Actions

Work Header

Shadow's Waiting

Chapter Text

Another break in the interrogation, and they were joined by ADA Novak. Stabler stepped in, yet another file folder in his hand.

“ME just reported. Blood sample from Giles is the wrong blood type for our perp.”

Cragen sighed. “What can we hold him on? We cannot have this guy out there mucking up our crime scenes.”

“At the very least, you can keep him for a full psych evaluation while you track down the others he’s mentioned – Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg,” Huang answered. “They may be completely fictionalized versions of students he knew at the high school, they may be real and intimidated by his delusions, or they may be feeding into it.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Cragen put his hands on his hips. “Stabler, call the 227, see if you can talk them out of Fontana or Green. We need Summers and Rosenberg. We also need Lahane, if she’s still out there.”

“For now,” Novak added, “keep him on obstruction, tampering with evidence, and aiding and abetting a fugitive. Get the psych eval done, and we’ll go from there.”

“Are we sure we want to put this guy on the defensive?” Munch asked.

“What do you mean, John?” Cragen asked.

“Look, there’s a lot of stuff from this case that just doesn’t add up: the condition of the bodies, the timing of death and when they were found – we just got a call from the dumpster company at the second scene. Turns out, that dumpster was emptied this morning, just after six. ME says the body was killed on site sometime around three. You’re telling me that the driver didn’t notice a dead body with its organs strewn around like party streamers not ten feet from the dumpster?”

“And your point is?” Cragen prompted him.

“Whatever may be going on in this guy’s head, he’s got some sort of information. We’ve got uniforms out at the other three sites he named. First one reported no signs of remains, but then they turned on their UV lights. There were blood stains on all the walls and across the ceiling. I’m just saying, let’s not slap him with anything until we get as much out of him as we can.”

“Elliot? Liv?” Cragen asked.

“Fine by us,” she answered.

“Give it a try, John.”

“No, don’t give it a try, John,” a new voice said.

It belonged to a woman standing just outside the room. She wore her hair slicked back, and her suit was worth more than their monthly salaries combined. Hackles all around the room rose on cue.

“Elspeth Morgan,” she introduced herself, “of the New York offices of Wolfram and Hart. I’ve been engaged on Mr. Rupert Giles’ behalf.”

“Did he say he lawyered up?” Cragen asked the other detectives.

Both Stabler and Benson shook their head. “He pretty much waived all his rights.”

“And I am reclaiming them for him,” the lawyer continued, her presence adding a decidedly greasy taste to the air. “This is a writ of habeus corpus.” She handed Novak a bundle of blue paper. “You are instructed to release Mr. Giles immediately unless you intend to charge him and have him arraigned and before a grand jury before the day is up.”

Novak scanned the document, her lips pressed together. “It’s good.”

Cragen looked furious. “Cut him loose.”

Stabler led Ms. Morgan to the interrogation room.

“Mr. Giles,” he announced, holding the door open. “Your lawyer has secured your release. You are free to go.”

Giles looked up, baffled. “I haven’t engaged a solicitor.”

Ms. Morgan stepped up. “An associate from the Los Angeles office of my firm made the arrangements. Wolfram and Hart?”

Giles’ mood switched from confused to genuine, loathing disgust. “Detective, I categorically refuse representation by that…creature, and I would appreciate it if you would remove her immediately.”

Stabler paused, sighed. “Yeah, much as I would like to help you out there, the writ stands. Doesn’t matter who turns it in. We not only can’t force you to stay, we can’t allow you to stay. I’ll be happy to escort you from the building.”

Ms. Morgan evaporated, smug and well appointed.

“Where is Detective Benson?” Giles demanded.

“She’s busy,” Stabler replied, taking Giles by the arm to lead him out. “Now, let’s stop by the duty sergeant so you can get your stuff.”

“Detective,” Giles dug his heels in and refused to be budged, “you must listen to me. Your partner is in terrible danger. I have every reason to believe that she is the killer’s next target. Do not let her out of your sight. Not for one moment.”

“Right,” Stabler agreed only to get him moving. “I’ll absolutely keep that in mind.”

Giles stopped at one of the desks and grabbed for a pen and scrap of paper.

