media presence is interesting though,” she continued. “I’ve been to several of these functions and reporters are rarely invited.”
“Do you think she’s capitalizing on her rape?” Olivia asked.
Casey shook her head. “I know you’re trying to investigate this matter from every angle, but I can’t imagine her doing something like that. You’ve heard the stereotype that judges are dishonest and can be bought with the right amount of money. Well, if there’s one honest judge left in the world, it’s Marianne Woodward.”
The silence that followed was interrupted by Munch clearing his throat. “We should get started.”
Olivia stood up. “All right. I’m going to work the room. See what you can find out from the guests: any theories on the attack, possible suspects, people’s thoughts about the judge, anything – but be discreet. We’ll reconvene in two hours.”
“I’m going to talk to Santa Claus,” Munch said.
Casey managed a smile. “Judge Phillips. Call him Your Honor; he prefers it if people are respectful when speaking to him.”
“You take all of the fun out of it.”
“May I have this dance?”
Gloria Brady seemed surprised by Elliot’s offer but nodded and allowed herself to be led to the dance floor. “You’re one of the detectives, right?”
He doubted she had forgotten. “I am.”
“Well, I hope you catch the guy.”
“We’re working on it.” The musicians played an unusually jazzy version of ‘Mack the Knife’, and he hoped his feet would cooperate with the quicker steps. “You know Judge Woodward very well?”
“We share the same receptionist.”
“When Judge Leonard said that she was on television a decent amount, you seemed to disagree.” She didn’t say anything. “Does she give a lot of press conferences?”
“Press conferences, interviews – she’s a media whore.” Brady’s eyes widened at her own comment. “I mean, she-”
“It’s all right,” Elliot said. “It’s important that you’re honest with me.”
She stopped dancing and searched for Woodward in the crowd. “I need a cigarette. Let’s go outside.”
As they headed for the exit, he spotted Olivia chatting with two attentive men by the bar. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she responded with a wink. “So you’re both partners in the same firm,” she said. “What was it again?”
“Henderson, Allan, Wade, Graves, and Morton,” the blue-eyed one answered. “I’m Wade.”
Olivia flashed them her most charming smile. “Great. So do you know Judge Woodward?”
“Very much for the People.”
“Never for the defense.”
She broadened her grin and hoped it looked more sincere than it was. “Really?”
Meanwhile, Casey strolled through the ballroom, listening to bits and pieces of conversations. Most of them were heated but harmless, the type of discussions one would expect in a room full of attorneys. Occasionally, however, she found groups of people speaking in hushed tones, and she strained her ear to pick up the details.
“…if there’s a camera in the room, you’ll find her front and center…”
“…I can hardly get a word in edgewise…”
“…she may be the best person for the job, but let’s face it – she’s a victim now…”
“…I bet she staged the rape.”
The phrase made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Casey stopped walking and admired a painting on the wall, hoping to hear the rest of the conversation.
“Jesus, Harry.” A woman’s voice… Casey wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but she wasn’t about to turn around to find out. “You think she’d do that?”
“What a way to swing the election in her favor.” Judge Harry Hannibal. Of course. He was critical of everyone, the eternal pessimist. She wondered what kind of nickname Munch would give him. Perhaps Judge Whiney.
Casey took a sip of her water and kept walking, careful not to look at the group she had just eavesdropped on. Technically, there was nothing illegal about listening to them. The assurance didn’t keep her heart from pounding out of her chest; she still felt like a spy.
“Counselor, would you like to dance?”
She looked up at Judge Leonard. “Oh, I’m not really much of a dancer.”
“That’s all right, I have two left feet.” He held out his hand, and she hesitated before taking it. “We’re doing pretty good so far. Now we just have to make it to the dance floor.”
Judge Leonard slid an arm around her waist, maintaining a professional distance between them as they danced. She spotted Munch across the room, and his expression was intense but unreadable.
“I haven’t seen you at the batting cages recently, Ms. Novak,” Leonard said. “Don’t tell me you’ve given it up.”
“On the contrary. I’ve been using my lunch hour more often. Helps me think.”
He grinned. “Good idea.”
“I did see you last Saturday though. You came in as I was leaving.”
“Have a good round?”
“I think so.”
“Maybe I can pitch for you again sometime,” he offered.
“You ought to join the summer softball league. The police have a new pitcher, and we could use someone with your strength on the team.”
“Oh, I think I’m getting too old for that, but I appreciate the offer.”
The song ended, and she stepped back. “I don’t think you have two left feet, Your Honor. You did quite well.”
“You’re not so bad yourself, Counselor.” Judge Leonard gave her a small bow which she imitated with a smile.
“Attention, everyone.” Marianne Woodward had taken center stage, and the dance floor cleared. “I just wanted to thank you all for coming and showing your support. While I’m sorry that Justice Robbins will be leaving the Supreme Court, I am glad that I will get a chance to serve on the bench. I am confident that I will be selected by the public to serve as his successor.”
