Chapter 67: Alex

Alex parked her Mustang downtown by the Federal Courthouse neatly and stepped out. It was funny; until she'd seen Olivia's royal-blue Mustang (with vanity plates that read 'Alex') she hadn't really felt any real affection or affinity for old cars; but Liv's 'baby' had changed her perspective a bit. While she'd initially thought just of getting a 'matching' one so they could have a matched pair, she'd gone to see three 65 Mustangs as she'd been trying to pick one out, and while this one wasn't in the best of shape, there had just been…something…about this particular one that had made her think 'mine!' as soon as she saw it. The car was now humming along, courtesy of Courtney, and the red primer color had been replaced by a coat of gleaming original candy-apple red paint. Courtney was fussing that she still needed to give it a few more top coats to protect the paint job, but Alex was in love with it and was just waiting for ownership to transfer so her temp tags could be replaced with vanity plates that read 'Olivia.'

Ettienne loved her car and would drive it as often as she let him, which wasn't frequently. First, the car was hers; second, when he drove it, the combination of red classic car, thick Cajun accent, and soldier inevitably turned him into a chick magnet. Alex knew he wasn't serious, but she still managed to feel slightly possessive, and when they went out together in it—some old lady had stopped them the last time they'd gone out and told them they looked like a charming couple. Ettienne had blushed, but there had been a certain swagger to his step for the rest of the day.

She sighed as she signed in at the front desk, submitted to the bag checks the federal courthouse required (nothing there—just paperwork) and then headed upstairs to Abbie Carmichael's office. Abbie had started out in the New York District Attorney's Office as ADA Jack McCoy's second chair, working homicide cases; then went to SVU as an ADA herself and working Liv and Elliot's cases as a lead prosecutor. When she'd gotten an offer from the Feds to come work for them as a federal prosecutor, she'd gone—and Alex had stepped into her place, had quickly developed a name for herself as a prosecutor every bit as tough as Abbie 'Hang 'em High' Carmichael. When asked, Alex simply put her success down to the fact that she had a very good support team; the detectives of the SVU, despite the kinds of trouble they'd gotten into with IAB over the years, put the victims and justice first, and everything else, even their lives and careers, second; when Cesar Velez had put a contract out on Alex's life they had been the first ones on her security detail; when they'd gotten stuck between committing perjury or revealing that she was in witness protection, they'd chosen to commit perjury rather than reveal her secret.

But Olivia had said that, while they put their effort into putting together airtight cases for her, she worked her butt off arguing those cases in court and getting the conviction, and so while she gave credit to the unit's support, she should also give herself credit for how hard she worked. So it was a team effort, and while Alex had gotten offers from the Feds to follow Abbie's footsteps, she'd politely turned them all down, just as she'd turned down Lieutenant General Johnson's offer to sponsor her into the military's JAG program. Despite her frustration at what could, sometimes, be very, very boring prosecutorial work, she couldn't imagine working anywhere else than where she already was, doing anything she wasn't already doing. And her life, in the last year, had been enlivened by an extremely charming, gracious, sexy Cajun soldier…

She was still grinning as she taped on the open door of Abbie Carmichael's office and Carmichael herself looked up. "Yeah, you can grin because you're not the one handling this case," Abbie said, but there was no rancor in her voice. "Have a seat until I finish with this form." Alex sat.

When she'd first come to see Abbie in the federal court building she'd expected something…larger, maybe, more spacious, well appointed, or just different. The first thing that struck her when she walked in that first day—and what struck her every time she walked in here—was that for all the fact that this was a federal building, the office surroundings itself hadn't changed appreciably. There was little, if any, difference between an office in the New York City District Court of Lower Manhattan and an office in the Federal office building just down the street here.

Abbie signed her name to the bottom of the form she was working on, tucked it into a manila folder sitting on her desk, and gave Alex her full attention. "I was expecting you here at some point this week, as soon as I saw your name on the paperwork that crossed my desk." And, with mock sternness, "You have some explaining to do. How on Earth does a Manhattan ADA get mixed up with a bunch of classified covert-ops soldiers at a military base so secret I can't get any straight answers to where they're even located? And then those operatives get mixed into a human trafficking mess and I wind up with the file of an international financial business figure on my desk accused of some heinous crimes?"

"There are certain things I can't tell you because they are classified, but…" and Alex proceeded to tell Abbie as much as she could about the whole story of the last year, starting with meeting the Joes at the Goma airport almost a year before, right on up to the Joes' cooperation with the Navy, the FBI and Homeland Security in a joint raid on Kennedy's private island to get Shana and Cam out.