“Here,” he scribbled as quickly as he could. “You can find me at this address. If I’m not there, my associates will know who you are and be able to help you as well as I can.”

He pushed the piece of paper at Stabler, who took it and pocketed it with every intention of throwing it at Munch and never looking at it.

“Fine, let’s go.”

 

4:12 p.m. - Squad Room

With Giles gone, the squad sat around their desks, pulling files and making calls, but there was a definite loss of moral. Their main lead was gone, and they were left with a series of contradictory evidence.

“Word’s back from our other two sites,” Fin said, putting the phone down. “No remains, but UV showed up blood and other body fluids all over the place. Cop down there said the place looked like a slaughterhouse.”

“Let’s start running background on these buildings – owners, tenants, see if any of them match with missing persons records,” Cragen said.

“Every cop I talked to,” Fin continued, “said the place they were in gave them the creeps, like they were being watched. That’s three teams that never talked to each other.”

Benson’s phone rang, and she picked it up.

“Benson. Yeah, okay. Go ahead.” She wrote something down as she listened. “Yeah, send it up to us. Have the parents been notified? No, hold off. We’ll deal with it.”

She hung up, looked at the phone for a moment, and tossed her pencil down.

“That was Letelle, down in the MEs. Our second vic has been identified as Holly Alphonse, sixteen years old. She was reported missing last night from her bedroom.”

“That’s impossible,” Stabler said. “Unless her parents were starving her the past three months.”

Benson shook her head. “They gave detectives their latest picture of her, taken at her brother’s birthday party. She was a healthy weight one week ago.”

“What the hell is this?” Stabler muttered.

He and the others glanced up at the board, which had changed significantly over the past two hours. Both vics were identified, and someone had pinned recent school photos next to crime scene shots, highlighting the difference between life and death. Giles was now a snapshot off to the side, the space given to him and his “associates” a small corner of the board instead of nearly half. A map of the island pinpointed the two murders with stickers designating the other three potential sites. A list of missing persons – all girls between the age of thirteen and twenty – was posted on the frame, stars by the names of those where no suspects had been identified.

Benson, waiting for another phone call to announce the parents of the second vic, doodled on a pad of paper, drawing the sign she’d seen over and over again. The ME had reported that it wasn’t a tattoo, henna, or any other manner of skin decoration she’d ever run across. There were no chemicals present that wouldn’t have been there anyway. It was only that the skin was noticeably darker, a reddish black, at the symbol than anywhere else, almost as if the vic had stenciled the rest of her skin with sunscreen and then sat out in direct sunlight for days.

She looked up at the board, studying the different pictures. Then she glanced at the map and stopped. There were five points on the map. There were eleven points on the drawing she’d done. It wasn’t evenly divided. The symbol looked like it had been painted with a calligraphy brush. The points on the map turned in a clockwise direction from oldest to newest. In her drawing, the eleventh point was in the center. If the killer had started at the twelve o’clock position….the only thing left was the eleventh point.

She shook her head, trying to dispel the mood that had fallen over her. She stood, picked up a grease pencil and stepped up to the map. Checking between her drawing and the map, she lightly marked the center point and the others around the outer circle.

“Whatcha got?” Munched asked.

She frowned in thought. “Not sure. This is the symbol that showed up on the second vic,” she handed him the doodle, not bothering to explain that she’d dreamed it before seeing it in person. “How much of a correlation do you see?”

Munch considered the drawing and the map, holding the drawing closer so that it appeared to be the same scale as the map. “It’s pretty tight.”

“Yeah, but our best estimate still gives us a quarter of a city block to go over for each site.”

“We can start matching up missing girls,” he offered.

“Yeah.”

“Liv,” he paused. “You okay?”

She glanced up at him. That he’d even asked told her just how bad she must look. “I’ll be better when we catch this guy. Then I think a few days off is in order.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” he agreed with her.

 

7:08 p.m. - Home of Holly Alphonse

Holly’s parents had been in and were spared identifying the body, since they’d had a card with her fingerprints made a few years previously. They had been numb with shock, incapable of offering any information outside of the most mundane. Stabler had sat down and talked with them for quite a while, giving them names and numbers of grief counselors, assuring them that their daughter’s killer would be brought to justice.

