The Price of Justice 8/14

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.


Fin found his partner loitering outside of the small suite rented out to Judge Leonard’s political party. “Heard about your little treasure hunt earlier.”

“Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

“I bet Casey was impressed.”

Munch scoffed. “Not you, too.”

“Hey, I had to withhold coffee from Benson and Stabler for half an hour to get the whole story. Of course I’m going to use it.”

“Only half an hour? Addicts break my heart.” Munch pulled open the door and stepped inside. The room was decorated in earth tones, giving it a warm, homely feeling. It was surprisingly small, consisting only of the waiting area and a short hallway presumably leading back to an office or two.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” a plump, cheery woman greeted, rounding the corner of her desk to stand by them. She stood as tall as Fin’s shoulders with a mass of dark curls atop her head. “How may I help you?”

“I’m Detective Munch, this is my partner, Detective Tutuola. We’re with the Manhattan SVU.”

“We’re investigating the rape and murder of Marianne Woodward,” Fin continued.

The woman’s smile vanished, and she heaved a sigh. “Marianne was absolutely wonderful. It is such a, a … tragedy.”

“You are?” Munch asked.

“Oh. Lori Neumeister. I maintain this satellite location. Is there something I can do to help your investigation?”

Fin glanced at his partner before taking the lead. “You know, we’ve talked to a lot of Marianne’s friends, but we still don’t feel that we have a good picture of her life. The judges said this, the relatives said this, but we want to know what you think.”

“What I think?” Her eyes lit up with pleasure.

“Yeah. Did you know Marianne well?”

“Sure. She used to stop by here on a regular basis, just to say hello.”

Munch raised an eyebrow. Someone actually thought Marianne Woodward was friendly. “Did you talk about anything else?”

“Actually,” Lori said proudly, “I was the first one she told about funding the Manhattan Rape Crisis Shelter.”

“Sounds like you two were pretty close,” Fin said with just enough admiration to keep her talking.

“She was very active in the party and in the community. She kept everything in balance. We all miss her.” She paused, her brow dipping into a frown. “Most of us, anyway.”

“Who won’t?”

She looked at Fin. “Well, you have to understand, this is an organization, and like any organization, there’s bound to be conflicts of interest. Plus Marianne was a great spinner. Some people didn’t like that.”

“What kind of things did she spin?”

Lori didn’t reply, looking around nervously as if there were cameras in the walls. As far as Munch trusted politics, there probably were. “We knew that Justice Robbins was having health problems long before he ever made the announcement that he would be retiring before the end of his term. And even back then, we began to wonder who we would want to take his place. Marianne was not our first choice, originally. She’s fairly new to the bench, was never a hard-hitting political figure. Nice enough woman. Really good at what she did when she was an attorney and a fine judge, but…”

“It was too soon,” Munch finished for her.

“Our first choice was Martin Leonard.” She gave a little shrug. “He doesn’t impress me, not that anyone ever asked for my opinion.”

“Why don’t you tell us?” Fin asked.

“Well, he’s never come down to the office. I don’t even think I’ve seen him at Headquarters. He just acts so arrogant that I try not to have anything to do with him. But I will concede one thing: he’s quite brilliant. His idea to create JAASA — uh, the Judicial Advocates Against Sexual Assault — went over better than we ever could have hoped.”

Fin exchanged glances with his partner. “We were under the impression that Marianne Woodward founded JAASA.”

She gave a little shrug. “I told you she was a spinner.”

***

16th Precinct
Special Victims Unit
Thursday, October 28

“Talked to the lab earlier,” Olivia mentioned, sliding into her chair with a mug of coffee in one hand. She took a sip before continuing. “You remember that picture in Elena’s bedroom of herself?”

Elliot nodded. “Yeah. I thought it was a little odd.”

“Turns out that inside the frame, beneath the picture of her, is a picture of her son.”

“Always keeping him close.” He paused. “I’m not sure I could do it, Liv. Give my kids to someone halfway across the world to raise, only have a picture of them, not get to see them grow up.”

Before she could say anything, Munch and Fin walked into the squadroom. She raised her free hand in greeting. “Hey, guys. Any luck?”

