An alternate universe set in the early 1940s, but hopefully one that lends itself to some fun and excitement. This is a collaboration with Jcbjazz, who offered some wonderful, inspiring ideas for this story and the scenes to follow. Special thanks :)
Disclaimer: I do not own SVU or the 1940s. Thanks.
Trouble with Dames
The streets were slick and gray under an ominous sky, whose clouds had just begun to spit rain down onto the half-empty sidewalks. Olivia Benson cursed as she pulled her coat tighter around her torso, wishing she had remembered to bring her hat, which still sat perched on the coat rack just inside her office door. She immediately felt the chill of the light rain, picking up her pace as she crossed the street toward the old, groaning building that served as both her watering hole and office. A small sign on the main door of the building indicated that Cragen's Bar was open for the day, but Benson was almost sure that it was empty. Don Cragen had the type of clientele that crept in after dark, mostly men wishing to avoid wives, mistresses, cops, anyone who probed too far or asked too many questions. It was one of the reasons that Benson had approached her old friend to let her set up her small, but thriving business in the apartment above the bar. As a private detective, the very men that many good citizens wished to avoid, she wanted to have right at her doorstep.
As she crossed the street, she bypassed her own private door, which entered into a narrow, drafty stairwell that led up to her office. Instead, she yanked open the door to Cragen's, running a hand through her wet hair and shaking the rain from her coat as she entered. The space was larger than it seemed from the outside, narrow, but deep, the bar trailing along the right side and a set of high booths trailing along the left. Benson had spent many a night seated at that bar while scoping out the hoodlums that did their business from the booths. The rain had brought in a few people, who sat chairs apart at the bar, minding their own business, their heads buried into their.
Benson walked over to the side of the bar where Cragen sat sifting through a pile of receipts from the night before. His entire operation was run by only himself, a cook, and a part-time bartender, but Benson knew that guy had friends both in high and low places. As a former cop, he had used each and every relationship to his advantage. She was sure that one or two of the regulars were being paid under the table as security, just to ensure the business that went on in the bar stayed as cordial as possible, whether legal or not. M
"Benson," he said gruffly, his head angled toward his receipts, the low, amber glow from the lighting reflecting off his bald head. "Where you been all day? Off trailing another rich Manhattanite who can't learn to keep his dick in his pants?"
Olivia took a seat beside him, giving her coat another shake and draping it over the bar. "I wish. At least those cases pay the bills." She sat down and let out a sigh. "I was returning a favor to Johnny Mason."
"Mason, huh?" Cragen licked the tip of his finger and continued to sort. "He ain't the type to be doling out favors in the first place."
"He is if it requires ratting out a rival."
Cragen raised an eyebrow, but kept his eyes on his figures. "Surprise, surprise, he said. "Once a rat, always a rat." He reached over the bar, grabbed a bottle of scotch and two glasses with one gigantic hand. He sat them gently down in front of him, pouring them each a taste and sliding a glass to Benson. "What did good Johnny have you working on?"
Olivia picked up the glass, and took a long, slow sip before answering. "He had me checking up on one of his own guys."
Cragen shrugged. "Don't surprise me none. You rat as much as he does, you get paranoid. He's got lackeys to do that for him, though. Question is, why'd he call you in?"
Olivia paused. The man had a knack for reading in between the lines, for catching the subtlety behind most street decisions. "Well, he's paranoid all right. Paranoid all the way to the top. He had me follow Nicky Burns."
Cragen tore his gaze away from his bookkeeping for the first time since she'd walked in. "Burns, ay? He's pretty high level in the Lucky's chain of command, no?"
Olivia nodded. "Sure is." She took another sip of her drink, and turned her head towards the door as a man drifted in, dangling the bell on top of the door. The chime was more than just a signal to the owner. Cragen's patrons were the types of men that wanted to know whenever someone new walked into their surroundings. The guy looked about for a moment before heading to the other end of the bar, giving Cragen a nod as he passed. Olivia waited a beat, then continued. "Problem is, the guy didn't stray from his regular routine at all. If he's doing something off the books, he's doing it in the middle of a piss. I followed him pretty much everywhere, and got nothing."
