The Price of Justice 7/14

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.


Brooker Residence
Jersey City, New Jersey
Wednesday, October 27

“Lyndsey Brooker?”

The woman frowned at Elliot’s badge. “NYPD? What are you doing here?”

Olivia peered around her partner’s shoulder. “May we come inside?”

Lyndsey opened the door wider and let them both pass. She wore a veterinary assistant’s uniform, her light blue top speckled with cartoon dogs and cats. Her hair was dyed red at the top and black on the ends, and she had a diamond stud in her nose. “So what can I do for you?”

“We’re here about Daniel Groth,” Elliot said.

“Of course you are, but let me save you the trouble. Whatever questions you’ve come here to ask, the answer is no, Daniel didn’t do it.” Lyndsey gave an exasperated sigh. “Ever since that woman accused him of rape, he’s been the suspect in every investigation. Daniel’s one of the good guys. He wouldn’t hurt a soul.”

“Do cops come around a lot?” Olivia asked.

“They used to. Not so much anymore. I was going to be a character witness in his trial. I’ve known him since we were roommates during our freshman year of college.” She noticed their confused expressions and grinned. “They misread his application for university housing. His middle name is Lee, and they saw Daniel Lee, put the two words together, and thought his name was Daniellee. With two ‘e’s. Anyway, we got along so well that we didn’t bother telling the Housing Department, and everyone just assumed he was my boyfriend.” She offered a wink to Elliot. “Kept the hounds at bay.”

Olivia cleared her throat. “When’s the last time you saw Mr. Groth?”

“Friday night. He helped me pick out some wallpaper for the clinic, then we ordered pizza in and watched some t.v.”

“What time did he leave?” Elliot asked.

“Oh, it was pretty early. Maybe eight-thirty?” She folded her arms across her chest. “What’s Daniel accused of this time?” A calico cat hopped into the foyer, mewed, and rubbed itself against Lyndsey’s leg. “Go on, Duchess. I’ll feed you in a minute.”

Elliot watched the cat scurry out of the room, presumably toward the kitchen. “Ms. Brooker, did you see Mr. Groth on the seventeenth? It was a Sunday.”

Lyndsey nodded. “Despite the fact that we live so far apart, we try to get together whenever we can.”

Although Olivia was not entirely convinced, she gave the woman a smile. “Thank you for your time.” Lyndsey opened the door for them.

“Detectives?” They turned back to look at her. “Whatever you think Daniel did, you’re wrong. He’s on the jazz.”

The words hit Elliot like a punch in the face. He felt Olivia stiffen at his side. “What did you say?”

“He can get a little crazy sometimes, but he’s cool. He would never–”

“No. Where’s that quote from?”

The A-Team. Daniel and I watched it religiously while we were in college.”

***

Munch had been staring at the JAASA group photo for so long, he had memorized the names and positions of each of the individuals. He began developing mnemonics for each row but stopped when he saw Casey’s picture.

He’d been thinking about her a lot lately — perhaps too much. It had been a long time since his thoughts about women weren’t angry or disillusioned. Even more distracting was the fact that she was receptive to him. Their two-hour telephone conversation had confirmed that, and it wasn’t long before he found himself doing something he swore he’d never do again: he opened up to her. She’d chipped away at his insecurities until his cynical façade was cracked right down the middle.

Last night, at dinner and later on the phone, he’d let her in. He didn’t regret it, but it frightened him. No one had ever gotten close to him before, not even his ex-wives; there was always a piece that he’d kept hidden. Casey was different, and he didn’t know why. Maybe it was because she reminded him of himself: honest with a cool head and a corny sense of humor. Even a bit insecure — and he was feeling more insecure by the minute.

“Give it a rest, man.” Fin had been hovering nearby, tracking his gaze. “You keep staring at that picture like she’s going to materialize out of thin air or something.”

Munch rolled his eyes and sat the photograph on his desk with a quiet sigh.