“Mrs. Alphonse,” he asked, “did you notice anything usual in your daughter’s activities the past few weeks? Did she start hanging out with different friends? Any fights with old friends or maybe a boy?”

She shook her head. “Holly had…blossomed this past year. She shot up nearly three inches. We were always having to buy her new jeans, and…”

“What is it?”

Mrs. Alphonse looked deeply troubled. “She started having nightmares two weeks ago. She had night terrors when she was just a baby. This was just as bad. She said someone was watching her, from the shadows. It got to where she wouldn’t sleep unless every light in her room was on.”

“I went in there once,” the father said, putting his arm around his wife, “to wake her up. She hit me so hard, I think she broke my nose. She had no idea what she’d done once she was awake.”

Looking closely, Stabler could see the remnants of bruising around the man’s eyes. There had been no reports of abuse. The brother, nine years old, had worshipped his older sister. The family had, until Holly had gone missing, been stable and loving. And he had nothing to give them just now.

 

8:38 p.m. - SVU Squad Room

Dr. Huang stood beside the board while the detectives grouped around it.

“We’re working off the presumption that Giles is not the perp, but was pulled to the crime scene because it matched his specific delusion – an unfortunate coincidence that clouded the case,” he began. “The perp we’re looking for is male, single, probably between the ages of 25 and 40. He is intelligent, and he is cocky. At this point, he doesn’t care that he’s left us evidence – the bodies, his DNA, and the symbol. Those he’s doing for his own purposes, and he believes that he's outside the purview of law enforcement.

“Unlike many serial killers, this one is not bothering to taunt us. He is not leaving us clues; he is completely disregarding us.”

“So why the elaborate death?” Munch asked. “Why the sign?”

“It may very well be that he has a delusion similar to Giles. Whereas Giles focuses on protecting the ones he cares for from what he sees as mystical dangers, this man believes he has power over these things and can secure more through the deaths of these girls.”

“This is pretty close to the stuff Giles was spoutin’,” Fin said.

Huang nodded at him. “I believe the link between them is Kennedy. She knew Giles. At one point, she left for New York. She met her killer. Perhaps she talked openly about Giles’ paranoid architecture, perhaps he figured it out on his own somehow. Either way, he’d found his perfect target.”

“Okay, sure,” Munch said, “but that doesn’t explain the emaciation in two girls that a week previous to their deaths had been the very picture of obscene health. It also doesn’t address the whole time and place of death problem we’re looking at.”

Huang put his hands out. “I don’t have answers for that. We need more evidence.”

“Okay, people,” Cragen said, standing. “That’s it for tonight. Go home. We’ll tackle this in the morning.”

 

Stabler found Benson at her locker, pulling her belongings out and closing the combination lock.

“Let me drive you home,” he said.

“I got myself here, Elliot,” she replied. “I can get myself home.”

“It’s not that, and you know it,” Stabler said softly. “Whatever’s going on, you’re in the middle of it. I need to know that you’re okay.”

She looked up at him. “Is that all you need?”

There was a flicker in his expression, something that might have been hurt but could just as easily have been something else, and his jaw tightened. “I need to know my partner’s okay, especially after what’s been coming down the past week. Past that, Olivia, I don’t want anything you don’t want to give me.”

 

3:28 a.m. - Olivia Benson's apartment

He woke, not sure why he wasn’t asleep anymore. The apartment was quiet, and even the sounds that filtered in from the street were subdued. Liv slept beside him, facing but not touching him. Her face was slack, and her breathing was slow and even. What had woken him?

The apartment was dark, with only few bars of light thrown in through the windows. Slowly sitting up, he felt his nerves tighten. There was someone in the apartment. There was someone in the shadows. He reached over to the nightstand and groped until he put his hand on his service revolver.

His eyes were adjusted to the dark, but there were still pools of deep shadow he couldn’t penetrate. Silently, he rose, scanning the bedroom. There had been no noise, but he’d been a cop too long not to know when there was trouble hanging over his head. There was a strip about two feet wide between Olivia’s side of the bed and the wall – empty. The corner opposite her, to the right of the desk – empty. On his side, there was nowhere to hide. He stepped up to the doorway into the bathroom and checked. Again, it was empty. As he turned, something in the mirror caught his eye.