“Daniel Groth is for sure not a suspect?” Munch asked.

“He is for sure not a suspect,” she replied.

He looked at Fin, who went to get the captain, then back at the other detectives. “It’s Martin Leonard. I’d bet my pension on it.”

Olivia raised an eyebrow. “That’s a pretty steep bet. What makes you so sure?”

“Most of the evidence we’ve collected so far is circumstantial, but we’ve worked with less and caught the right guy. Fin and I just got back from visiting a couple of work offices that the party has set up. Most of them didn’t like the fact that we were investigating their nominee.”

“I can see why,” Elliot said. “The first one was murdered, and the second one might have done it.”

“We didn’t leave empty-handed, though. Lori Neumeister works at the party office closest to the courthouse. According to her, Marianne Woodward was not the brains behind JAASA; Martin Leonard was. He came up with the idea, but Woodward stole it from him and created the program herself.”

“What did he do about that?” Olivia asked.

“Nothing. Of course, Woodward never really said one way or the other about the idea behind the program; she merely got it off the ground and took all the credit.”

“So Leonard has been fuming ever since.” Elliot looked at an invisible point on the wall, brows furrowed. “Does he have a cat?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think Casey would?”

Munch glanced at his watch. “She’s in court right now. I could leave a message with her secretary, have her call when she gets in.”

“Do it,” Cragen said. “The more evidence we can build against him, the stronger our case. Circumstantial or not, it might be enough to sway the jury. And if the DNA from the blood on the fork matches the DNA on the can of ginger ale, we could put him away.”

“I also have this.” Munch presented his folder on Leonard’s past and Casey’s report about his activities in the legal field. “His life story and career history. There isn’t much there, but maybe Huang could take a look at it.”

“All right,” Cragen said, “good job. Hopefully we can get this wrapped up without another incident.”

***

Casey stomped out of the courthouse, nearly tripping in her haste. That was just what she needed, she thought sarcastically, to topple down the steps and be stuck in a full body cast for a few months. She bit back the curse that she desperately wanted to scream at the top of her lungs.

“Casey!” Steve Adams ran after her, catching up at the bottom of the stairs. “Listen, I know that you’re upset–”

She came to an abrupt halt, and he bumped into her. “Upset? Oh, I’m not upset, Mr. Adams; I’m furious. You know as well as I do that there was nothing improper about the search of the defendant’s residence. The detectives on the case followed the book.”

“Oh, come on, Casey. Your evidence was circumstantial; your detectives never should’ve gotten that search warrant in the first place. Judge Leonard was right to throw it out.”

“The city won’t be happy that a rapist is walking free.”

“Did you ever stop to think that maybe my client is innocent?”

With a groan, Casey continued toward her office, wishing that he’d stop following her. No such luck.

“Can I give you a word of friendly advice?”

“No.”

Adams was undaunted. “Don’t take it personally. You win some, you lose some. Besides, it’s not like Judge Leonard has some vendetta against you. Let it go.”

His words hit harder than she thought they would. Was that what it was? An exercise of power? Was he taunting her with his ruling? ‘Circumstantial evidence has no place in court, so you’ll never convict me.’ Or was it a challenge?

***

“Casey, thanks for returning my call.” Munch leaned back in his chair, his cell phone pressed between his shoulder and ear as he mixed hot water with ramen noodles. The lunch of champions. “Do you know if Judge Leonard has a cat?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied, “but if I remember correctly, his cousin does.”

“His cousin?”

“Yeah, they’re pretty close. She lives in my building actually — same floor, too. That’s how Judge Leonard and I found out we visited the same batting cages. He saw me coming in with my gear as he was leaving, we started talking…” There was a pause, and he could picture her shaking her head, wondering how she had missed his apparent homicidal tendencies. “Seems like forever ago.”

“What’s the cousin’s name?”

“Cynthia Gray. She’s in a wheelchair after a car accident left her paraplegic. He comes over to visit her at least once a week. I haven’t seen him lately, though.”

“Okay, thanks, Casey.”

“There’s something else,” she said, “something unrelated to the Woodward murder.”

“What is it?”

“Judge Leonard threw out the search that you and Fin did on Marty Castello’s residence. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.”

