The Price of Justice 5/14

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.


Every one of Elliot’s senses was assaulted the moment he stepped into Judge Woodward’s apartment. He heard Olivia moan behind him, felt the swift rush of air as she brought her hand up to cover her mouth and nose. Bulbs flashed and cameras whirred as the crime scene photographers took pictures of the apartment. The stench of death was everywhere, so strong he could taste it: bitter, metallic, like old pennies.

Elena stood off to the side, face streaked with tears and clothing covered with blood. A patrol officer was asking her questions, but her attention kept straying to the chaos around her. She saw Elliot, and her eyes narrowed.

“We just released the apartment to the resident from the rape investigation.” Andy Baker approached them, shoulders hunched. He seemed to have aged ten years in the past few days. “And here we are again.”

Elliot put his hands on his hips and glanced around. “What happened?”

He looked at his notes from the patrol officer. “Housekeeper called it in. Said she came home around five from a friend’s house and saw the light on in the kitchen. Came around the corner where she found the victim face down. She claims she turned her over and attempted CPR without success. The footprints in the blood, she says are hers.”

He looked at Elena. Last time, she cleaned house before CSU had a chance to collect evidence. This time, she contaminated the crime scene. Another mistake, or something else? “Is the ME here?”

“She’s just finishing up.”

He turned to his right and slowly walked toward the kitchen. His breath caught in his throat as he noticed blood splattered on the refrigerator and pantry doors. Judge Woodward lay face up on the linoleum, eyes open and staring. Oblong bruises had turned her neck purple, and there was a moderate sized pool of blood beneath her body. Melinda Warner, the medical examiner, crouched beside the judge, scribbling notes on a small spiral pad.

“Hey,” Olivia greeted.

Warner nodded in acknowledgement. “She was most likely stabbed to death. There are multiple wounds in her body. I’ve counted nine so far. Some defensive wounds on her hands, but I don’t know if it’ll be anything you can use in your investigation.”

Elliot saw the bloody carving knife beside the body and searched the counter for a wooden block. He found it by the toaster, with one empty slot. There was a plate of spaghetti overturned on the floor. A sauce-stained fork rested beside it, shadowed by the counters. “Spaghetti between midnight and five? Guess it’s not just cops who eat at all hours of the day.”

Baker stood beside him. “The blood spatter pattern looks low. See the drops on the counter doors and the refrigerator? Look at the direction.” He gestured to a few of the teardrops. “I think she was kneeling.”

“Begging for her life?” Olivia wondered.

Elliot pointed to another section of spatter, not at all drop-shaped, that went from the cabinets to the countertop to the ceiling. “Cast off from the knife?”

“Probably,” Baker said. “We’ll get a spatter expert in here to run the lasers.”

“She’s got some bruises on her neck, look exactly like a hand print,” Warner pointed out. “Location of the fingers and thumb suggests the perp was left handed.”

Elliot imitated the pattern by loosely grabbing Olivia’s neck. “Chokes her hard enough that she loses consciousness maybe?”

“That might put her in a kneeling position.” She hunched down next to Warner and looked over the body. Her eyes drifted toward the plate of spaghetti. “Only one dish, so she was eating alone. Was the perp waiting for her? Snuck up behind her while she was facing the counter?”

“And what, tapped her on the shoulder?” Elliot shook his head. “At some point, they were facing each other.”

“Familiarity? You think she knew him?”

“Or her,” he suggested, casting another glance at Elena. “Have your people finished taking pictures over here?”

Baker nodded. “Got those first thing so the ME could move in. You’re clear.”

He put on a pair of latex gloves and picked up the spaghetti plate. A stray noodle slid onto the floor. “Print this. Either one of them could have knocked it off the counter.” He reached for the fork but froze in place before he touched the handle. “That’s not marinara sauce on the tines.”

“What?” Olivia aimed her pocket flashlight at the utensil. The red on the tines was thin and darker than the sauce. “Blood.”

“Perp’s or victim’s?”

Warner raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t see any wounds like that on her body.”

Elliot picked up the fork and held it in the light, rotating it slightly to check all angles. “Superficial, so he probably didn’t go to the emergency room. Maybe his DNA will be in our system.”

“Detectives!” They stepped out of the kitchen and looked past the living room at an investigator in the hallway. “I have something you should see.”

Elliot led the way with Olivia close behind, and they joined the man in Elena’s bedroom. The housekeeper’s quarters didn’t look any different than the last time they were there, except for a basket of unfolded laundry on the bed. “What is it?” he asked.

“I photographed this room after the first attack, and that,” he said, pointing to a few small spots on the carpet, “wasn’t there before.”