Olivia slid next to Casey and whispered, “Hey.”
“Hey. Learn anything new?”
“Yeah. No one here likes Judge Woodward.”
“Judge Harry Hannibal – the one with the really bad toupee over there? He thinks she may have staged her own rape. Not sure I’d put much stock into that, though. He doesn’t like anybody.”
There was a round of polite laughter as Judge Woodward told a joke. Olivia waited until the judge continued before saying, “I spoke to two attorneys from Henderson, Allan, and they both think she’s biased.”
“Most defense attorneys do. She’s very strict with sentencing. I suppose some would say unfair. Not that it matters; most of them get out on parole anyway. Gotta love our legal system sometimes.” The speech ended, and everyone applauded, Casey and Olivia included. Several people surrounded Judge Woodward, probably with more false words of support.
Olivia sighed and shook her head. “Marianne Woodward is one of the toughest sexual assault judges in the United States. They should be glad she’s keeping rapists off the streets. Instead, there’s a lot of backstabbing, a lot of mistrust.”
“Ladies.” Elliot stood behind them, arms folded behind his back. “Any suspects?”
“Yeah,” his partner said, “all of them. When Munch gets done, we should head back to the precinct and compile a list.”
His eyes narrowed at a woman stumbling toward Judge Woodward. “Is that Carly?”
Olivia followed his gaze. “Yeah. She looks drunk.”
Munch noticed the approach as well and started for the center of the room. Exchanging concerned looks, Elliot and Olivia split up and also walked forward. Judge Woodward saw her sister last, turning toward her with a smile on her face.
“Great speech, sis. So how does it feel?” Carly slammed her empty glass on the closest table. “Golden child’s not so golden now, is she?”
“Inquiring minds want to know. How does it feel to be raped? To have some man force himself on you, push into you when you aren’t ready, when you’re crying out for him to stop. The shame? The pain? To not even know the identity of the man thrusting into you. How did that feel?”
The judge’s face fell, and the people around her wisely stepped back. “Carly, please.”
“And the rape kit – what a horrible thing, like reliving it all over again. Poking and prodding, embarrassing photographs, cotton swabs.” Tears streamed down Carly’s face, and her fists were clenched at her sides. “And then to have your colleagues talk about it behind your back because they don’t have the guts to face you. How you were too weak to fight him off, how if you’d just screamed then it wouldn’t have happened. How the police-” She noticed the three detectives moving in on her position and laughed weakly. “How the police don’t believe your story, how your own friends don’t believe your story. To wake up every day for the rest of your life knowing what the son of a bitch did to you.”
Olivia reached her first, taking her by the shoulders. “Carly, come on, let’s go outside.”
She brushed her off and advanced once more. “And just wait until you go to court. To have a judge and twelve strangers listen to your story. Listen to you describe the violation of your body, every single second of it, from beginning to end. Over and over again until every detail is firmly planted in their minds. Trust me, the humiliation is almost unbearable. And then the public, with their perverse interest in your trauma, their thirst for the sick details of what he did to you. To have your lawyer parade you around like some freak show. Here’s your victim! Look at her!”
“Ms. Summers, please.” Olivia tried to rein her in once more, but Carly fought back harder, shoving her to the side.
“How does it feel, knowing that everyone in this room knows about what happened to you? Do you enjoy the attention? The whispers behind your back? Is that what you wanted this time?”
“Carly-” Judge Woodward took a breath, tried to calm herself. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why? Why?” Her eyes flashed with fury, and she brought her fists up. A collective gasp arose from the onlookers as they waited for the first punch. Elliot grabbed her, twisting her arms behind her back. She tugged against her restraints, but he was stronger. Finally she looked at her sister and screamed, “Because you did the same thing to me!” Then her body became limp, and she wept softly.
Casey sat near the entrance to the ballroom, watching the guests leave. She had never seen a political function clear out as quickly as this one. She sighed as the two sisters embraced. Then Elliot said something to each of them, and he and Olivia left with Carly. “Where are they taking her?” she asked Munch, who stood beside her like a bodyguard.
“To her AA sponsor’s house.” He gazed at the judge; she had lowered herself into a vacant chair, head in her hands. He looked back at Casey. Her expression was blank, eyes fixed on an invisible point on the wall. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Giving directions wasn’t necessary, so the ride was spent in uncomfortable silence. He could think of nothing to say, and she seemed more than content to stare out the window and watch the city drift by. When they arrived at her building, he offered to walk her up, and she agreed with a nod.
“I’m sorry that the night turned out like it did,” he said as she unlocked the door to her apartment.
“It’s not your fault.” She gave him a small smile. “Thank you for inviting me though. I hope I was of some help.”
“Introducing you to New York’s most honorable and most self-centered representatives.” He still look confused. “You know, Judge Big Head. Judge Santa Claus.”
“I … didn’t invite you because you’re an attorney, Casey.”
“You didn’t?” She frowned slightly. “Then why-” His eyes remained focused on the floor, lips pressed together in a tight line. “Ohh.”