“John.” Casey stood a few steps inside the squadroom, hands twisting at her waist.

Fin’s jaw dropped. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Munch walked toward her, happy to see her but worried by her demeanor. “Casey, what are you doing here?”

“I know why Judge Leonard killed Marianne Woodward.”

“Come on.” He put a hand on her upper arm and guided her to the interview room off of Cragen’s office. “Sit down. What happened?”

“He just secured his party’s nomination as their candidate for Supreme Court Justice.”

“What?” Munch pulled a chair next to hers and sat. “Isn’t he a member of Woodward’s political party?”

“Yes. He’s taking her place. He told the press that he’s doing it in her memory, but John–” Her eyes pleaded with him. “I think he killed Judge Woodward to get her out of the way. I think he wanted to run for Justice, but the party chose her instead.”

“It’s possible,” he agreed.

“I think it’s more than possible. What does your research say?”

“We don’t have much yet, just a bit about his background. Fin and I caught another case, and Elliot and Olivia are investigating … a different angle.”

She stood up and turned for the door.

“Where are you going?” he asked, also rising from his chair.

“To conduct my own research.”

“Casey–”

“I can get access to his files easier than you can, and it won’t look as suspicious–”

“I–”

“He’s guilty, John, I know it.”

“No, you don’t.” Munch sighed. “Look, we’ve got a hit on a guy who lived two floors below Judge Woodward. Elliot and Olivia collared him for a rape back in April, but the victim recanted. They called just before you got here and said his alibi made them even more suspicious. They’re going to bring him in for questioning.” She began to turn away. “Casey, it’s Daniel Groth.”

She froze. “The attorney?”

“He’s in your JAASA photograph. He knew Judge Woodward.” She looked down, and he swung his head until he could meet her gaze again. “He was a fan of The A-Team. All of the evidence we have on him is the same evidence we have on Leonard, and you said it yourself: it’s circumstantial.”

Casey’s jaw trembled, and she pressed her lips together to get it to stop. “Marianne Woodward spent a good part of her legal career putting away rapists and murderers. Where’s the justice if we can’t extend her the same courtesy?”

“Okay,” he said after a long pause. “I will make Martin Leonard my top priority. His financials, background, whatever I can find.”

“I’ll see what I can dig up on his relationship with Judge Woodward.”

He was about to protest but changed his mind. She was right about her ability to gather the information with less risk and suspicion, and there was no reason to worry her with Huang’s unsettling prediction about the perpetrator’s anger, especially if Leonard was innocent. “Be careful.”

“I will.” She started for the doorway but stopped before passing through. “John?” He lifted his head to see her smile at him. “Thanks.”

***

“What do you think, Liv?”

She merged onto the highway and sped toward New York City. “I don’t know.”

Elliot began counting off on one hand. “Daniel Groth knew Judge Woodward. He lived in her building. He’s a fan of The A-Team. He’s been accused of rape before.”

“Rape, not murder. And she recanted, remember? Besides, Groth is right handed.”

“How do you know that?”

“He wore his watch on his left wrist.”

He gave a small shrug. “A lot of people wear their watches on their dominant wrists.”

“Don’t forget the wonder crêpe fibers from the bed.”

“There’s no way to tell which judge’s robe they’re from; they could still have come from Marianne Woodward’s robe.” He frowned. “Yesterday, you didn’t think Judge Leonard did it. Today, you don’t think Daniel Groth did it.”

“What motive does he have? Judge Woodward didn’t have anything to do with the DA’s office firing him. If he was going to get revenge, it wouldn’t be on her.” Her cell phone rang, and she sighed. “Grab that, will you?”

“Stabler.” He listened to the voice on the other end, and a smile spread across his face. “Thanks. I owe you one.” He hung up and looked at Olivia. “That was Tara from the lab. She said the techs just finished going through the trace evidence they collected from the bedding.”

“And?”

“They found cat hairs.”