“What? Why?”

“He found your methods of obtaining evidence improper. Said that the crowbar wasn’t in plain sight. I’m filing my appeal first thing tomorrow morning.”

Munch took a breath. There had been nothing improper about their search. “Casey, do you think that he–”

“–ruled that way as a warning?”

“You said it, not me.”

“Last week, I would’ve said no way. Leonard has always been fair, and I’ve never had a problem with any of his decisions.”

“And now?”

“Now? I don’t have a clue.”

***

The theme to The Patty Duke Show played in the back of Munch’s mind as he looked at Cynthia Gray. Judge Leonard’s cousin could’ve been a fraternal twin of his: same build, same coloring, same disproportionately large head. The only real difference was Cynthia Gray was a woman confined to a wheelchair.

After introducing themselves, he and Elliot had been invited inside her apartment. Surprisingly, it looked completely different than Casey’s across the hall. There were very few furnishings, allowing her to wheel around from room to room with ease, and it made the whole place seem brighter and more open. The walls were dotted with watercolor paintings of fruit, flowers, and landscapes. An easel had been set up near the large living room window.

“It happened when I was, oh, about nineteen, I guess,” she said, looking at the detectives with a sad smile on her lips. “My boyfriend at the time was driving fast down a two lane highway in the middle of a rainstorm. I don’t really remember what happened, but the police found me fifty feet from the road. The truck was upside down. He walked away with hardly a scratch, but I … I ended up like this. No regrets though. Without being like this, I would never have gotten into painting.”

“These are good,” Elliot said, pointing to a painting of a lighthouse overlooking the ocean. “Ever consider selling them?”

“Painting is my therapy. Selling them would be like losing a part of myself. Besides, I don’t need the money. I invested my settlement proceeds, and I have no financial difficulties.”

Elliot nodded a few times. “You have any family nearby?”

“Just my cousin, Martin.”

“Oh, the, uh … judge, right?”

“Yes. He was recently nominated as his party’s choice for Supreme Court Justice.” Her pale blue eyes narrowed slightly, and Munch was reminded once again of her cousin. “I’m sorry, why did you say you were here?”

“We’re investigating the murder of Marianne Woodward,” Munch answered. “She was a colleague of your cousin’s.”

“I know. Martin’s just sick about it, and so am I. Marianne had been over to my apartment more than once for dinner. She was such a nice woman.” There was a tiny mew from the kitchen, and a calico cat darted into the room and jumped onto Cynthia’s lap. “What’s the matter, Cleo?”

Elliot grinned widely. “My kids have been begging me for months to get them a cat.”

“They’re wonderful companions.”

“Can I pet him?”

“Sure.”

He reached down and scratched the cat’s ears for a moment before stroking its back, his coat sleeve rubbing across the fur as well. “He’s very soft.”

Munch noticed the brown hairs stuck on Elliot’s clothing and smiled. “Did Marianne Woodward ever mention any problems she had with anyone? Any mention of harassing letters or phone calls?”

“No. She always seemed very happy.” Cynthia’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t think anyone’s after Martin, do you?”

“We’re just exploring all possible angles,” Elliot said. “We take all rapes and murders very seriously.”

“I hope you catch the person who did this, Detectives. If anything were to happen to Martin, I don’t know what I’d do.”

***

Murphy’s Pub
New York City, NY
Friday, October 29

The five of them sat around a small circular table, two pitchers of beer and a half-empty plate of potato skins taking up most of the space on top. There was little enthusiasm among them, and their conversation did nothing to improve it.

“We went over Patrol’s interviews with the residents and employees from Woodward’s building, this time following the murder,” Elliot said. “Nobody saw anything, heard anything, or has anything to add. Except the building manager, who threatened to sue the city if we continued our harassment.”

Olivia shook her head. “It’s a murder investigation. When will they learn?”

“Probably never.” Fin poured himself another glass. “All they see are a bunch of uniformed officers swarming their precious building. That doesn’t look good for prospective tenants.”

Munch finished off his beer and gestured for Fin to refill his as well. “He’ll have lots of openings if people keep dying.”

