A/N: Well, I did not make the deadline for the contest at The Fireplace, so I decided to rework this into multiple detailed chapters and also flesh out some of the characters, strengthen the storyline and add the angst of E/O that this truly needs. The plot has been adapted as has much of the ending and I also changed the last line to make it more appropriate for the title. If you read the previous version, definitely re-read the first chapter because otherwise, you are going to be a bit lost. As always, reviews are welcome. Cheers!
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Harlem, New York
The clouds in the sky shifted with the gelid wind and the warm rays that had reflected on the windows of the New York brownstones were hidden behind an expanse of grey.
Olivia Benson shivered against the cold as she allowed a sigh to escape her mouth. Dark brown eyes peered the through the milling crowds of dark and cream-coloured faces that surrounded the area and she looked for the slightly balding form that belonged to her partner. Unable to find him, Olivia walked down the cold stone steps and approached the next set of stairs that led to the neighboring door.
The third victim of the murderer to whom the media had coined the name "The Little Harlem Rapist" had been found not a block from where Olivia was canvassing the streets for witnesses. On superficial details alone, the case was no different from any other Olivia had seen in the Special Victims Unit, yet the fact that the killer had taken the lives of three young black girls gave the case a special proclivity that had the power to strain relations between police and civilians in the city.
An uproar had already been stirring, fueled mostly by the "local Sharpton," Clayton Banks, who had made himself prominent in all matters involving the NYPD and blacks in the city. Banks was claiming the race card in regards to the SVU's delay in catching the killer and, that fact, more than anything, abraded Olivia most. If there was anything that mattered least when it came to how cases were pursued, race was it, but once Banks got started by calling Manhattan SVU every expression of incompetent, everything was about race.
For weeks he had been spraying his stories across three local networks as well as several radio programs and was threatening to make the case national if it came to it. When Olivia had remarked in jest, "Well, maybe Banks should get off his ass and help us canvass instead of smudging the NYPD." the comment had somehow leaked back to him and he had gone to one of the most libelous local newspapers with a list of black victims for whom Olivia Benson, specifically, could not find justice.
In each case Banks where had called Olivia "just another racist cop," the likelihood of a positive outcome was not probable. The women on Banks' list had been amongst the many raped coming home from work or late-night classes, by barely describable assailants whose prints and DNA had never appeared elsewhere in the system and without any witnesses to be found. It was completely disheartening when one took a step back to realize that with every handful of cases solved there were still dozens that would never become resolved within their five-year statute of limitations. Their open cases kept Olivia awake most nights just like any others. Race was not the problem; the calamity of human existence was where the true troubles lied, but Banks' inflammatory comments were enough to keep the SVU working triple time to get a resolution as quickly as possible.
Olivia knocked on the door of the next building, hoping to be met with one face that did not stare at her badge with scorn. The tenants of the previous ten buildings she had canvassed had not been helpful in providing her with information on the little girl found in the alley and, aside from having ten doors slammed in her face, Olivia had been called three racial slurs, two variations of "pig" and had had her life threatened by a ten-year-old boy. Even after spending her entire life in Manhattan, she was still unnerved by the sheer hatred with which a white cop was met while investigating in Harlem. From the texts she had received, her partner was fairing no better two blocks away from her, though he had only been one slur that morning.
"Yes?" said the elderly woman who answered the door.
Olivia flashed her badge. "Hello. My name is Detective Olivia Benson. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.
The woman stared at her for full minute before answering. "I don't want any trouble."
"You're not in any trouble Mrs…"
"Sampson. Well, what questions have you got?"
Olivia proceeded to probe the woman for information on she might have witnessed in regards to the newest child found. In the end, the woman proved quite helpful by stating that she saw a "white man with white hair" carrying something down the alley the previous night, but refused to elaborate further and quickly escorted Olivia out of the building.
Two hours later, Olivia had knocked on the remaining doors on her side of the block and had questioned the residents, though retrieving only limited information; a blond man had been seen by three different people carrying something down the alley where the little girl, at this time still nameless, had been found. The idea that it was a white man killing little black girls in the city caused the ever-twisting knot in Olivia's stomach to grow tighter. In her years with the force, she had seen riots break out over far less.
With a final doling of her business card for the resident in the last building on the block, Olivia leaned against the gate that surrounded the brownstone to send a message to her partner on her department-issued Blackberry.
She paused as she pulled his name to the screen, a now familiar ache coagulating near the base of her spine.
Things were different between her and her partner now. Ten months earlier, they had slowly but surely been marching along a road that was leading somewhere beyond fraternal claps on the back and requited looks of want and longing. Yet now, things were different. A series of memories had forever shaped the way she saw him.
She remembered standing outside a court room as she listened to him announce that wife, ex-wife at the time was pregnant and she remembered the initial confusion that raced through her mind as the "Are you sure it's even yours?" was prevented from bouncing off her lips.