“Cat hairs? Judge Woodward didn’t have a cat.” She glanced at him, realization settling on her features. “But Lyndsey Brooker did. That calico. Transfer evidence?”

He nodded. “From Lyndsey Brooker’s cat to Daniel Groth’s clothes to Marianne Woodward’s sheets.”

Olivia punched the accelerator, and the car lurched into a higher gear. “Let’s pick him up.”

***

Groth Law Office
Broadway and West 52nd Street
Wednesday, October 27

Groth’s firm was essentially three rooms: the reception area, his office, and a bathroom. The walls were sterile white, interrupted by the occasional splash of color in the form of a tapestry or painting. Elliot pulled open the front door, and a small bell tinkled, indicating his arrival. Olivia followed, removing her badge from her pocket as she walked.

They were greeted by a bleached blonde with a fake smile. “Can I help you?” Her deep Southern accent seemed out of place in the middle of New York City.

Elliot showed his credentials. “Detectives Stabler and Benson, Manhattan SVU. We need to see Daniel Groth.”

She raised her dark eyebrow. “He’s not in right now.”

“Do you know where we can find him?” Olivia asked.

“He’s with a client out of the office. I can tell him you stopped by…” She watched them go around the corner to look in his office for confirmation. “Is there something wrong? Hello?”

Elliot bounded toward her, and she jumped back. “Can you contact him?”

“Contact him?”

“If there’s an emergency, how do you get in touch with him?”

“I don’t,” she said. “He calls me.”

Olivia looked at her partner before dialing a number on her cell phone. “Yeah, this is Detective Benson, Manhattan SVU. I need a patrol car at the corner of Broadway and West Fifty-Second.”

The receptionist’s neatly manicured hands began to shake, and she dropped into her chair. “Am I being arrested?”

“I want you to listen to me very carefully.” Elliot waited until her attention was focused on him. “If Daniel Groth calls in, I want you to tell him there’s an emergency and he needs to return to the office right away. Don’t tell him you talked to us.”

“What kind of emergency?”

“I don’t care — something believable.”

“Uh … his biggest client wants to meet with him at five o’clock sharp.” She seemed pleased by her excuse.

“Fine. A patrol officer will be here shortly to sit with you. Liv, come on.”

Olivia finished up her telephone conversation and followed him out the door. “I just put out an APB on Groth and his vehicle.”

“Let’s see if he’s at home.”

“You know … I’ve got a friend in Jersey City.”

“Cop friend?”

She gave him one big nod before reaching for her cell phone again. “I’ll have him sit on Lyndsey Brooker. She might’ve tipped him off, or he could show up there.”

He snatched the keys from her hand. “I’m driving.”

***

Munch tapped on the keyboard at his computer, entering Martin Leonard’s name into every search program he had access to. So far, he’d come up with a nice little biography of the judge. Nothing too telling, but the night was young.

His cell phone played its version of ‘La Cucaracha’, and he glanced at the caller ID. Casey Novak. He paused. Which greeting would be more appropriate? A cheerful ‘hello’ or his standard ‘Munch’ or maybe even ‘hey, Casey’ to suggest that she had been programmed into his phone. She had secured number two on his speed dial, trumped only by SVU’s main line. He’d even moved Fin back to number three.

“John?” Cragen’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he pointed to Munch’s cell. “You gonna answer that?”

He picked up the phone. “Munch.”

John, it’s Casey. Sorry to bother you–

“It’s no bother. How are you?”

Fine. A little tired.

“Me, too. It’s been a long day. What can I do for you?”

I started my research on Judge Leonard. Listen to this. Before he was appointed to the bench, he used to work for one of the largest firms in the city. They were looking for another partner, and it was a toss-up between him and a man named Greg McCarthy.

“And they picked McCarthy?”

Initially.” Her tone grew very serious, and Munch glanced around the squadroom out of habit. “But then McCarthy suffered a severe heart attack and had to retire from practicing. Leonard was handed the partnership.