Casey forked the end of a potato skin into her mouth. “Any more suspects?” Both Elliot and Olivia shook their heads. “So that leaves Martin Leonard. Did you talk to Cynthia?”

Elliot grunted. “Talk about a guilt trip. Leonard is her only family in the area. He takes her to the symphony, brings her groceries, visits every Tuesday and Saturday and sometimes more. She hopes Woodward’s murder is just a one-time thing, not a criminal on a mission to wipe out the city’s judges because she can’t imagine life without her beloved cousin.”

“Hard to believe people still think he’s human,” Munch said. “Did you get the cat hair to the lab?”

“Yep; they said they’d get started on the comparison right away.” Elliot took a drink. “Casey, how does the court feel about subpoenaing a cat?”

“I can get a court order to have the owner produce the cat.” She looked up and noticed his broad grin. “Well, I can…”

He laughed. “I was only kidding.”

“No, we may have to. If the defense casts any doubt on where we got the cat hairs, we may need to order Cynthia to bring her cat to court, at which point we’ll take a new sample to prove the cat hairs in Judge Woodward’s bed matched the hairs from Cleo the calico.” She sighed, pushing her empty glass toward the center of the table. “I hate to be the one to break up the party, but I’m exhausted.”

“It’s just now eleven,” Olivia said. “Sure you don’t want to stay a while?”

Casey shook her head. “No, thanks. If I hear one more Hank Williams song, I’ll fall asleep at the table.”

“Here, I’ll go with you,” Munch said.

“Oh, that’s not–”

“I insist.”

She looked at him for a moment and, in a soft tone, said, “Okay.”

Elliot watched Munch help her into her coat. He leaned toward Olivia. “Who would’ve thought Munch could be such a gentleman?”

She chuckled and looked at Fin to see if he wanted in on the joke. The man’s attention was focused on the television above the bar, and his face was twisted into a frown. Before she could ask what was wrong, he called out, “Hey, Joe! Turn that up, would you?”

The bartender obliged, and the five of them turned toward the evening news. An image of Martin Leonard was floating beside the anchorman’s head, along with the words ‘No Justice’. “…recently replaced the late Marianne Woodward as his party’s nominee. Officials won’t say why they have decided to go with a different candidate, but one thing is clear: Martin Leonard will not be on the ballot for Supreme Court Justice come March. Telephone calls to Judge Leonard were not returned. In other news…”

Olivia’s eyebrows rose. “They took Leonard off the ballot? Why?”

“Maybe it had something to do with our visit to the party offices,” Fin said, looking at Munch.

“Maybe,” he muttered. His mind drifted back to Huang’s earlier assessment, how Casey could be a target. Judge Leonard had already exercised his powers in the courtroom; now that he had no chance of being elected to the Supreme Court, what would he do? He faced Casey. Her expression was calm, but he could see the anxiety in her eyes. “Come on; I’ll take you home.”

***

Casey unlocked the door to her apartment and stumbled inside. An hour at the batting cages, sandwiched between a two mile run to and from the park, made her body feel like Jell-O, but it was exactly what she needed.

She placed her bat and gear against the wall by the front door and headed for the bathroom, peeling off clothes as she went. She started up the faucet in the shower, adjusting the temperature until it was almost too hot for her to handle, then climbed in. The spray felt good against her aching muscles, and she let out a long breath.

Twenty-four hours. It had been twenty-four hours since anyone had seen or heard from Martin Leonard. His clerk hadn’t seen him since he left on Friday, and no one answered at his home and he hadn’t returned any of his calls. Had he known that his party was going to take back his nomination? And worse, did he know why?

There was something that John wasn’t telling her. She could see it in his face whenever he looked at her. A cross between worry and … fear.

Casey climbed out of the shower and wrapped a towel around herself. After making sure her feet were dry, she headed to the bedroom for a change of clothes. A cool breeze sent goosebumps across her skin, and she frowned. The window in her room was open, wide enough for an arm to fit through.

It wasn’t open when she left.

She grabbed a pair of sweat pants, a tank top, and undergarments and backed out of the room to change. She knew she hadn’t opened the window. The lock had gotten stuck in the open position earlier in the week, and she had called the super. Maybe the building’s maintenance crew had fixed it while she had been gone and left it open. At least, she hoped that was what had happened.