Although she liked all of the SVU detectives, there was something about Munch that attracted her attention more than the others. He was funny and smart and probably as awkward as she was when it came to social situations. His unspoken admission wasn’t a complete surprise, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t share some of the same feelings. They had engaged in some mild flirting in the past, and she’d always wondered what would happen if they acted on it. Still she hadn’t expected him to say anything so soon, if at all. From what she knew of him, he was very private with his feelings. This was likely a big step for him.
She smiled, ready to take a big step of her own. “Well, you certainly know how to surprise a woman.” He lifted his head to question her, and she kissed his cheek. He jerked back, eyes wide. Casey chuckled and once his heart started beating again, he laughed himself.
“So do you,” he replied.
“Know how to surprise a woman?” She gave him a suspicious glance. “You’re really a woman?”
“Good.” She busied herself with unlocking the door because now it was her turn to be too nervous to look him in the face. “Because I don’t think I’d be interested in dating a woman.”
It didn’t sound the way she had intended, but he got the message. He took a step toward her, close enough to whisper, but he didn’t speak. She turned her head toward him and saw the answer to her question in his eyes. “John…”
A small click, and their bodies were bathed in light. “Casey, is that you?”
Gasping, she stepped back, severing the connection between them. “Mrs. Sherman. What are you doing up? It’s almost midnight.”
“Well, there’s something wrong with my sink.”
“With your sink?” She was surprised she sounded so calm since her stomach had flipped over and launched itself toward her feet. “Did you call maintenance?”
“Yes, but it’ll be tomorrow before they can fix it. Can you help me, honey?”
“Of course.” Carefully, she met Munch’s gaze. His eyes were unreadable, and her stomach dropped a little more. “Good night, John.”
She walked across the hall into Mrs. Sherman’s apartment. “Thank you, dear. Oh, you look so pretty, did-”
The door closed behind her. Munch sighed.
Olivia squinted at her watch and groaned. “It’s almost two o’clock. I am so sorry, Elliot.”
He put his hands on the steering wheel, glancing out the window at her apartment building. “All in a day’s work.”
Stifling a yawn, she opened her car door. “You’d better get home.”
“Yeah.” She was halfway out of the car when she heard him ask, “You mind if I stay here?”
She paused. “Of course not.”
He followed her up the stairs to her apartment and waited while she unlocked the door. Once inside, she disappeared into her bedroom and returned with his NYPD t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. Work out clothes, he recalled, from the days when they used to jog together. He changed quickly, hanging his tuxedo in her closet, and returned to the living room. She emerged from the bathroom at the same time, wearing a tank top and shorts.
“You know what we need?” she asked. “Rocky road.” She went to the kitchen for a moment and returned with a large tub of ice cream and two spoons. He sat on the couch and groaned, pulling the bucket onto his lap. Olivia sat sideways, feet shoved between the cushions. “So what’s up?” she asked, not expecting or receiving an answer. “Just felt like having a slumber party?”
He swallowed and stabbed the ice cream with his spoon. He looked worn, and she doubted it had anything to do with the incident at Judge Woodward’s party or the case in general. “Sunday morning was trash day. Everyone was asleep but me. I went around to each of the rooms and collected the trash.”
It sounded so simple, yet she knew it was anything but. Filling her spoon again, she took a bite and waited.
“When I got to the bathroom, I found a home pregnancy kit in the trash can. Positive.” He shook his head, as if he was still in disbelief. “Lizzie’s too young, and Kathleen, I guess it’s possible but-” He sighed. “Maureen lives on campus. That leaves Kathy.”
When he covered his face with his hands, she put the ice cream bucket on the coffee table and wrapped her fingers around his wrists. “Maybe she’s going to have another baby, maybe-”
“No.” His voice was hard when he spoke. “It’s … been a while.”
She pressed her lips together. “Well, did you ask her about it?” His head shook from side to side. “Maybe it was somebody else’s test.”
“Some random person off the street stops in my bathroom and takes a pregnancy test?”
“No. I meant one of Kathleen’s friends or maybe one of Maureen’s. Maybe a friend of Kathy’s.”
“I-I don’t know.”
“El, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She leaned forward and slid her arms around his shoulders. After a moment, he relaxed into her embrace. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
“You’re probably right. Probably just a friend who didn’t know where else to go.” He pulled back and managed a smile. “Thanks, Liv.”
She returned the grin. “What do you say to a cheesy made-for-TV movie and some more ice cream?”
“Only if I get the remote.”
Her cell phone rang sometime after five. Olivia jerked awake, accidentally kicking Elliot in the shin. He opened his eyes and adjusted to the flickering television screen. “What?”
“Phone.” She got up from the couch and limped toward the kitchen. Her cell sat on the counter, and she grabbed it. “Benson.”
Elliot watched her expression falter, heard the soft curse. “What’s wrong?”
She disconnected the call with a sigh. “That was Cragen. Marianne Woodward is dead.”
End of part four