Cragen stacked his receipts, placing them alongside a fat wad of cash in a faded, zippered cloth bag. Olivia had worked above the bar for the past five years, and had frequented it for years before, and she still wasn't certain as to where the man stored it. Wherever it was, she guessed it was where he had also stored all of his illegal liquor, which kept him as the only bar on the block during the sobering twenties. He glanced over at Olivia. "You talk to Munch lately?"
Olivia grimaced, and shook her head. "This isn't a paid job, Cragen. I'm not going to reach out to Munch unless I need him. The man's a limited resource."
Cragen shrugged his shoulder, sucked his teeth. "Suit yourself." He took a drink. "Just seems to me that if Mason's investigating his own right-hand man, then something's afoot in gangland. If there is some shakedown, seems you want to know what you're being dragged into. I'd talk to Munch." He could see the wheels turning behind Olivia's dark eyes as she took another sip of her scotch. He'd seen that look for years; it meant that whatever he said, he'd struck a nerve. He let out a small grin, satisfied with himself. "Oh yeah," he said, snapping a finger. "You got a visitor." He nodded his head toward the back of the bar. "And I can promise you, you ain't had a visitor like this in a long time," he said, his small eyes gleaming.
Olivia followed his gesture towards the last booth in the row, where a woman sat, bright blonde hair cascading in soft waves down her blouse. The woman's back was to them, but with that hair and that poise, she had to be a bombshell. Olivia sighed. Another jilted wife, wondering why her husband was coming home later and later. Benson couldn't count the number of times she had comforted a beautiful, crying wife, who had been confronted with the ugly truth of her husband's infidelity. Most of the time the money and the lifestyle were too much to give up, the women convincing themselves over and over again that it was a fluke, a one-time mishap. She saw the same relationships play out in the mob circles: power and money kept people in line, kept them from rocking the boat, kept them docile.
Olivia turned her head back to Cragen, stared down into her near empty scotch glass. "I'm full up on cases right now, the last thing I need is a crying blonde on my conscience."
"That's because you don't know how to handle a woman, Benson. Besides, she ain't here for a case. She's answering that ad you put in the paper."
Olivia's brow furrowed. She'd gotten so few responses, she had almost forgotten about the ad she'd taken out for a secretary. She was guessing a second-rate job at a private detective's office housed over a bar didn't attract too many New York women. Benson glanced back over her shoulder, glimpsing the woman once more. One panty-hosed leg stuck out of the booth, seemingly endless, encased in a tall green heel, which matched the emerald of her blouse.
"She doesn't look like she's in need of a job."
Cragen shook his head. "Doesn't look like it from the front, either. Girl's a knockout."
Olivia shook her head, diverting back to the counter. "I don't have time for games," she mumbled into her glass, suddenly feeling like a schoolboy. "Hey," she said, giving a sidelong glance at Cragen. "Munch still teaching boxing over at the gym on 14th?"
The bar owner chuckled. "He ain't coaching, that's for damn sure. Betting, more like it. But you can probably find him there. They usually have a fight or two on Thursdays."
Olivia gave him a crooked smile. "I didn't think he could pull off the good samaritan schtick for long." She tipped her glass back, draining it before shrugging her damp coat back onto her shoulders. "I'm gonna go pay him a visit."
Cragen nodded. "Tell him to put five on his latest talent for me." He pulled a green bill out from his red cloth bag and stuffed into Olivia's hand. "Hey, what you want me to do with the girl over there?"
Olivia gave one last look over the length of the bar, a feeling just short of guilt passing through her. She shrugged it off. She didn't need the distraction of a beautiful girl. "Tell her the position's been filled."
Cragen cocked an eyebrow. "I ain't your girl friday, Benson."
She gave him a crooked smile, patting him on the shoulder as she walked towards the door. "But you make such a good one."