Once dressed, she returned to her bedroom and walked slowly to the window. The sounds of the city grew louder as she approached. A quick gust of wind blew in and tousled the curtains, chilling her heart. Casey glanced outside and reached for the lock. It turned both directions easily, so the maintenance crew must have left the window cracked open. Still unsettled, she opened the window all the way and stuck her head out, looking up and down the fire escape. Nothing.

“You’re losing your mind,” she muttered. The murder of Judge Woodward and the fact that Judge Leonard may have done it had turned her cool and collected world upside down. Now she was imagining things. Again.

There was a knock at the door. She jumped at the sound then chastised herself. She went into the living room and looked through the peephole. Munch was on the other side. She glanced at herself in the mirror by the door. Great. Sweats, wet hair, no make-up. No time to fix that now, she thought as she opened the door. “John.”

“Casey.” He fanned out two DVDs. “Want to make it a Blockbuster night?”

She chuckled. “What?”

“Seeing as how it’s the night before Halloween, I figured you could use a horror movie fest.”

“I see. What did you bring?”

“Uh, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Night of the Living Dead.”

She couldn’t hide her grin. A part of her didn’t want to anyway. “I’ll make the popcorn.”

He stepped inside her apartment and closed and locked the door for her. He noticed a large bowl of candy on the counter. “Your dentist must be making a million off your cavities.”

“Oh, that’s for the trick-or-treaters. Our building has a designated time for the kids to come around and get candy. Last year, I ran out. Figured I’d better stock up this time.”

He snuck a miniature Milky Way when she wasn’t looking, turning away so he could shove it surreptitously in his pocket. He noticed her bat leaning against the wall by the front door. “To the cages, Batgirl.”

She followed his line of sight and chuckled. “Yeah. I just got back a little bit ago, showered, and changed into this. If I had known you were coming, I would’ve looked more presentable.”

“Have you always been into sports?”

“Yes. I got tired of being the nerdy girl so I took up softball in junior high. After a while, I became the nerdy girl with the good pitching arm.”

“Nerdy girl?”

“I was valedictorian in high school and graduated from college summa cum laude. Law school magna cum laude. And I always thought Star Trek was pretty cool. Nerdy girl.” She reached into the lower cabinet and pulled out her popcorn maker, a bag of unpopped kernels, and a small jug of oil. At his curious expression, she laughed. “Pretty fancy, eh?”

“Better than the microwave kind.” Munch paused, thinking about their earlier conversation. Casey could have been detailing his own academic history, and he’d seen every episode of Star Trek ever created. Twice. “Any collegiate sports?”

“Uh…” She laughed. “No. Not exactly.”

“What?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course.”

She started up the popcorn machine, and it began to whir and cackle loudly. Then she leaned across the counter, inches from him. “It wasn’t collegiate, but … I took up competitive figure skating.”

For a moment, he thought the machine had masked her words. “Figure skating? Like Tanya Harding breaking kneecaps figure skating?”

“Well, I don’t think I broke anybody’s kneecaps, but yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I never got better than third place in a competition, and I quit before going to law school, but.” She gave a self-effacing shrug.

“Figure skating,” he repeated. “You still practice?”

“No. I’m so uncoordinated and ungraceful, I’d probably fall before I even reached the ice. I don’t know how I did it all those years ago. I’m such a klutz.”

He smiled. “I can see the headlines now. ‘Local attorney gives up license, joins Ice Capades’.”

“Yeah. Can you picture me in one of those skimpy outfits?”

Actually, he could — quite vividly. He looked away with a nervous chuckle, fixing his attention on the bowl of candy. Staring at a package of Raisinettes wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as staring at Casey Novak, skimpy outfit or not, but he was worried his emotions might somehow be readable in his eyes. He cursed his lack of self-restraint.

The popcorn inside the machine popped in the silence like firecrackers. He knew she was watching him, and he forced himself to look up. “What is it that you’re not telling me?” she asked at last.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not blind, John. The last couple of days, you’ve looked at me like you’re holding something back. And not something good, either.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Is it about Martin Leonard?”