He saw his reflection and beyond it, the bed, and beyond that, the wall and the window. Beside the window, in the darkest part of the room, standing over Olivia, was a man. Pale face, dark hair, and a smile that made Stabler’s skin crawl, he was reaching for Olivia. Stabler moved faster than he had in his entire life.

“FREEZE!”

He had his revolver pointed right at the perp’s heart, his hand steady.

There was no one there.

He crossed the floor as Olivia stirred. There was no one, not a single sign anyone had been there, and nowhere for a person to have disappeared to. The window was closed and locked.

“Elliot, wha-“ Liv asked, sleeplogged.

“Stay there,” he ordered. “Don’t move.”

He made a fast circuit of the remainder of the apartment. The front door was closed and locked. All the windows were the same. There was no way in without breaking something, and no sign of breaking. When he returned, Olivia was standing next to the bed, holding a .38 automatic, and looking around with a worried expression.

“What’d you see?” she asked.

“Guy, around six feet tall, black hair, pale skin, standing right over you.”

She said nothing.

Finally, he shook his head. “I’ve got to be seeing things. The case is getting to me.”

“Elliot, read the note I gave you this morning,” Liv replied.

He didn’t have to. He remembered the writing perfectly. ‘Perp: male, late 20s/early 30s, white, eyes?, hair brown/black, approx 5’11”, 190 lbs.’

“Did you see his eyes?” she asked.

“No,” he shook his head. “Shadow was too deep. I did see the bastard’s smile.”

Olivia looked shaken.

“Look, I’m…” he shook his head again. “The case must be getting to me. I’m seeing things that aren’t there. Go back to sleep. It’ll be fine.”

She didn’t believe him. For that matter, neither did he. So while Olivia did climb back into bed and pull the covers over her, while she eventually got back to sleep, Elliot stayed up, keeping an eye on the shadows, until morning.

 

6:44 a.m.

She’d almost had to push him out of the apartment. Like the previous morning, he’d still needed a shower and a change before work. This morning, though, he was cross with lack of sleep and worry for her and had wanted her to go with him or he would just as soon report to work in day old clothes with a day old beard. Neither was an acceptable option in her mind.

Instead of lingering in bed, she was up, showered, and dressed half an hour earlier than usual. The squad room was there, the case was waiting, and she would much rather be in the company of SVU detectives than staring at the walls of her bedroom. Since her car was back at the squad house, she would need to be the first one there anyways, to deflect any questions about where she was, who she was with, last night.

Instead of the normal drive in, she walked to the closest subway. In August, the streets were light well before seven, so she felt no fear, only a ramped up awareness of every person around her. There were two people directly behind her, following her. She checked the first reflective surface she could find and saw a young man with an eyepatch, of all things, and a redheaded woman.

When she was sure there was no one between them, she pivoted, service revolver in hand.

“Freeze!”

The two of them froze, wide-eyed and put their hands up.

“Who the hell are you?” she yelled, though she already knew.

“Xander,” the young man barked. “Xander Harris. Please don't shoot me.”

“Willow Rosenberg,” the redhead said. “We’re not here to hurt you, Detective Benson.”

“Right,” Benson answered, lowering her gun. “Rupert Giles sent you, right? He’s concerned?”

“Exactly!” Xander agreed. “Can I put my hands down? I promise I won’t do anything stupid with them. Or, you know, at all.”

She nodded.

“Thanks,” he continued. “Nice city you got here. Not nearly as many vampires as we expected. Guess we’ve got Guliani to thank for that.”

Willow elbowed him.

“Right.” He winced. “With the babbling. Stopping now.”

Willow took a cautious step towards her, making eye contact to ensure Olivia was okay with it.

“Detective Benson, we’ve been looking for you since…since we found out what happened to Kennedy,” she said. “Giles figured out yesterday when you were talking to him that you’re a Slayer. We think the killer has figured that out, and he only needs one more Slayer’s death to finish his spell. So, we’re here to make sure that you’re okay.”