They knelt down by the dresser, and once again Olivia shined her flashlight at the stains. “Betcha it’s not marinara sauce,” she muttered.

“More blood. Can you get someone to swab this?” he asked the investigator, who nodded and disappeared. “You think it’s a match to Judge Woodward?”

“Could be a match to Elena, courtesy of a fork in the arm.”

Elliot sighed. “What do you think, Liv? Same perp for both crimes?”

“It’s possible. Maybe he intended to kill her after he raped her, but Elena’s arrival stopped him.”

“And Elena saves the day again.”

“You don’t trust her?”

“Maybe she had nothing to do with the judge’s rape or murder, but she’s guilty of something.”

She raised an eyebrow. “We all are.”

***

Dobroe utro.”

Elena looked up as Munch entered the interrogation room. She tilted her head and studied him with well-placed suspicion. “Dobroe utro.”

“I’m Detective Munch.” Fin entered the room, and he said, “This is my partner, Detective Tutuola. We just want to ask you a few questions.”

“I’ve been answering questions all morning. I’m tired.”

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he said, sitting in the chair across from her, while Fin leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Munch placed the manila folder from Carly on the table but kept it closed. “But we need to do it while the events are still fresh in your mind.”

She snorted softly. “This is something I won’t soon forget.”

“Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“It was just like the last time, only I found Ms. Woodward in the kitchen and she wasn’t breathing. I tried CPR, but she wouldn’t wake up, so I called the police.”

“And you didn’t see anyone or anything unusual?”

“No.”

Munch had read Elliot’s report about her sudden outburst and anticipated a similar response to his next question. “The investigators found blood on your bedroom floor. Any idea how it got there?”

“I had a bloody nose,” Elena said simply.

“Why didn’t you clean it up?”

“I didn’t have any carpet cleaner.”

A housekeeper with no carpet cleaner? He sighed. “You’re not under arrest, but it would help the investigation if we could get a DNA sample from you.”

“Am I a suspect? I would never hurt Ms. Woodward.”

He leaned back in his chair and looked at her. Then he opened the file to the photograph of herself with Chester Woodward in the hotel room bed. “I think this would have hurt her.”

Elena glanced at the picture with disinterest. “It meant nothing.”

Fin finally spoke. “What about Nikolai? He mean nothing, too?”

Her head whipped up, dark eyes wide with shock. “How do you know about Nikolai?”

“We have a copy of his birth certificate.”

“But-” A tear rolled down her cheek. “No one knows about Nikolai.”

“Correction. No one knew about Nikolai.” Fin put his hands on the table and leaned closer to her. “But then Judge Woodward found out, right?”

“No.”

“She threatened to throw you out on the street, so you killed her.”

“No!” She covered her face with her hands. “No. Please stop.”

“Sleeping with your boss’s husband then having his baby.” Fin shook his head. “That’s sick.”

“You’ll have to forgive my partner,” Munch said. “He doesn’t think you’re telling us the truth.”

“I am! I am, I swear.” Elena gave him an irresistible puppy dog expression. “I don’t know who killed Ms. Woodward. No one was there when I got there.”

“What about when she was raped?” Fin asked.

“I didn’t see anyone then either.”

“Well, he was in the apartment when you got there. So how’d you miss him?”

She looked to Munch for an explanation, but he shrugged. “I don’t understand.”

“And you didn’t lock the door,” Fin continued. “You’re right, you didn’t kill Judge Woodward. But you hired the man who did.”

“What?”

“You paid him a good chunk of change to rape your boss, but that wasn’t good enough, so you had her killed.”

This time, she squeezed her hands against her ears. “Stop, please. I didn’t pay anyone.”

“Sure you did. Your taxes and your bank account tell us that.”

Elena screamed a curse at him in Russian.

Munch raised an eyebrow. “That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”

“That money is for my son,” she said at last.

“How much do you give him?”

“Twenty two thousand dollars each year.” Munch and Fin exchanged glances, and she added quickly, “It’s a lot of money in Russia, but I want him to have everything. My parents tell me he’s doing well. They bought a new house, some clothes. He’ll go to the best schools-”

“Elena…” Munch rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to keep you in custody for the time being.”

“Why? I told you where the money was going. I didn’t hurt Ms. Woodward.”

“You’ve been lying on your tax returns for the past four years. Anything you give as a gift over eleven thousand dollars each year is taxable. You just told us you’ve been giving your son more than that, and you haven’t been paying taxes on the difference.”

She was quiet for a long time, and her body began to quake. “What’s going to happen to me?”

“That’s for the IRS to decide.” Munch stood up and turned for the door. He stopped when he heard a low moan escape from Elena’s lips.

“What about Nikolai?”

He looked away. “I’m sorry.”