It took quite some time, and Abbie sat, enthralled, listening to Alex's story. Not too enthralled—when Alex first used the word 'human trafficking' Abbie grabbed a yellow legal pad and started scribbling everything Alex said, even stopping her at a few points to ask her to repeat something. Patiently Alex repeated everything Cam had said about the human trafficking business; described in exacting detail what Conrad and Allie had said about the market in Amsterdam, and what she'd been able to glean about the details of the island mansion Shana and Cam had been held.

It was here that Abbie finally held up a hand. "You don't have to tell me anything about that—the Feds took pictures of everything. Here, have a look." She shoved a file folder across the desk at Alex.

Alex took the folder, opened it. Abbie remained silent as Alex took in the photos of the mansion on the island. An emerald gem in a turquoise sea, with the marble-white, pristine mansion rising like a pale queen over the entire island. Interior pictures showed a well-appointed, completely modern kitchen; all the latest amenities, stainless steel refrigerator and ceramic flat-top stove as well as an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace with a roasting spit. Lushly-appointed living room and dining rooms with dark heavy, expensive cherrywood furniture and expensive bone china.

More photos, then; a bedroom with a huge four-poster, canopied bed; no canopy, though; the reason obvious when Alex saw that the FBI pictures had captured the ropes tied to the top of the posts, to the bottom of the posts at the foot of the bed. Another picture; a bathroom with a chain locked around the foot of an attached vanity and an empty metal collar at the other end of the chain; and a library with a hidden door.

And then a sequence of pictures; steps, leading downward into a chamber with rock walls and ceiling. A landing in the middle of those steps heading to what looked like a laundry room; the same steps, going further down until the person taking pictures got to the bottom—a torture chamber.

There was no mistaking the small eight square foot 'cells'—not after you saw the barred doors in front of them. There was no mistaking their purpose, when one picture showed two cells with thin, moth-eaten blankets and lumpy pillows—and those blankets had what were quite plainly bloodstains on them. A wall with nails anchored into the rock, in order to hang impact implements of all kinds. Alex froze as she saw, on a rough wooden table outfitted with straps, a whip made of a sturdy wooden handle with strands of barbed wire. And there was blood crusted on that whip

"Cam," Alex choked, but she had to look through the rest of the pictures; a medical/surgical theater with a stainless steel table bristling with straps. Drawers full of instruments. And a few outside pictures, two tall whipping posts with chains hanging from the tops, meant to pull a woman's limbs taut, stretching her body for a whipping. And Alex couldn't look anymore. "Jesus."

"You recognize any of that?" Abbie's gentle voice broke into Alex's thoughts.

Alex made an effort to pull her thoughts together. "Cam, the girl who used to be a sex slave—she has huge infected gashes all over her back. I look at that barbed wire whip and I'll bet that's what cut her up so badly—they whipped her with barbed wire." She would have to tell Doc. "And Shana…she was reserved for Kennedy's personal sex toy—I'll bet he kept her chained to his bed on a couple of nights. They were only on his island for two weeks—but I'll bet it felt like a lifetime."

"Are they going to testify?" Abbie's voice was still soft as she took the folder from Alex.

"Cam will. She promised before she left that she'd testify for me, against the son of a bitch who enslaved her the first time, when she was fifteen. I'll get her to testify against Kennedy. Shana…" Alex took in a breath, let it out in a shuddering sigh. "Shana I don't know. She suffered a severe shock; we still don't know what happened in Africa, during the month between the time she went missing and the time Cam found her in the slave market. She was in bad shape when she got back to base; Cam was worse, physically, but Shana…something's broken in her mind. She's in what Doc calls a benign stupor; she sees what's going on around her, she follows movement and tracks you with her eyes, but she won't talk. She hasn't said a word since she woke up. The only person she recognizes is her boyfriend, Snake Eyes—yes, I know, but his real name is classified, as is practically everything else about him, so don't laugh like that, Abbie!—Snake Eyes is the only one she recognizes, and it's in a passive sort of way; she knows he's there and she trusts him not to hurt her but she doesn't actively recognize him as him. He's mute, a helicopter accident a while back scarred his face and took his voice, so he can't even talk to her. Usually they sign to each other but right now she's unresponsive. There's only one psych officer at base and he's more of a counselor than a trauma therapist. He's as clueless to how to handle her situation as the rest of us are."