Benson holstered her weapon and took a deep breath. “Okay, Willow, Xander.” She nodded at them, they nodded hopefully back at her. “I appreciate that you have the best intentions in this matter, but my department and I are in the middle of a very difficult murder investigation. We will find your friend’s killer and bring him to justice, I promise you. But if I see you around my apartment again – or anyone else’s – or at a crime scene, or at the station house, I will arrest you for obstruction. You are a distraction. You are in the way. Understand?”

Their hopeful looks faded, and they both nodded.

“Now, I’m going to go. I have a subway to catch so I can get to work. I expect you two to go back to your place, report to Giles that I’m fine, and then go home to Cleveland. Someone from my department will contact you when we have news. Remember, if I see you again, I arrest you.”

She turned to leave.

“Detective?” Willow called out.

“Yes,” she looked back, feeling as cross as Elliot had been when she’d kicked him out.

“Stay out of the shadows, okay? That’s where he’s strongest.”

Olivia took a deep breath, turned and walked on.

“Guess that didn’t work out like we’d hoped,” she heard Xander say.

 

9:30 a.m. - Squad Room

With the rest of the squad in, they were moving through the leads brought to them. There were three missing persons cases that matched the age requirements in the last six years. The first victim had been thirteen years old, Maddie Harper. She had never been located. The address she’d lived at fell on the same block as the middle of the marks Benson had made on the map.

“Family still live there?” Stabler asked.

“Yeah,” Finn replied. Families with missing children often resisted moving for any reason, hoping that some day, their child might just find their way home. “Oldest boy is out of college now. One kid still at home.”

“Let’s go out there, talk to the parents,” Benson said. “Get a feel for the area.”

“Jeffe,” Stabler called. “We’re heading out.”

“Call if you need anything,” Cragen replied.

 

10:00 a.m. - Harper family residence

They had been greeted and welcomed inside with a quiet pain that humbled them. School hadn’t started, so the youngest of the three, Janie, was still at home. She peeked in occasionally, curious, but mindful of her mother’s instructions to get her room picked up.

Mrs. Harper, a gracious woman in her late forties with the expression of a tired Mona Lisa, sat them in the living room, amid a sea of family pictures – two girls, one boy. In none of the pictures, was the boy smiling, not even the earliest ones.

“We haven’t heard from the police in so long,” the woman said, sitting uneasily in her chair, “we thought maybe they’d given up.”

“No,” Benson assured her. “It’s just that sometimes we run out of leads and have to wait until we find a new one. We think Maddie’s disappearance may be connected with other girls who have disappeared over the last six years.”

“I don’t know what I can tell you,” Mrs. Harper put her hands out. “Seems I emptied everything I knew out of my head for the detectives to look at years ago.”

Benson saw Janie peek in from the hallway, a shy girl of thirteen or fourteen, about the same age her sister was when she disappeared.

“How old was Janie when it happened?” Stabler asked, picking up on Benson’s glance.

“Oh, she was just a baby, five years old,” Mrs. Harper said. “They shared a room. Maddie was gone, sometime during the night, but Janie never saw anything.”

“What about their brother?” Benson prompted her.

“Derek?” Mrs. Harper shifted with unease. “He’s the oldest. He was sixteen when it happened. The police talked to him, of course. I suppose they have to figure it’s a family member before it could be anyone else, but they said he couldn’t have done it.”

“Why’s that?” Stabler asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Oh, he was gone that night. Used to worry me to death. He’d go off wandering God only knows where. Come back with his jeans torn up, like he’d been looking through dumpsters and such for something.”

“What’s he up to these days?” Benson asked.

Mrs. Harper looked down and away and took a deep breath. “Truth is, we haven’t seen him these past two years. He started school, but dropped out without telling us. Spent the money on I don’t know what. His father and he had a bad fight, yelling things no one ought to say to their child or their father. Derek left. He hasn’t called or written or visited since then.”

“What kind of things?” It was Stabler’s turn.

She was getting visibly upset. “That Derek had stolen from us – stolen money, stolen our daughter. Derek said we’d never loved him like we’d loved Maddie, that we loved her better dead than we loved him alive.”