Cragen, Elliot, and Olivia watched the display from the captain’s office on the other side of the two-way mirror. When Elena was alone, she rested her head in her arms and cried quietly. Munch and Fin appeared in the office a few moments later.

“You did the right thing,” Cragen said.

Munch shook his head. “Doesn’t feel like it. She wasn’t guilty of anything.”

“Except tax fraud,” Elliot said. “She would’ve been caught sooner or later, John; don’t beat yourself up over it.”

He slouched against the door frame. Fin asked, “Did you guys get any hits at the party last night?”

“No one in particular.” Olivia turned away from the window. “But everyone had a motive. I don’t think I heard anyone say a nice word about the judge the whole time we were there.”

“So much for a supportive crowd,” Fin muttered.

Elliot nodded. “I talked to Judge Brady for twenty minutes, and she hated Marianne Woodward. She called her everything from a media whore to a self-righteous bitch.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Marianne Woodward we knew,” Cragen said.

“But it does sounds like the Marianne Woodward her sister described.” Olivia shrugged. “Maybe we should interview her again, assuming she’s sobered up.”

Cragen gazed through the window at the sobbing housekeeper. “All right, we’re going to treat this as two crimes for now, a rape and a homicide. Munch, Fin, you’ve got the homicide. Check with the lab; see if they’ve found anything that could get us a suspect. Benson, Stabler, you’ve got the rape, but first you need to go get the sister. Tell her about the judge’s death. Maybe she’ll remember something now.”

***

Carly Summers sat at her sponsor’s kitchen table and stared blankly at the fruit-print wallpaper, eyes blurred by unshead tears. “When did it happen?”

Elliot paused. “Sometime before five a.m.”

“Oh.” She sniffed. “When can I collect the body?”

“After the medical examiner has completed the autopsy.”

“Oh,” she said again.

Olivia glanced at her partner and shook her head. He knew exactly what she meant: Carly was on the verge of a breakdown.

“Was it the same man? The man who raped her, did he k-?” The word stuck in her throat, so she tried again. No sound came out. Her face crumpled, and the first few tears fell from her eyes. “Oh, my God. Who would do this?”

“We were hoping you could help us with that,” Elliot said.

She looked up at him. “I’ve told you everything I know.” Her face clouded over, and the trademark scowl returned. “I didn’t kill her.”

“Nobody said you did, but the two of you weren’t close.”

“I was at the party, too, Detectives. I heard the comments they made about my sister. Perhaps you should widen your suspect pool.”

Olivia knelt beside her. “Ms. Summers, can you think of anything your sister may have said that could be of some help? Was she being threatened? Did she have any problems with anyone?”

“I don’t…” She rubbed her temples. “I don’t know.”

“Even if it didn’t seem important then, anything at all.”

“Uh, at dinner last Sunday, she said she didn’t just want to win her party’s nomination for Supreme Court Justice, she wanted to win by a landslide. Said if you didn’t win big, it wasn’t worth winning.”

Elliot looked at her. “What did she mean by that?”

“Marianne was always very competitive. It’s half of what made her a good attorney.”

“What was the other half?”

“Her ruthlessness. She was willing to do anything to get ahead.” Carly gave a half smile. “I admired that about her, you know. She wasn’t afraid of anything. This rape? She never let it get to her, which is more than I can say for myself.”

Olivia glanced at her partner. “Ms. Summers, does the line ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ mean anything to you?”

“It’s from The A-Team.” She chuckled softly, shook her head. “Marianne always did like that show.”

***

Cragen had called Casey with news of Judge Woodward’s death hours before the public found out. She listened to the radio reports as she rode the subway to the precinct. The city was shocked. Judges and attorneys were being interviewed in every borough. Was it an isolated incident? Was someone out to destroy the judicial system? Were the rape and the murder connected somehow? Did the police have any leads?

Casey’s grip tightened on the photograph of the Judicial Advocates Against Sexual Assault members. She had meant to get it to the detectives sooner, but it had been misplaced, tucked in a box in her office. She’d probably never see it again after today; it would most likely become evidence in the Woodward rape/murder.

She gazed at the image once more. A sea of black robes with the more colorfully dressed on the sides. Marianne Woodward was all smiles, standing front and center. She had an amazing ability to steal the camera. Her physical attractiveness and commanding presence were every photographer’s dream – and everyone else’s nightmare.

Not anymore, Casey thought as the train pulled into the station.

It was a short distance from the subway to the precinct, and it was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday in that part of Manhattan. She rode the elevator to the floor where the Special Victims Unit was located and entered the squad room.

“You want to run that by me again?” Cragen was saying. “I don’t think I heard you correctly the first time.”