She remembered the melancholy in her partner's face after he had returned "home" to a marriage that was failing; one that had sprang forth from an unplanned pregnancy and was rekindling through the hope that yet another unplanned pregnancy, though more than twenty years away from the first, would shave away the distance between Elliot and his wife and problems about which they never seemed to speak.
She remembered volunteering to drive Elliot's wife to routine doctor's appointment as well as the sound of metal bending all around her and the vision of a white blanket of an airbag pressing in one quick burst against her face, chest and abdomen. Weeks later, Olivia still had a bruise across her shoulder she was certain would never fully heal, right along with the so-called bruises her heart felt with the memories thereafter.
She remembered the sheer terror that welled somewhere in the pit of her stomach at the site of Elliot's then pregnant wife still stuck inside the car; the sound of the Jaws of Life ripping the police sedan into shreds as it attempted to save not one, but two lives, the elation of hearing Elliot's fifth child take his first breath in a speeding ambulance, followed by grief at hearing the heart beat of the child's mother flat line on the EKG the bellowed in the small bus.
She remembered Kathy's heart regaining its rhythm, the way she looked as Olivia set her child into her arms, the way her own heart beat so hard she thought she was going into arrest as she awaited Elliot's entrance at the hospital scene and she remembered being spun around and hugged by her partner for the first time.
She remembered all of this, but what she remembered most were her tears once she returned the solitude of her own apartment. The child was here and any glimmer of anything happening between her and her partner had been squashed the moment the little boy had been named. Elliot was back with his wife and that was that.
While waiting for Elliot to respond, she made some final notes in the Blackberry on the results of her canvass. A part of her wanted to write, 'not a damn thing found,' but seeing as how her last brazen comments of sarcasm had landed the entire squad into a bit of trouble, she was not apt to even suggest the joke in the phone, lest the comment leak and cause even further problems for the case.
Olivia finished her note just as her phone rang.
"Liv," answered her captain. "They just found a body up where you are now. It's bad."
"Another little girl?" asked Olivia, her voice much higher than she had intended.
"No, but the ME thinks it's related. I've got the address for you. Stabler's on his way there now."
Within ten minutes, Olivia had arrived at the crime scene that lied several blocks north of her canvassed area. A police perimeter of blue and white barriers, police tape and a number of squad cars had been erected around the fifth-floor walk-up building and Olivia was waved under the yellow police tape by a uniformed officer at the scene. Inside the building, she found the medical examiner standing at the edge of a vast burgundy stain.
Few things surprised Olivia after she had begun working in the SVU; the colour of blood once it amassed in a large quantity was one of them. It was never the colour of typical red or "blood" red, always somewhere between the colour of a thick wine and pure black.
The scene that lay before her was gruesome but beheld an artistic eloquence in the flashing lights of CSU's cameras. The young black woman lay at the center of the dark pool; her dark hair was matted against the threads of the once beige carpeting and her left arm seemed to be almost reaching toward the door where Olivia stood. Blood had dried in a line on her legs and, eyes glazed, the expression on the woman's face was unmistakable; fear.
"What've we got?" asked Olivia.
"Whitney Tarver," said the medical examiner. Melinda shook her head as she stared at the woman. "She's been dead for at least four or five hours. It probably went down about six this morning. We found an ID in her jeans on the other side of the room. She's been cut up pretty bad."
"Signs of sexual trauma?"
"Both pre and post mortem."
"God…" whispered Olivia in a breath she could not hold.
"It's worse," continued Melinda. "The lacerations come from the same weapon used on the little girls and there are signs of a severe struggle."
Olivia shook her head as the scent of familiar cologne caught her nose.
"What are we looking at?" said Elliot as he stepped from behind Olivia.
"The victim's name is Whitney Tarver," repeated Melinda, "but we just checked and this isn't her house."
"Whose house is it?" he asked.
"Malcolm and Dana Watterson. They've lived here for about eight years."
"And they don't have any enemies?"
"Doesn't appear so. Their neighbors say they work long hours, but are good people." Melinda paused. "This is the same guy who killed these three little girls. I'm sure of it."
"So, was she the target or was it one of the Wattersons?" asked Olivia.
"That's the sixty-four thousand-dollar question," mumbled Elliot.
"Well, we need to find them and make sure they're all right," said Olivia. "If they were the target, their lives could still be in danger."
"There's more," interrupted a young uniformed officer. "Whitney Tarver was the Watterson's babysitter. They have a little daughter, Cecilia, but she's nowhere to be found."
Silence descended on the trio as they digested the ramifications of the new information, Olivia shaking her head all the while. If the person who murdered Whitney Tarver had also raped and murdered the three young girls, the possibility was great that the Watterson's daughter was the proposed target.