The sun was setting, and the rain had stopped. Anywhere else in Manhattan, the suits would be rushing home, their briefcases knocking impatiently against their legs as they waited for the train. But along 14th, men lumbered gruffly down the pavement, dressed in shirtsleeves and dungarees, their eyes hard as they worked their way towards second-shift jobs. Olivia brushed past them without seeing them, her thoughts unfortunately not on her latest case, but instead stuck on the image of the blonde that she'd left sitting idly back at the bar. Why the hell was a woman like that looking to work with a bunch of lowlifes? Olivia shook her, head, forcing the woman from her mind. She found herself suddenly in front of the brick facade of Lennie's Gym, surprised that she'd made it so quickly. As she pushed open the door, the smell of sweat and rubber rose to meet her. Two young men were boxing inside the ring that sat in the center of the large warehouse, each of them pummeling their gloved fists towards helmeted heads. A few stragglers practiced around the periphery, throwing practice punches towards pads and boxing balls. The grunts, springs, and squeaks of sneakers echoed off the stark, concrete walls, which were adorned only with pictures of a few boxing legends, some local, some national, but all meant to be inspiring to the young men that frequented the gym. Olivia nodded towards the owner, who stood off behind a desk along the sidewall. His name wasn't Lennie. She wasn't even sure who Lennie was, or when he'd owned the place, but it had been around for years, attracting both kids and gamblers.
She caught a glimpse of Munch leaning against a far wall, his long, lanky arms wrapped around his torso as he stared intently towards the ring. A pair of dark glasses covered his eyes, but Olivia could already feel his gaze dart towards her as she walked over to him.
"Benson," he said, as she approached. "Long time no see. I'm guessing you're not here to make a bet on the new talent."
Olivia glanced over at the ring. "Who's the talent?"
Munch nodded towards the taller boy, who was bearing heavily over the shorter one, his punches railing into his chest. "Ray O'Connor. Guy's got a left hook that'll send you right into next week. His coach has already booked him at fights across the city."
"I thought you were coaching."
Munch grinned. "That was a lofty retirement goal," he said with a flick of his wrist. "I'm a gambler at heart."
Olivia chuckled, leaning against the wall next to him. "Once a scoundrel, always a scoundrel."
"Hey now." Munch glanced down at her. "Kind of like a cop," he said, and she could feel his eyes penetrating her through the frames of his glasses.
Olivia's eyes narrowed, and she wished she had a pair to cover her own eyes. "I'm not a cop."
Munch shook his head, a grin on his face. "No, you're too good for NYPD. Fuck 'em."
Olivia leaned off the wall, pacing a step or two, easing her own tension. "You got a minute?"
Munch waved his hands in front of him. "I'm retired. I got way more than a minute." He motioned for her to follow him, and they walked towards a back room, which seemed to be some sort of enlarged filing closet. It had a small desk in it, with a calendar hanging on the wall, a series of dates scribbled in, along with dollar figures. Olivia guessed Munch spent a lot of his time in this room, probably placing bets that were far from legal. "What do you not know, that you need to know?" he asked, closing the door lightly.
Olivia crossed her arms over her chest as Munch took a seat behind the desk, leaning back in his chair and clasping his hands in front of him. "Heard about any shake ups with the Luckys?"
"Just the usual. Johnny's feeling a little paranoid. Talk is he's having some trouble with ol' Nicky."
"Damn right he is."
"What do you care?"
"He had me tail Nicky today. I'd be much happier if I knew I wasted my day because of something big, rather than Johnny's paranoid bullshit."
Munch ran his tongue across his teeth. Olivia knew him well enough to know that he was contemplating how much to tell her. Over the years, he'd always been gun shy about sharing too much, but Munch's problem was, he enjoyed knowing things, and he immensely enjoyed letting other people know how much he knew. Certain people, that is. Preferably those not in uniform. He sighed, then spoke. "Look. Word is the Luckys got something big shipping in soon. High caliber, like no no one in this city's ever seen. Not your usual rationed goods. But, Johnny's shitting bricks that the Rabbits are onto him."
"The Rabbits are always on him."
"Yeah, but Johnny's always one step ahead. And that's thanks to Nicky."
"And what, now Nicky's suddenly jumping ship?"
"I don't know." He leaned forward. "But what I do know is that the Rabbits don't give a shit about what the Luckys got coming down the pike. At least not right now. They got their own thing brewing."
"I don't know that, either. Sheesh, Benson, you're making me look bad here. Ask me about the shit that I know."
Olivia chuckled, but continued, her voice serious. "So, what you're telling me is that I followed Nicky today for no reason."
"Consider it a day off."
Olivia grimaced. "I don't do days off."
Munch tilted his head back and chuckled. "If you don't make any money, Benson, it's a fucking day off."
Olivia brushed him off. "What do you with yourself all day? Retired and all?"
Munch pursed his lips. "As much information as I feed you, Benson, you should know I'm retired in name only."