Elliot sighed. “It’s just a theory. We don’t have any better ideas.” He noticed the attorney walking toward him and nodded. “Hey, Casey. I guess everyone’s working overtime today.”

“I’m salaried,” she said, handing her picture to Cragen. “Here’s the JAASA photo you wanted.”

“Thank you.” He looked at it for a moment. “How many of these people were at the party last night?”

She peered over his shoulder and pointed to the various individuals. “Well, Judge Woodward, of course. Judge Leonard – he’s the one behind her and to the right. Judge Brady, in the third row. Uh … Judge Lang, Martinez, Fish. I think I saw Judge Avery at the bar, but I’m not sure. Oh, and Judge Petrovsky.”

“That’s a good number.”

“She invited everyone for JAASA, but the party was made up of her closest friends and fellow party members.”

“And a few friendly reporters,” Elliot added. “I’ll be right back; I’m going to grab a copy of the paper, see if there were any write-ups.”

Casey stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “So do you have any leads?”

“Olivia, why don’t you tell her your new theory?” Cragen asked.

“It’s not a new theory, but it has been given new life. Elliot and I talked to Carly Summers, the judge’s sister. It seems that Judge Woodward had always been very ruthless, willing to do anything to win. And when we told her the rapist’s catch phrase-”

“‘I love it when a plan comes together,'” Casey recited. “From The A-Team.”

Olivia nodded. “That was one of Judge Woodward’s favorite television programs.”

The attorney quirked an eyebrow. “So you think that Judge Woodward faked her rape.”

“I don’t know. It’s possible.”

“Maybe so, but she didn’t fake her death.” A chuckle from Fin caught her attention. “What?”

“That’s exactly what Munch said, word for word.”

She looked at Munch who spread out his hands like a magician finishing a trick. She gave him a lopsided grin then turned back to Olivia. “How does your theory explain the murder?”

“It doesn’t. I don’t think she did it either, Casey, but we don’t have anything else to go on.”

“Did the security cameras show anything?” Casey asked.

Elliot shook his head. “After the rape, management decided to do a complete overhaul of their security system: more cameras, panic buttons, the whole works. At the time of the murder, everything was offline.”

“Sounds like the killer may have known that,” Casey muttered to herself.

“Okay, here’s an idea,” Fin said. “Maybe somebody found out she lied about the rape and killed her.”

“Why?” Olivia asked.

“Why do killers kill?” Munch stood and headed for the coffee pot. “I still say it was the same guy who did both crimes.”

Casey nodded. “I agree.”

“They’re all nice theories, but we still have a problem.” Everyone turned to Cragen. “We don’t have a suspect.”

***

“Just got this fax.” Fin brought the papers over to the other detectives. “It’s Officer Davies’ rape kit results.”

“What does it say?” Elliot asked.

“Pretty much what Doctor Shaw told us. Bruises on her thighs, vaginal tears. Evidence of spermicide but no fluids present.”

Munch sighed. “Another bust.”

“I called the lab; they said the earliest they could get us any results about the blood on the fork would be middle of the next week.” Elliot leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “Crime scene techs are turning the apartment inside out, hoping to find more evidence.”

Olivia pursed her lips together. “There’s definitely something we’re missing, but it might not be hard evidence.”

“Something in the judge’s past?” Fin suggested. “I’m going to check the Internet.”

“I’ll talk to Casey on Monday,” Munch said, “see if she can get me unfettered access to her law library.”

“Uh, John?” Elliot didn’t bother trying to mask his grin. “You do know that most law libraries are open to the public, right?”

He began to arrange the pens on his desk into triangles. “Really?”

Elliot shot his partner a look, and she covered her smile with a hand. He turned back to Munch. “Casey looked nice last night.”

“No comment.”

“You don’t think she looked nice?”

“I am merely exercising my Fifth Amendment rights.”

They both snickered at his reply. Fin lifted his head. “Okay, I think I missed something.”

“Oh, you’ll figure it out soon enough,” Olivia said. “We’ll be teasing him for months to come.”

“What am I, the squad effigy?”

“Oh, come on, John.” Elliot slid his coat on. “You know better than to take us seriously.”

“Yeah, right…”

“Have a good night, everyone.”

“You’re leaving me?” Olivia asked. “What could possibly be more fun than working through dinner on a Saturday night?”

“I have a date with my wife.” He met her gaze. “Kids are gone. We finally get a chance to talk.”

She remembered their earlier conversation over ice cream and nodded. “See you Monday, then.”

“Make it Tuesday. I’m in court all Monday.” He waved as he headed out of the precinct, shouting a goodbye to Munch and Fin.

Olivia watched him go then turned to the other two men with a grin. “Okay, who wants pizza?”

End of part five

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