She pressed her fingertips to her mouth. “It just wasn’t true, you know? He was always a difficult boy, always took things so seriously, so personally. He hated any attention either of the girls got.”

“Mrs. Harper,” Benson began, trying to find the right way to ask this question, “was there anything unusual about Maddie before she went missing? Did she say or do anything different?”

“Oh, she and her brother fought. They always had before, but it seemed like she was suddenly more willing to stand up to him, especially if she thought he was being mean to Janie. I saw her hit him, once. I thought she was near to killing him.”

Janie was still standing in the hallway, behind her mother. She looked appealingly at Benson, pointed at herself, and made a little talking gesture with her hand.

“Mrs. Harper, if it’s all right with you, I’m going to pour myself another glass of water.”

“I’ll get it, Detective.”

“No, no, it’s all right. Detective Stabler has some more questions for you.”

When she went into the kitchen, Janie was waiting for her.

“Janie, you want to tell me something?”

The girl nodded. “I always did want to tell the police, but I couldn’t while Derek was here. No one’s been back since he left.”

“What is it, honey?”

“I think it was Derek,” she whispered. “No one would believe me, because I was just a little kid when it happened, but I saw the shadows, and Maddie yelled his name. Afterwards, he knew that I’d seen it. He told me if I said anything, he’d kill me, just like he’d killed her.”

“Honey, do you have any idea where he took her?” Benson asked. “This is very important.”

Janie was silent for a moment, a little overcome that someone had finally listened. “When he wasn’t playing around in the dumpsters, he spent a lot of time in the basement. There are a whole lot of little rooms. It’s kind of like a maze, and there aren’t enough lights. I never liked going down there. He would scare me with stories about the shadows and what they did. He said they liked to eat little girls. Mr. Hopkins kept putting new locks on the doors, but that never stopped Derek.”

“Okay, hon,” Benson said. “This is my card. It’s got my work number and my cell phone number on it. If you think of anything else, you call me and tell me, okay?”

“Okay,” she nodded, looking solemn and scared.

“And thank you, honey. You’re a very brave girl.”

She turned to go when Janie whispered, “Detective?”

“Yeah, hon.”

“Do you think it’s bad that I hope my brother is dead?”

Benson pressed her lips together for a moment. “No, sweetie. I don’t think it’s bad.”

 

Back in the living room, Stabler had talked Mrs. Harper out of two family portraits. One was old enough that Maddie stood behind her parents, her arm around her sister’s shoulder, as far away from Derek as she could get. The other must have been taken just before the fight that sent Derek off into the unknown. He stood on the opposite side of their parents from Janie in a jacket and tie. He wasn’t smiling. Instead, the light blue eyes under black brows stared implacably into the camera, hinting at strange shadows.

After goodbyes and exchanges of business cards, Stabler and Benson waited until the door closed before turning to one another.

“It’s him,” Benson said. “Janie said he threatened her shortly after Maddie disappeared, said he’d kill her like he killed her sister if she said anything.”

“The ages don’t quite match up,” Stabler said, as they walked down the hallway to the stairs.

“That’s because most serial killers don’t get started until early twenties. Looks like Derek started in his mid-teens. Is the UV light in the trunk?”

“Yeah,” he answered, glancing over at her.

“We need to check the basement. Janie said he might have put her there.”

“You get the light, I’ll talk to the super.”

“Mr. Hopkins,” she told him.

 

“Hate this goddamn warren,” Hopkins said, flipping through his keyring. “Too wet to use as storage, can never get rid of the damn rats and mold like I should be able to, lights don’t work half the time, kids worm their way in here, get lost and start screaming. I swear, if I could get away with bricking up this doorway, I’d do it in a heartbeat. No use for that place, and it gives me the creeps going in.”

“Creeps?” Benson asked, gazing at the water stained ceiling above them. “Like how?”

The super gave her a semi-sheepish look, not happy that he’d admitted to it. “Like there’s someone here, watchin’ me from the shadows. Impossible, of course. This door’s the only way in, and it’s locked for months at a time.”