Olivia nodded, putting her hand on the door knob. "I appreciate it, Munch."
"How's your boy Elliot doing?"
His mouth was straight, but Olivia knew his eyes were glazed with irony. She glanced back at him. "He's all right."
"Still working his way up to sergeant?"
"Get off his balls, Munch. He's not the one who put the vice down on your cronies."
"He's still NYPD. You think I'm a scoundrel, Benson, those are the real criminals." He punctuated his words with a pointed finger.
"Well, lucky for me, I'll never be one of those criminals. Thank you, gender discrimination."
"Get out of here with that feminist bullshit. I'm still reeling from the Noble Idea that you women rallied behind. Prohibition's one of the reasons I had to get out of the business."
Olivia rolled her eyes and opened the door, but quickly turned back toward Munch, dipping her hand in her pocket and pulling out the bill that Cragen had given her. "Five on your best for Cragen," she said, dropping the money onto the desk. She turned, walking out, grinning as she heard Munch mutter under his breath, "Cragen. What a fucking cheapskate."
By the time she stepped out of the gym, the sun had dipped below the horizon, and the moon had taken new prominence in the sky, it's beams reflecting over the rain puddles, still scattered across the streets. Olivia heard a splash behind her, footsteps moving fast towards her. She glanced behind her, hoping to step out of the stranger's way, who seemed to be in much more of a hurry than she was. An arm pushed roughly past her, the tall stranger looking back at her as he continued to walk, his eyes hidden by a low, gray hat resting on his forehead. The detective started to curse out at the man, but something held her voice back. Maybe it was the way he looked back at her, as if confirming that he knew her, but she held her tongue and instead increased her pace, diverting quickly toward another block.
She kept her eyes alert as she made her way back to the bar, only slowing her pace once she caught a glimpse of the Cragen's sign glinting in the moonlight. She gave one last look around her, wondering if now she was becoming as paranoid as Johnny Mason, before pushing her way back inside the bar. The warmth was palpable, the noise level three notches higher than when she'd left. A blues song from the jukebox floated over the low murmur of male voices. The room was hazy with smoke as men stood at the bar, some laughing, some whispering behind cupped hands. Olivia sat back down at her seat at the end of the bar, once again shrugging off her coat. She'd say good night, then head back up to the office.
Cragen walked over, slipping her another scotch. "How's Munch?"
"I put your five down."
Cragen nodded. "I guarantee you I'll never see it again." He grinned, cocking his head toward the back of the room. "Your visitor is still here."
Olivia's lips dropped. "Still here?" She glanced back. Sure enough, the head of blonde hair still poked atop the booth. The pale slice of leg no longer appeared around the side of the booth, but Olivia was intrigued nonetheless, shifting in her seat. She looked back at Cragen, an uncomfortable feeling floating inside her. "You don't think she's been sent here, do you?"
He looked back, giving her a knowing look as he draped a hand towel over his shoulder. "Whoever sent that lovely piece to you has to be a friend, not an enemy."
Olivia rolled her eyes, and slid out of her chair, pushing her suspicion down. "I guess I'll go see what she's about."
She walked towards the back booth, giving an occasional nod at the hustlers that she knew occupying the booths along the wall. Her shadow crept along the surface of the table as she stopped and looked down at the woman. A pair of questioning blue eyes looked up at Olivia, framed by a beautiful, porcelain face. The woman looked like a movie star, certainly not like someone asking to be a secretary to a lowly detective. Benson spoke quickly, if only to prove to herself that this woman seated before her hadn't taken all of her breath away. "I'm Benson," she said, extending a hand. "Detective Olivia Benson."
The red lips parted in a demure smile as the woman slid from the booth, rising on a pair of long legs as she accepted Olivia's hand. Her fingers were smooth. "Detective Benson," she said, her voice low and silky. "Alex Cabot."
Olivia pulled her hand reluctantly away from the delicate, but strong hand and gestured towards the blonde's empty glass. Once again, she was surprised to hear her own voice sounding as smooth and as pulled together as it did. "Can I get you another drink?"
Alex nodded as she slid back into her booth. "That would be lovely. Bourbon, please."