“A heart attack?”

McCarthy was thirty-nine, he was physically fit, ran a couple miles every morning–

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove anything. I’ve known guys who eat greasy cheeseburgers every day and haven’t had a heart attack. I’ve also heard of Olympic athletes having heart attacks — sometimes at a young age.”

There was a pause. “Yeah, you’re right. Well, have you heard from Elliot and Olivia?

“They’re out looking for Groth.”

Out looking for him? He’s disappeared?

“According to his secretary, he was out visiting a client, but it’s now–” He pushed up his jacket sleeve to check his watch. “–quarter til six and he hasn’t returned to the office, hasn’t gone home, hasn’t called for messages. I think they said they were going back to Jersey City to talk to his girlfriend.”

Well, what are you doing tonight?

His heart skipped a little. “Oh, I’ve got a hot date with my couch tonight. Just me, her, and the Sci-Fi Channel.”

Sounds enjoyable,” she said with a chuckle. “Certainly beats my evening of trial prep. Tyrone had an emergency appendectomy early this morning. I’m covering it for him.

“What kind of case is it?”

Petty theft and aggravated battery. The defendant attacked a bulk food store employee and stole seventy dollars worth of olives.

He frowned. “I’m sorry … did you say olives?”

Don’t ask. Anyway, Tyrone started on the opening statement, but I need to finish it.

“Well, if you need someone to practice on, my couch and I would be happy to oblige.”

She laughed. He could get used to that sound. Cragen looked at him then, and Munch wondered if he had just spoken aloud. “I might take you up on that,” Casey said. “Want to have lunch with me tomorrow? Go over our respective research?

“You’re only interested in me for my brilliant detective skills, aren’t you?”

If that’s what you think, John, then your detectives skills really aren’t that brilliant.” Unable to speak, he nodded, not realizing that she couldn’t see him. “I’ll meet you tomorrow around noon.

He didn’t move, even after the dial tone began to hammer in his ear. Did she just say… “Yes, she did,” he muttered, dropping the cell phone back on his desk. A slow smile spread across his face.

***

Brooker Residence
Jersey City, New Jersey
Wednesday, October 27

“Okay. For the last time, I … don’t … know.” Lyndsey Brooker rubbed her hairline with both hands. “I didn’t call Daniel, he hasn’t called me, he hasn’t stopped by. I don’t know where he is.”

“Where were you on the seventeenth?” Olivia asked. “Really.”

She rolled her head along the back of the couch, and her cat pawed at her big hoop earring. “Cut it out, Duchess.” She looked up at the detectives again and sighed. “I was at a rave. I don’t know where Daniel was, but he wasn’t here.”

“So you lied.”

“Look, lady–” Lyndsey stood up, but the look on Elliot’s face made her rethink her next words. “Daniel’s like a brother to me. He would never hurt anybody.”

Elliot frowned. “But Daniel referred to you as his girlfriend.”

“I’m sure he did. He did the same for me in college when I didn’t want guys knocking down my door. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

“He have a lot of girls knocking at his door?”

Lyndsey smirked. “No. Well, unless you count his lady clients.”

“So is Daniel seeing anyone?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said at last, as if she had to search every corner of her brain for the answer.

“Who?”

“Alex.”

He reached for his notebook. “Alex who?”

“Alex Dumas. Like the writer.”

“Do you know where she lives?” Olivia asked.

Lyndsey stared at her for a long moment before chuckling. “Sorry, can’t help you there. Somewhere in Manhattan, I’m sure.”

When she sat back on the couch again, they stepped out of the living room. Elliot stuck his hands in his pockets. “You get the feeling we’re the brunt of one big joke and she’s not telling us the punchline?”

“Maybe we’ll know more when we find Alex Dumas.”