“I tell you what,” Stabler said, “we don’t find anything, I’ll call a friend over in the building inspector’s office. I’ll bet he can find a reason to shut this place up permanently.”

“Detective, you got yourself a deal,” the super answered, finding the right key and clicking open the lock. He pulled it off the hasp and threw the door open. “Be my guest.”

Benson and Stabler pulled out their flashlights – heavy, sturdy things that could be used to subdue a perp. The air inside the door was markedly cooler than outside. It smelled of old, wet corruption. Stabler braced the door open and followed Benson into what looked like a vestibule.

“Janie said the place was like a maze,” she commented.

“Yeah,” he agreed. There was a thin layer of slippery muck on the floor, untouched for months. “Why the hell would someone build this in a basement?”

“Might not belong to this building originally,” she answered softly. “A lot of this area was completely rebuilt in the 20s and 30s, then again in the 60s.”

They moved silently through the rooms – vestibule, a larger room with several doorways branching off it and probably more rooms off that.

“Okay,” Stabler breathed, “now I understand why the super said this place creeped him out.”

The feeling of eyes watching from the darkness was overwhelming. Strong as their flashlights were, they couldn’t dispel the darkness completely, only push it away. The floors were tiled, and at a guess, Benson thought there might be a mosaic design of some sort underneath. The walls and ceilings were plaster. The few lights were old, clumsy wiring from fifty or more years ago. Neither of them bothered with a light switch.

“Elliot,” Benson called softly. “Look at the ceiling.”

They stood in the room just beyond the vestibule. The light from the boiler room outside seemed pitifully wan. Elliot cast his beam up onto the ceiling with Olivia’s.

“What are those?” she asked.

“Smoke stains,” he answered. “Get them in the church, especially the little chapel where the ceiling’s a lot lower. Comes from burning all those candles.”

Some of the stains, however, were not black or grey, but brown.

“Hang on to my light,” Benson said, bringing the UV light out.

Stabler took it out of her hand and trained both on the ceiling. She turned the UV light on and shined it up as well. Blood stains years old luminesced under the blue light. Working in tandem, they covered the walls, finding stains of blood and other substances that were thrown, spurted, or painted onto the walls.

“Crime scene had to have checked the whole building when she went missing,” Olivia said, hitching her shoulders as though to push away something bothering her.

“Yeah, but don’t forget that weird time problem we’ve got with the other bodies. Plus, they might have figured that if it was locked all the time, no one could have gotten in.”

“I don’t like this, El,” she said, pointing the light at one particular spot. “Look at those stains. They’re layered, like they happened at different times. Derek killed more than just his sister down here.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Okay, we call for backup and a CSU team to case this place. I can only hope there’s something left after all this ti-“

He was cut off by a piercing scream from one of the doorways at the end of the room.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” a girl’s voice sobbed. “NOOOO, DON’T! DADDY!”

“Maureen?” Stabler whispered.

“Elliot, wait!” Olivia yelled, but it was too late.

Stabler tossed her flashlight back at her and pulled out his gun, running to the door, checking with his flashlight, and then down the hall beyond. Benson scrambled after him, cursing under her breath, juggling her flashlight and the UV box while she tried to get to her gun and her radio at the same time.

The scream continued. “DAAAADDDDY! HELP! PLEASE HELP!”

Stabler hit the end of the hall at a dead run, kicked the door in without pausing, and ran his beam over the room, looking for his oldest daughter, ready to kill whoever had hurt her.

The room was empty. The scream cut off in mid-wail. At the precise spot where it came from, the floor was empty, save for a black stone disk. Elliot stepped inside and over, out of the frame of the doorway, ran his light over the room once again, but saw nothing except some small litter on the floor and the stone.

“What the fucking hell is this?” he whispered, his skin turning cold. “Liv?”

There was no answer.

“LIV?” he yelled.

Still no answer. Keeping his back to the wall, he came around into the hallway.

“Olivia! Answer me!”

Her flashlight lay on the floor of the hallway, just past the entrance, rolling back and forth a little from the fall that had left it there. On the floor, he could clearly see his own footprints in the thin mud. To the left of his were Olivia’s where she had run to join them. They went half the length of the hall and stopped.