He opened his mouth, trying to put his thoughts into words. “It’s about the man who killed Marianne Woodward. If that’s Martin Leonard, then yes.”

“What about him?”

He briefly explained Dr. Huang’s profile of the murderer. “If Huang’s right, and Leonard or whoever knows that you were the one who tipped him off to the police, you could be in danger.”

“Don’t you think that’s something I should know?”

“I didn’t want to worry you, Casey.” She looked at the floor. “I figured Leonard wouldn’t try something at the courthouse, and when you’re not there or at your office, you’re at the station or at home, and I–”

“Is that why you’ve been calling me? To check up on me?”

“No, not…” He sighed inwardly. “I should’ve told you sooner, but I knew you’d never agree to any sort of police protection, and that would’ve been my recommendation, warranted or not. You’re tougher and smarter than most civilians I know, you wouldn’t do something stupid.” I would, he thought, but not you. Another sigh. “You’re right; I should’ve told you. I’m sorry.”

She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you for caring about what happens to me.”

He opened his mouth again to speak but couldn’t find the words. How could he possibly convey the depth of his feelings for her without sounding ridiculous? They hadn’t even gotten close until Judge Woodward’s rape. Was that enough time to feel the things he felt?

“Which movie do you want to watch first?”

It took him a moment to realize that she had spoken. “Oh, uh … how about Abbott and Costello?”

Abbott and Costello it is.” She dumped the popcorn in a large bowl, sprinkled it with popcorn salt, and carried it to the living room. Munch put the DVD into her player and started the film. They dropped onto the couch almost simultaneously, each of them propping their right foot on the coffee table. They shared a look of amusement and a chuckle before setting the popcorn bowl between them.

And it was comfortable. He found himself smiling and even laughing. He never considered himself boring or unable to have a good time, but it had been so long since he’d done so that he’d forgotten what it was like. Sure, he’d go to the bar with Elliot, Olivia, and Fin but this … this was different. This was perfect.

A kernel of popcorn went sailing in front of his face, and he looked at Casey. She stared innocently at the television, desperately trying to hide a wicked smirk. “You know, for a sports enthusiast, you don’t have very good aim.” She gave an exaggerated gasp, and he threw a piece into her mouth. “Now that’s good aim. Maybe I should join your softball team.”

With a laugh, she tossed a small handful of popcorn at him, and it tumbled down his shirt. “This is completely different than softball.”

“I should hope so,” he replied, flicking a kernel at her chin. She turned her head at the last minute, and it lodged itself into her hair. She pawed at it but only succeeded in getting it more stuck.

“Wet hair and popcorn — bad combination.”

“Sorry.” He pulled it out carefully then smoothed out the strand of hair he had tousled. Casey leaned into his touch and closed her eyes. She was able to drown out everything — the sounds from the television, the death of Marianne Woodward, the disappearance of Martin Leonard — and focus only on Munch. His finger traced the path of her jawbone, dipping her chin and drawing her face closer to his. She could feel the warm skittering of his breath on her lips, could sense his hesitation and yearning. His nose nuzzled against hers as if he was giving her one last chance to pull away. She wasn’t going to take it.

Until there was a light knock on the door. Munch held his breath for a moment. Maybe they’d figure out that nobody was home and go away. The sound came again, harder this time. “If that’s your neighbor again, I’ll go fix the sink myself.”

She chuckled. “I suspect it’s the trick-or-treaters.”

“It’s not Halloween for another … five and a half hours.”

“Our building decided to have it a day early. That way the kids aren’t high on sugar on a school night.”

She disappeared from view, but he could hear her open the door and ‘oooh’ at the kids who were begging for a handout. Munch looked upward at whatever gods were trying to thwart his attempt at romance and sighed. “Yeah, I get it…” He joined her, staring down the three children that had run up before she had a chance to close the door. Casey smiled at him and handed him the bowl of candy.

“Trick or treat,” the little blonde princess said, her ‘tr’ sounding more like ‘tw’.

The cowboy next to her frowned. “Hey, mister, where’s your costume?”

“I am in costume,” Munch replied as he dug through the bowl for enough sugar to make them leave.

“What are you supposed to be?” the ninja asked. “Old?”