***

Dumas Residence
Manhattan, New York
Wednesday, October 27

The man who answered the door was not Daniel Groth, but he was good-looking just the same, especially with his easy smile and deep blue eyes. Olivia held up her badge and gave him a smile of her own. “Sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir. I’m Detective Benson. This is my partner, Detective Stabler. We’re looking for Alex Dumas.”

“You’ve found him.” He looked to Elliot, and his grin broadened. “How can I help you, Detectives?”

“Is that the curry?” came a voice from inside. “It’s about time.” Daniel Groth appeared behind Dumas, and he exhaled sharply. “Well, congratulations. You’ve found me. You’re not as bad of detectives as I thought.”

“May we come inside?” Elliot asked, trying to wipe the surprise off his face but failing miserably.

“Why not?” Dumas stepped aside and let them pass, his eyes dropping to Elliot’s backside. “Are they here for you, Dan?”

“Most likely. They’ve been following me for the last couple of days, looking for a scapegoat for the Woodward murder.” Groth sunk into a black leather sofa and gazed at Elliot and Olivia with contempt. “Run out of suspects again?”

“Can I get either of you anything to drink?” Dumas asked.

“No,” Groth answered for them. “They won’t be staying long. Oh, Detectives, have you met my partner, Alex Dumas? We’ve been together for the past three and a half years, out of the scope of the homophobes and our respective bosses.”

Olivia sighed, quietly enough that no one heard her except Elliot. “Why didn’t you just tell us?”

“And what, be outed by the police? You see, Detectives, I value my right to privacy, which your squad has done little to protect. Annie cries rape; you start hounding me. I lost my job, I lost my friends, I lost almost everything because of you.”

“We’re required to follow up on any valid claim,” Elliot said.

Valid claim,” he repeated. “Annie’s claim was far from valid. As I told you before, she got drunk. Anyone at the party could attest to that. I helped her upstairs to her hotel room, also which anyone at the party could attest to. When we got inside, she ripped open her blouse and knocked me on the bed, but I pushed her off. I left and went home; she probably passed out. Unless defending myself is a crime, I never touched her inappropriately.” He looked at Dumas. “Now Judge Woodward was murdered, and I’m the prime suspect because I happened to be photographed with her a year ago.” His gaze returned to the detectives. “I’m sure that some gay men commit rape as an attempt to prove that they aren’t gay, that they still get turned on by women, but I’m not like that.”

“Then why didn’t you just admit that?”

Groth stared at Olivia, jaw hinged open in disbelief. “You have no clue, do you? You think that an assistant district attorney and a high school football coach can just be open about their homosexual relationship? Alex would be the target of hate mail, death threats… Knowing the Brooklyn DA and his staunch views on Catholicism, he would’ve found any excuse to fire me, and I would’ve lost any recommendation I could’ve received from that office.”

“But you were fired anyway,” Elliot pointed out.

“Not for being gay. The DA’s office prosecutes sexual offenders, not employs them. He fired me because he didn’t think we could bounce back from Annie’s allegations. But he did promise me a glowing recommendation to any firm I wanted. I decided to open my own practice instead.” He stood up and began pacing the living room. Dumas watched him with growing concern. “I tell everyone I’m dating Lyndsey and that Alex is my step-brother. Alex is engaged to his childhood sweetheart, who just so happens to be a photojournalist on assignment in the Congo at the moment.”

Dumas looked at the detectives almost apologetically. “For what it’s worth, Dan was with me the night of the judge’s rape.”

“The night of the murder, I have no alibi. I was at home, alone, but Alex and I did talk on the phone for about a half an hour. Check my phone records, if you want.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Olivia turned toward the door. “Thank you for your time. I hope you and your brother have a good night.”

Elliot followed her out of the building and into the car. He climbed into the driver’s seat and started the ignition. Olivia sat beside him, shaking her head. “We were so wrong,” she muttered. “Look what he’s been through. I don’t know if I could do it. Could you hide your true feelings about the one you love?”

“You do what you have to do,” he said softly.