Elliot opened his mouth as his eyes met Olivia's, but hesitated as she did the same. The silence then became so awkward amongst the three that Melinda shifted on her feet in hopes to subdue it.
"Well," she said, her tension-easing efforts gone in vain. "I'm going to finish up here. There are seminal fluids present, but I'm certain they belong to the same man who's killed these girls."
"All right," said Elliot. "I'm gonna finish up the questioning for the victim found on Fredrick Douglas and we need to put out an alert for the Wattersons and their daughter."
"One of us needs to get Cragen up to speed," said Olivia. "Once Banks and the media catch wind of this, we'll be catching an even stronger hellfire."
"I'm on it."
Olivia nodded, glad to have the sudden tension between her and Elliot broken. "I'm going to finish up here and get the canvass started."
"Keep me posted," said Elliot as he strode out the door.
Olivia started to follow suit when one of the CSU officers stood quickly from his crouched spot near the door.
"Take a look at this," he said as he stared at the floor.
Olivia stepped toward his vantage point. "What is it?"
"These smears near the door…if you look at them…they kinda look like feet…"
His voice trailed and Olivia crouched near one of the smears on the floor. The longer she stared at it, the more it appeared to take the slight shape of a small, bare footprint.
"I don't know," said Olivia. "It might just our minds playing tricks on us. It could be that we-"
"No look," said Melinda. "The one behind it looks almost the same. Another small foot."
"It's almost like they're leading toward the door."
"They are…" said Olivia as she switched positions.
"What if Cecilia Watterson was the target?" said the officer. "If he came for her and surprised the babysitter, this could've gotten ugly real quick."
"The thing is…," said Olivia, nodding, "there's two sets of feet here."
"Look for yourself. If these are footprints, then they're in two different sizes." She paused. "Grab the rest of the team and fan out. We need to follow these as far as they go."
Within thirty minutes, Olivia and the crime scene unit had followed the sets of light footprints that had been made in Whitney Tarver's blood out of the building and to the street where Olivia and the young officer, Phillips, split into a single team to follow the prints that had separated once they got to the street.
The prints faded more and more as they moved toward the intersecting alleys and a growing dread welled in Olivia's stomach once she saw that the set of prints she had been chasing had all but vanished. She and Phillips tried using every technique available, but as the prints appeared farther and farther apart, almost as if their creator had broken into a run, they became more difficult to discern from the general dirt on the city's streets. With their disappearance, Olivia knew that the blood had dried on the small feet of whomever had been running from the crime scene; their witness to the murder.
"Find anything?" called Olivia to the regrouping set of CSU officers.
"Nothing," said a lanky officer with a strong New York accent. "The prints fade and fade right up to the street, but then they just disappear off the sidewalk."
"What d'you mean disappear?" asked Olivia. "You mean they just faded off?"
"No," said the officer. "They were fading, but they were still pretty clear. Then all of a sudden, they just stop. I'm guessing the guy must've grabbed the little girl off the street."
Olivia nodded with a solemn expression on her face. He's got his next victim.
"Elliot," she said several minutes later into her phone. "We need to get Fin and Lake in on this A- SAP. It looks like the killer's got another child."
"The daughter?" he asked.
"I'm sure of it. We found footprints in this victim's blood. Two, in fact. They start together and then the two scatter in different directions."
"Two? From who?"
She shrugged unconsciously. "Still don't know. I would assume the daughter, but we've still got no idea who the other set came from."
"Where do they lead?"
"Don't know that either. One set gradually fades away while the other just stops at the street, which is why I'm thinking the killer's got another girl."
"All right, Liv," said Elliot. "I'm about done over here. No one's seen anything. I'll be on my way up there in a minute and I'll let the Cap and the others know."
She ended the call without saying goodbye and asked the others at the scene to keep her updated on any new findings as she made new notes on starting yet another canvass. Her mind whirred with questions as the memory of Whitney Tarver's outstretched arms spread across her eyes.
She was trying to save them, thought Olivia. Even in her last moments.
The small footprints were unnerving. Two little girls were in Whitney's care; one fled North, the other South; one was snatched by the killer, the other was just gone.
Olivia stopped short once she stepped onto West 116th Street. A car had passed by her before she had turned the corner from 7th Avenue and she was able to discern a woman's voice floating out of an open car window, out of which the speaker on the passenger side was tipping a smoldering cigarette.
The words "…walking around in her damn bare feet…" hung in the air, but before Olivia could react the sound, the woman's care had turned East and was quickly bumping down the street.
Blackberry in hand, she made a note to the time and streets and started on the first building to her right. The tenants on the first two floors had no information for her in regards to who could have murdered Whitney Tarver and Olivia stepped out of the stairwell of the five-floor walk-up building dreading the suspicious looks and reluctant faces that were awaiting her.