With a fake smile, he dropped a few candy bars into their pumpkin-shaped buckets. “Happy Halloween.” He glanced up and down the hallway to make sure there were no other children around and closed the door. “How long until you turn off the proverbial porch light?”

“Another two hours.”

“Earlier if you run out of candy, right?” He shoved a handful of chocolate bars in his coat pocket. She raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “For Elliot’s kids.”

“Right…”

***

Despite the frequent pauses to deal with trick-or-treaters, they made it through both films by midnight, curled together under a quilt. When they were finished, Casey cleaned the popcorn bowl and Munch picked up the kernels from the floor and couch. He made a quick call to the precinct and learned that Martin Leonard still hadn’t shown up. Probably humiliated by his party’s withdrawal of his nomination, the officer at the station told him. Maybe.

Casey listened to his side of the conversation while loading the dishwasher. The evening had been a wonderful distraction from the case, but now she felt edgy again. Where had Leonard gone? He wasn’t at the courthouse, at home, or even at his cousin’s apartment. What reason did he have to just disappear? Embarrassment? That didn’t sound like the Martin Leonard she knew. Then again, she never really knew him.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “You need anything before I go?”

She shook her head. “Thank you for coming. It was a nice surprise.”

“Are you all right?”

“I’ll be fine. Freezing though.” She checked the thermostat and frowned. The settings hadn’t changed. “What’s wrong with this thing?”

“Maybe you left a window open.”

“N–” Casey’s heart skipped a beat, and she walked to her bedroom. The window was open even wider than it was when she had gotten home from the batting cages. She thought back to earlier. Did she close and lock the window? She couldn’t imagine leaving it open, and if she did in fact close it, then…

“I could stay.”

She spun around. Munch stood in the doorway, worry lining his face. How did he always know how she felt? “Yeah,” she said after a moment and gestured to the room across the hall. “I have a futon in my office. More comfortable than the living room couch.” Before she followed him, she closed and locked the window then drew the curtains.

Her office consisted of the futon in the couch position, an L-shaped desk with a laptop computer attached to a small portable printer, and several bookshelves with everything ranging from works of fiction to legal dictionaries. They adjusted the futon so it lay flat and added a pillow and the quilt from the couch.

“Is that going to be okay?” she asked.

“I’m versatile.”

“Thanks for staying.”

“It’s not a problem.”

Without warning, she kissed him. He barely had time to respond before she backed up and into the door frame. She chuckled nervously, turned around, and disappeared into her own room, shutting the door behind her. Munch remained frozen in place, lips tingling and heart pounding, until a smile appeared on his face. With the shake of his head and a silent cheer, he closed the door.

***

Casey awoke with a start, eyes adjusting to the darkness of her bedroom. The dream she had been having dissipated quickly, and she couldn’t remember what it was about or why it had woken her up. Her pulse was too fast to go back to sleep now, so she climbed out of bed and headed to the kitchen. The door to her office was still shut. At least someone’s getting some sleep.

As she passed the front door, she glanced at it out of habit. A glimmer of light caught her eye, and she stopped.

The chain lock had been cut.

Someone was in the apartment.

Her body stiffened, every nerve on alert. Who was it? Was he still here? If so, where? She scanned the kitchen, the only part of the apartment she could see in her current position. There was no movement, no shadow.

Casey strained to hear something, anything, but it was eerily silent. Before she could turn around, she heard — no, felt — a presence behind her. Her brain propelled her into action. In one fluid motion, she ducked forward, grabbed her bat, and swung around, making a noise akin to a war cry. The bat made contact with a sickening crack and was followed by a groan.

Please don’t let that be John… She reached for the light switch but was tackled to the ground. Her head bumped the floor, and for a moment she was too stunned to react. When a pair of hands circled her throat and began to squeeze, the haze lifted and she clawed at her attacker. He slapped her, and she took the opportunity to thrust her fist upward in the general vicinity of his face. She connected with his jaw. Her knuckles burned at the contact, and she hoped he was in more pain than she was.

Light flooded the room, accompanied by the click of a gun hammer. “Get up. Now.”

Casey’s heart sang at Munch’s words but sank when she looked into the face of her attacker: Martin Leonard.

End of part eight

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