“And we were no help,” she continued. “Why did I even think he was a suspect? He was right; he wasn’t convicted. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. We had evidence suggesting he had committed both crimes.” He pulled away from the curb and headed for her apartment. “He was a good suspect, Liv. He just wasn’t the right one.”

Her cell phone rang, and she answered it. She listened to the voice on the other line, interjecting when appropriate, then hung up with a sigh. “That was the lab. Blood on the fork from Judge Woodward’s apartment does not match Groth’s DNA that we had on file. Actually, it doesn’t match anyone in the system so far.”

“That eliminates a few people.”

“Maybe Casey was right. We should focus our efforts on Martin Leonard.”

“I’m pretty sure Munch has been following up on Leonard on his own time.”

She chuckled at that. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

***

Señor Swanky’s Mexican Cafe & Speakeasy
New York City, NY
Thursday, October 28

Casey was late for lunch, spouting numerous apologies, but Munch dismissed them easily. She dropped into the chair across from him, her briefcase landing on the floor with a thud. “I’m not wired for these late nights,” she said.

“You work too hard.”

“I did finish my opening statement though, ran through it a couple of times in front of the mirror. Then I got a call this morning. The defendant was badly beaten by some other inmates. Case continued indefinitely.”

“Those inmates must be really serious about their martinis.”

The waiter came by, and they ordered a large plate of beef-and-chicken-topped nachos to share. Casey shuffled through her briefcase until she found her folder. “Here,” she said, passing it to Munch. “This is what I came up with.”

He gave her a folder of his own. “Voilà.”

“Anything good?” she asked as she thumbed through the pages.

“You mean, does he fit the criteria for a vindictive psychopath? Not according to the profile. He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

“Then they should update their profile. I know a lot of vindictive psychopaths who grew up with silver spoons in their mouths.”

He chuckled. “I’m not talking run-of-the-mill weirdos, I’m talking hard-core, mentally unbalanced freaks.”

“So am I. You should come around the courthouse more often.”

Munch focused on her findings, surprised at her meticulous detail. It read somewhat like the reports he had filed after a case. Whoever said attorneys made the worst writers was mistaken. “This is really good, Casey. Very thorough.”

“Thank you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prove anything. The most suspicious thing I found was McCarthy’s heart attack.”

“I saw Leonard’s acceptance speech on the news last night. He reminded me of a puppy getting his ears rubbed, the way he was acting with all of the attention.”

“Smug,” she agreed, closing the folder.

“There’s a satellite location for the party nearby the courthouse. I might have to make an appearance.” He piled some ground beef onto a chip and stuck it into his mouth, chewing carefully. “So how are you doing? Better?”

“I’m okay.”

She didn’t sound convincing, but he pretended not to notice. “Good.”

“I have a hearing before Judge Leonard tomorrow afternoon.”

“You want me to go with you?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” A shy smile threatened her feigned indifference, and she hid it by taking another bite. Much of the rest of their lunch was spent in silence, but it didn’t bother her. Neither did their occasional furtive glances and smiles at each other. There was some psychological view about that, that a relationship was sound when you could spend hours together without speaking and not feel uncomfortable. What kind of relationship did she and Munch have, exactly? She wished she knew.

They headed back to the courthouse after lunch, enjoying the mild October weather. Unlike before, Munch seemed distant, walking beside her almost an arm’s length away. Something had changed between the restaurant and the walk back. She assumed, hoped, it had to do with his caseload; the police were at a standstill on Judge Woodward’s rape and murder, and she knew from experience that they took it personally. If there was one thing she had learned about Munch, it was his habit of internailzing everything. Whatever was bothering him, he wasn’t going to say it out loud.

Carefully, she slid one hand around his forearm and sighed. “You’re quiet.”

“I’m pondering the meaning of life.”

“Come on, I think I know you better than that.” She wet her lips. “Is it the Woodward case?”

“Some of it.”

