"He said what?"

Casey Novak instinctively took as step back from the D A's top gun. She had seen Jack McCoy annoyed before - in the occasional staff meeting she covered for Donnelly, second chairing for him when McCoy was between assistants - but those encounters hadn't prepared her this. What was I thinking coming to Jack with this? I should have waited for Arthur to get back from D.C. the young ADA thought, taken aback by his fury. Her intention was to find Donnelly; not to tell McCoy about the heated confrontation. However, people often told the seasoned prosecutor more than they intended.

She took a deep breath before answering the figure leaning across the desk.

"I was covering her ass. That she didn't want the press to paint her as a cold hearted bitch," she repeated softly.

"Is this idiot new to Special Victims, or does he just have a desire to walk a beat? Now that Mike Logan's back in Manhattan, Staten Island South is short one wiseass cop. Don Cragen and I go back a long time-,"McCoy snapped, reaching for the receiver.

"He's one of Cragen's best detectives. Jack, I came here out of concern for Liz, not to create more tension between the D A 's office and the 1 6. Please don't make me regret coming to you."

McCoy sat back down, looking sternly across the desk at Novak, making an effort to compose himself.

"Casey, you did the right thing coming to me. I just can't believe anyone that's worked with Liz could think she'd charge someone just to cover her ass. She's never put ambition ahead of ethics. If Liz thinks this is a revenge killing, it more than likely is. Whether Stabler is getting all touchy feely with the shooter or not."

"It's a frustrating case for all of us, Jack. First, we get played by the Mother. Then, it looks like the O'Hara kid's a victim of abuse. Now, we find out that's a lie and the O'Hara kid was a sociopath that enjoys killing…it's a mess. Elliot thinks the victims father was justified in shooting O'Hara."

"Justified in shooting a 13 year old in open court? Why have a court system? If we let this go, it's giving a free pass to every vigilante seeking retribution for whatever wrong they see fit to avenge."

Novak smiled, holding a hand up. "So, I've heard. What is that, Jack - do all senior staff attend some kind of mandatory persuasive speech class?"

"What do you mean?"

"That's almost word for word the same speech Liz gave me, before she disappeared."

McCoy looked downwards; Novak glimpsing the slightest of smiles.

"Wait until you've been around a while longer, Casey. You'll be surprised how well you'll get to know the few people that stick around."

"I hope part of that collective knowledge, includes where Liz might be?"

McCoy leaned back in his chair, giving a slight nod.

"I have a hunch. But, I have a few questions, first."

"She had it comin', 'Liv."

Olivia Bensen rolled her eyes as she finished her beer. Usually if she could get him alone, she could talk him down from his frustration. This time he seemed obsessed, unable to let go.

"Come on Elliot, I've seen you talk to child abusers with more compassion than you gave Donnelly today. What's eating you, anyway?"

Elliot Stabler looked into the questioning eyes of his partner. "I can see where Morton was coming from. Hell, if that O'Hara punk had killed one of my kids, I'd have shot him, too-"

"Elliot you can't keep doing this. Lose your perspective, you're no good to the victims or yourself."

Stabler nodded as he ordered another drink. "'Liv?"

Bensen shook her head standing. "Sorry, El. I need to get home and change. Warner's playing match maker again."

Stabler laughed. "Who is it this time?"

"Her cousin, a M E from Albany. The four of us are going to Lincoln Center. Hey, if worst comes to worst, we can talk shop. Listen, think about what I said. Liz Donnelly has helped us put away more than our share of bad guys. She's not the enemy here, Elliot."

"Alright, 'Liv. Go on. Have a good time."

Jack McCoy glanced approvingly at the attractive detective, as she left Stabler. McCoy held the door open as she passed by, returning warm her smile. Putting aside his natural impulses, he moved towards the bar. Novak's description made Stabler easy to find.

"Scotch neat," McCoy told the bartender, as he sat down beside the detective. He watched the younger man for a full minute before Stabler met his inquiring stare.

"Is there something I can do for you?"

"I'd like to shake your hand, detective."

"And why is that?"

"Not too many people call Liz Donnelly a cold hearted bitch, and remain standing." McCoy said, pausing to savor his scotch. " The last time it happened, I knocked the son of a bitch on his ass."