Olivia raised an eyebrow, but waved over Cragen's other bartender as she settled into the booth across from the startlingly attractive young woman. "Two bourbons on the rocks," she said as the man meandered over to them, his eyes locked onto the blonde. Olivia gave his leg a quick kick, and he nodded, recovering as he sauntered back towards the bar. She looked back at the woman, and gave a slight smile. "You have to answer one question for me before we continue," she said. "What the hell is a girl like you doing applying for a job like this?"
The blonde seemed as if she had expected the question, but nevertheless a look of impatience flashed across her blue eyes. "I need a job. You're offering one."
Olivia nodded, but didn't back down. "You appreciate that in my line of work it's worth asking a few questions. Where'd you hear about the job?"
"The Sun. Seems to be the only paper you posted it in. Which leads me to believe that you weren't looking very hard."
Olivia swallowed, but kept her gaze level. The woman was already making assumptions. "Why do you want this job?"
The blonde nodded politely as the bartender set her drink down in front of her, and she brought the glass up to her red lips, taking a long sip. If the alcohol burned her delicate throat, she certainly didn't let on. Benson was intrigued, and that wasn't a good thing. "I'm on my own in the city," she said softly, and her eyes held a depth that her words didn't begin to cover. "And I want to do some good."
"Why don't you don an apron and head down to Catholic Charities? Hand out soup to the orphans." The words came out harsher than she'd meant them to.
The blonde's lips turned upwards in a smile, as if she were used to such suggestions, and even more used to ignoring them. "With all due respect, Detective, that's not where the excitement is."
"So you think excitement is following old, rich broad's husbands around to discover whether they're cheating or not? That sound exciting to you?"
"If it did, then I'd be in the wrong place. I know that's not the only type of work you do."
"That's the work that pays the bills."
Alex took another sip, and Olivia seemed to notice her own drink for the first time, picking it up and tossing it back. The blonde stared for a moment, her eyes moving slowly over the detective's features. She felt suddenly exposed, and she put her glass in front of her face and took another long sip.
"Detective, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done my research. I've also had plenty of time to talk to Don Cragen since I've been waiting."
Olivia grimaced. Cragen had a weakness for blondes, and she was more than certain that this woman knew how to use her looks to her advantage. She was sure the bar ownder had uttered just enough to make the job sound intriguing, in an attempt to entice the blonde to stay for awhile. She'd deal with him later.
"This job is just a secretary. A girl-friday. You seem capable of much more than that."
"I could say the same for you. And yet, here you are, a lonely detective solving crimes that the NYPD won't touch. This world isn't necessarily made for head-strong women who know what they want."
Olivia didn't like the feeling of intimacy that descended over the table. She took another sip of her drink, feeling exposed by the blue gaze. If she kept sitting with this woman, she was sure she'd end up drunk in less than ten minutes. She a sudden urge to possess the woman, not to be analyzed by her. She shook her head.
"I'm afraid this job isn't, either. I need someone who wants to come in, file paperwork, make appointments, and return calls." She grimaced. "You don't look the type, sweetheart."
"And why is that?" the blue eyes challenged her. "I'm organized. I worked as a clerk before. I can handle figures, finesse people. I'm not asking for a higher wage than what you advertised."
Olivia shifted in the booth. She had no doubt the woman was more than capable. "You're looking for something that I can't give you."
The blonde nodded slowly, but her eyes still held a fierceness in them. "Detective," she said slowly, a finger trailing the rim of her glass, "do you often follow your gut in this line of work?"
Olivia let her glass clink slowly back to the table, letting her eyes lock fully with the woman's gaze. "Always."
Alex curled her lip slightly. "And what does your gut tell you?"
Benson swallowed. Her gut was telling her not to let this woman out of her sight, but her head was telling her that she would be a challenge; her groin was telling her something altogether different, and she clenched her thighs together. "My gut tells me that you won't take no for an answer."
Alex nodded, leaning forward. "I think you should trust your gut on this one," she said.
Olivia gave her a sidelong stare, then let out a low exhale. She may be signing up for trouble, but it seemed a worthwhile price to pay for another glimpse of the headstrong woman. She looked back at Alex. "Can you be here first thing in the morning?"
A smile lit up her face, and Olivia couldn't help but return it, feeling somewhat rewarded by the relief in the woman's expression. The blonde raised her glass, her blue eyes shining. "Cheers, Detective."
What's the word? Continue? Let me know what you think.