“And the rest?” She chanced a quick look at him; he was watching the sidewalk. The courthouse was in sight, and their pace slowed as they approached the steps. She released him. “Well, thanks for lunch and for the research. I’ll see you later.”

As she started to turn away, Munch spoke. “Hypothetical situation. You’re an attorney who, despite your best efforts and intentions, has lost every case you’ve ever tried.”

“This really is a hypothetical,” she teased.

“Casey–”

“Sorry. Okay, I’ve lost every case I’ve ever tried.”

“You read all the books about becoming a better lawyer. You gave it your best shot, completely attentive to the needs of your case. But in the long run, it didn’t matter. You still lost. The last case you had — the one you thought was going to end your losing streak — was stolen from you by some other bastard attorney.”

She tried not to laugh. “Yeah, I hate those.”

“So you throw in the towel and quit. You move to a different state, and you promise yourself that you’ll never try another case again. What’s the point? You’re just not attorney material.”

The underlying story was not lost on her. She knew about his failed relationships, how his last wife had cheated on him with a friend and fellow officer. It was the catalyst that had prompted his move to New York. Still, his admission was confusing. It had been years; did it still bother him that much? “John–”

“But then one day,” he continued, “you come across the most amazing case, and no matter how hard you try to fight it, you find yourself thinking that maybe, just maybe … this is the one.”

Casey dropped her gaze and let out a shaky breath. She wished he hadn’t been so roundabout in his confession; she wanted to make absolutely sure that she wasn’t misinterpreting what he was saying. “The one to end your losing streak?”

“Not just that. The one that would allow you to retire. You’d never have to practice again because the success of this case would keep you going for the rest of you life. So what should you do?” He shrugged, as if the answer didn’t really matter. Typical Munch — hardening his heart in case the answer wasn’t the one he was hoping for. “Go for it? Or let a more competent, more successful, and possibly more handsome attorney take a shot?”

“First things first: you’ve got to stop speaking in metaphors.” She lifted her head to look at him, her pulse racing, an answer on her lips.

“Ah, Ms. Novak, Detective … Munch, was it?” Judge Leonard walked toward them, a can of ginger ale in hand. “Lovely day for October.”

“Congratulations on your nomination,” Casey said with a forced smile. “It’s quite an honor.”

“Thank you, Counselor.”

Munch also smiled, but his was clearly insincere. “You’ve got big shoes to fill.”

“Yes, Dick Robbins made a fine justice, but even the best of us old birds know when to fly south for the winter.”

“Actually, I meant Marianne Woodward.” Leonard’s eyes darkened at the comment, but Munch plowed on. “She was clearly a party favorite, and it was obvious why. She had a great media presence. The press loved her, the people loved her, even we in the NYPD loved her. She created JAASA, helped to fund the building of the new shelter for rape victims. I tend to be pretty pessimistic about our country’s electoral system, but I was going to vote for her — and that was before the rape. After that, though, she was a shoo-in for the position. Overcoming adversity and turning it into something positive, that’s what she stood for. What do you stand for?”

Casey resisted the urge to kick him in the leg. Leonard’s grip on his beverage had tightened, and a vein in his wide forehead was almost pulsing out of the skin. She heard the welcomed sound of a clock chiming in the distance.

Munch smirked at him. “Saved by the bell.”

Leonard matched his gaze. “Indeed. Ms. Novak, I’ll see you in court.” He turned toward the courthouse, dropped his can in the nearest garbage receptacle, and marched up the steps.

Casey let out the breath she had been holding. “Was that necessary?”

“Absolutely.”

“Why?”

He took a few slow steps toward the courthouse. “I was merely proving my point.”

“And what point was that?”

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an ink pen. “That no matter how smart a criminal may seem…” He reached into the trash can like he was on a fishing expedition and lifted up Judge Leonard’s empty ginger ale can with the pen, which he had inserted into the hole at the top of the can. “…he always makes one fatal mistake.”

End of part seven

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