Stabler met the matter of fact stare, sizing the stranger up. "Is that some kind of threat?"

McCoy gave him a sideways look. "No threat detective, just stating a fact. Liz Donnelly was putting away child molesters' and rapists before you could even spell pedophile. The fact that she's still at it, should put to rest any doubts you have about her priorities, or her principles."

Stabler leaned back, surveying the man. Wearing business attire - dark suit, striped tie loose around a white dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar - face world wise and intimidating. His manner led Stabler to an obvious conclusion. Just what I need, another know it all attorney.

"I've never heard of Branch having anyone 'knocked on their ass' - at least not in an election year. You mind telling who you are and why you think this is any of your business?"

"I'm Jack McCoy. Anytime the police jeopardize a capital case it's my business, detective. Just because you dropped the ball and let a grieving father get a hold of a fire arm in open court, doesn't mean you get to absolve yourself by acting like a misogynistic idiot and taking it out on one of our prosecutors. You screwed up, not Donnelly. Deal with it like a professional."

Stabler smirked, unimpressed. He knew all about Jack McCoy, at least by reputation, as most Manhattan detectives did. "Would never have happened if she hadn't moved that case to family court. She knows it, too."

"I read the case file, Detective," he said sharply. "Mr. Morton -the grieving father - is hardly innocent, here. He led you to believe O'Hara was abused. He encouraged Casey Novak not to prosecute in the first place! Donnelly isn't the one that betrayed your trust. Morton is. Maybe if you had been more diligent in your detective work, followed up more thoroughly instead of taking the word of Morton - the man who hindered prosecution -before running to Novak, this case would have stayed in adult court where it belonged."

McCoy struck a nerve. Stabler stood, his face glowing. "Listen, McCoy-"

McCoy stood as well, making the two men eye to eye. "No, you listen detective. The name Jeremy Brice mean anything to you?"

Stabler looked at the graying attorney, startled.

McCoy glared. "Good. That 'cold hearted bitch' put herself through hell when the truth came out about that case. Another juvenile. Another case that was supposed to be heard in adult court, based in part on your stellar detective work. Do you have any idea what it cost Liz to clean up your mess, Stabler?"

Stabler stared at the EADA, remembering the case. By the time the police had figured out the truth, it was too late for a young defendant who had gotten caught up in a murder he never expected. A young defendant that had been duped by another sociopath. Stabler knew everyone involved in the case had fought for the Brice boy. Stabler knew it was due to Liz Donnelly's sentencing recommendation that the boy would be brought up for parole in five years, instead of the usual fifteen, on his twenty five to life sentence.

McCoy drained his scotch and relaxed back onto the stool, satisfied with the look of guilt on the quiet detectives face.

"I've dressed down my share of detectives and ADA's. You're not alone here, Elliot. I'm told you're a good cop. The little bit of research I did tonight confirms that. This reality check was nothing personal."

Stabler gave the McCoy a knowing look and shook the extended hand.

"You do this kind of thing for all your subordinates?"

McCoy chuckled. "I tend to get overprotective, especially with a former assistant. Ah, about that.."

"Go on?"

McCoy looked at the other man slyly. "As far as Liz knows, this conversation never happened."

Stabler grinned. "The lady doesn't take well to some else fighting her battles?"

McCoy shook his head in agreement. "That would be putting it mildly. Buy you a drink?"

"No thanks. Next time. Believe it or not, I'm not usually such a jerk. This case, I don't know, this one just got to me."

"It happens to all of us," he said softly, the face of Claire Kincaid flashing through his minds eye.

"Listen, I know it's getting late. You think Liz is still around," his watch.

McCoy reached into his pocket and wrote an address on the back of his business card.

Stabler pulled a twenty from his pocket and stood, reading the card. "This is the address for-"

"The Jefferson Group Home. That's were Jeremy Brice is assigned, pending his parole hearing. Liz has kept tabs on him since the trial. I'd lay you odds, that where she is tonight."

"Man I really did screw up." Stabler sighed. "McCoy, if I can ever-"

Jack looked up at Stabler sheepishly. "Actually..."

"Name it."

"I assume the woman you were with earlier was your partner? Am I also right in assuming Detective Bensen is single?"