Abbie sighed. "Well, it'll be a couple months before we're ready to take him to trial, so hopefully she'll be better by then. And if you need to, you could always talk to George Huang over at the FBI building. I know he's only posted to the SVU as a forensic profiler, but he is a licensed therapist as well."

"George…" Alex's eyes lit up. She'd completely forgotten about her determination to talk to George. Yes, she could talk to him about Shana: they were both FBI, and while she couldn't bring George onto base, she could ask him for advice. "Thanks, Abbie." She was suddenly itching to go find Dr. Huang.

Abbie sensed that, and waved a hand. "Go on. I'm done here for the moment, I'll give you a call if I need anything else for the case. And…Alex?" she caught Alex's gaze as the ADA stood up. "I wish you luck. Keep me apprised and give them my regards. I can't wait to meet these two women."

Alex nodded.

Dr. George Huang had a tiny office in the FBI building. As the Field Psych agent for the FBI's New York office, his main purpose was to provide support and testimony for federal cases, and to provide support services for local law enforcement, but he was also a licensed therapist and had been instrumental in helping with a number of emotionally traumatized victims for SVU cases—as well as profiles for some of the worst serial rapists and murderers the SVU had ever encountered.

He looked up as Alex tapped on the door, and smiled. "Alex, how are you! It's been a little while since I last saw you." She'd only seen him twice since she'd returned to her duties as the SVU's ADA. "How are you doing?"

From any other psychologist, that would have been a double-edged, loaded question, but Alex knew him well enough by now to know that it wasn't intentional, and that he really was interested in how his friends were doing. So she took that as an invitation to step into his office. "I'm doing well, George, but I'm struggling with a bit of a problem and I was hoping that you could help me out."

"Whatever I can do." She took that as an invitation and sat in the chair across from his desk, and started to talk.

She gave him the barest details of how they'd all gotten into this mess; he knew already about her decision to go to the ICC, and a little about subsequent events, including her involvement with a classified military project. He listened with interest, then with intense interest as she described the mansion on the private island and what they'd been able to piece together about Cam and Shana's time there.

"She's in what the base doctor calls a benign stupor. She's awake, she follows movement with her eyes, but she doesn't speak, isn't talking. She recognizes things on some very basic, passive level, she knows enough to try and get up to tend to her basic needs—she makes trips to the bathroom to throw up, because she's going through some pretty vicious withdrawal right now, but everything else just seems to be out of sort of blind instinct."

George frowned, thinking hard. "And her boyfriend is mute, so he can't reach her by talking to her. Sign language—and recognition of it—is a higher brain function, so she wouldn't be able to respond. Hmm." He thought for a few minutes. "So what you should be trying to focus on is reaching her through basic, simple things. Does she have an iPod or personal music player? Her boyfriend could try to play familiar music, maybe something that they danced to while on a date, a song that reminds them of some special time they shared. Scents, too; if she likes coffee, the smell of it in her quarters could remind her of happier times, jog her memory of waking up with him. Food that she particularly likes could be left in her quarters, not only as an incentive to eat but also to jog her memory and try to break her out of it. If there is a particular cologne her boyfriend wore that she liked, or a perfume that she liked, you could try that. Air freshener in her quarters that smells like something familiar. He thought some more. "And some visual reminders. Any photos of happier times, group pictures while on vacation or leave. Photos of her family and her best friends, even pictures of home. Those could be hung on her walls to provide a visual prompt to try and jog her memory."

He leaned forward. "Just a couple of suggestions. And Alex...I know you want her to testify against the guy who trafficked them both, but you may have to face the fact that even after she 'wakes up', her mind may block out the entire incident as too traumatic for her to deal with and she may not be able to testify."

"That will be fine. If she can't testify, then she shouldn't be forced to. I still have the other officer who went undercover to find her—Corporal Arlington."

Huang frowned. "Alex…I recommend that you not depend too heavily on her either. She was a victim of trafficking when she was younger, and now she's been a victim again. Be very careful with what you ask her to do, and how much; she might also simply refuse to testify, because the whole thing was traumatic and painful and she may not be psychologically able to handle it."

Alex dismissed that. "Before she left she promised me she'd testify. She's a strong woman, stronger in some ways that even Shana, with all her training, is. She'll be fine."

"I hope you're right." George sat back. "Let me know how it goes, Alex. Please. And you have my phone number—if you, or the soldiers involved, need to talk to someone, I'll be available anytime, day or night."