January 29th, Manhattan SVU Prescient, New York, New York
Olivia Benson loved her job. Sure there were unspeakable horrors she was seen and been subjected too because of it, but at the end of the day, when justice prevailed for the victim, she loved it. She loved winning. She was not winning.
“What?” she asked, her voice incredulous. “Eliza Oliver, the coma patient, has vanished?” She asked, staring Fin down as he stood in the door way of her office.
The veteran detective shrugged. “I dunno what to tell you Liv. The hospital can’t find her. The only trace of her being there is an unmade bed and her charts.”
Olivia sighed and ran a tired face over her hands “Thanks Fin, I’ll let Barba know.” She said, her voice suddenly tinted with exhaustion. He was not going to be happy. As Olivia dialed the ADA’s number, she wondered just how a seemingly simple case had turned into this mess, with a missing witness and now a missing victim.
January 5th, Leverage Headquarters, Portland Oregon
Eliot and Parker were already seated when their client entered the Brew Pub. The woman matched the picture sent in, and Hardison confirmed over the coms that the nervous woman who had just entered was in fact Karissa Knowles.
She was obviously nervous, Eliot noted, and in mourning. She looked like she’d hardly slept in days, a look Eliot knew well, having worn it many times himself. She approached the bar, where a young man was working and spoke just loud enough for Eliot to hear her across the room. “I’m looking for Parker?” He didn’t catch the response of his employee, but he did see when he pointed in their direction.
The anxiety written all over Karissa’s face didn’t lessen as she made her way towards them, in fact, by the time she reached their table it had increased tenfold. Eliot assessed her critically as she sat down, his face impassive. Her nerves seemed to be legitimate, but why was she so nervous? It could be the fact that she was consorting with criminals, albeit reformed ones, but the paranoid part of Eliot whispered doubts in his mind. Was she nervous because this was a set up? Was she nervous because she was here to kill them and was too inexperienced to hide it? Or- endless possibilities raced through his mind, few of them good.
It was almost if Parker could read his mind, because her hand briefly touched his arm, grounding him to reality. Parker wasn’t good at emotions still, not really, but she knew Eliot well and he was sure that she was having the same thoughts to some extent. She hadn’t looked away from the woman, Karissa, and the touch was casual, but it was enough to alleviate some of the tension that had built up in his shoulders. His paranoia, far better than it had once been, was still problem, especially after the last job they’d taken… Eliot banished all thoughts of murder from his mind as Parker started the conversation. If problems arose, he would deal with them, like he always did.
“I’m Parker. This is Eliot. You said you had a…. problem we could help you with?” Parker probed. Her voice was not gentle like Sophie’s, yet her tone was not quite as abrasive as Nate’s was. It was all Parker, though much more toned down than her normal voice.
Karissa’s eyes flickered between the two, before finally settling on her hands. “I… my sister, she-she was murdered.” Karissa’s voice broke on the last word and she clasped a hand over her mouth, but that only served to muffle the abrupt sobs that wracked her body. “I’m so-sorry.” She managed to eke out between sobs. Parker cast a vaguely panicked look at Eliot who gave her a reassuring look, before reaching across the table to take Karissa’s free had.
“Hey,” Eliot murmured, trying to channel his inner Sophie. “It’s all right, it’s all right. Just take your time.” He kept his hand on top of hers, as a symbol of comfort, as the woman cried. Eliot’s paranoia was practically erased. The woman was distraught over her sister for sure. Eliot and Parker waited for the woman to collect herself, rather awkwardly to be honest. Parker shifted in her seat slightly, and she was playing with the ring on her finger, a rather recent nervous tick of hers. Parker was brilliant, but she did not handle crying women well. At least she wasn’t yelling at her to pull herself together. Eliot resisted the urge to smile at all the times Parker had done something similar. At least Hardison had gone off comms for this part, Eliot was sure he’d have some stupid commentary for this part.
Finally, Karissa managed to stop the sobs and catch her breath. Eliot retracted his hand, which Parker quickly grabbed under the table, as Karissa wiped her eyes with one of the napkins on the table. HE didn’t say anything, just grasped her’s back. “I’m sorry.” Karissa repeated, “It’s just that, it’s all so fresh and I don’t know where to start…”
For a moment Eliot was afraid shed cry again, and that they would never make it through the story. But thankfully Parker butted in. “The beginning would be a good spot.” She said, with just enough force to startle Karissa into responding. Perhaps it wasn’t the gentlest way to get the woman talking, but he wasn’t going to complain if it worked.
Karissa swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes, yes, you’re right. Three years ago, my sister got mixed up in a real bad crowd, specifically a bad boyfriend. Took Yvonne for everything she had before Yvonne got away. Yvonne was left with nothing. I was hardly making it by, with two little ones myself, so she took to dancing. She made decent money, and for the first few months, it was fine. She managed to get herself an apartment.” Karissa explained. At some point, she had produced a picture of herself and another woman who Eliot could only assume was Yvonne. She was pretty, young looking, maybe early twenties, only a few years younger than Karissa it seemed.
“But about six months ago, the club she was working for, Exotica, changed hands. IT was messy and I don’t know the details of how or why. What I do know, is that once Landon Downing took over, everything changed. Yvonne stopped coming around as much, and when she did, she was different. Scared. She said that she was being forced to work more hours, perform more private dances, for less pay. Yvonne was terrified of something. And she was right to be. Because she died. They killed her. They murdered my baby sister and the cops wouldn’t do a damn thing about it. They said that it was overdose. Listen, I’ve lived in New York my whole life and I know good and well what an overdose looks like and Yvonne didn’t overdose.” Karissa’s voice was shaking, this time from anger; no rage. Eliot had seen it before, felt it before.
Eliot glanced at the picture. It was recent, as noted by the date stamped in the corner and Karissa was right. Yvonne showed no signs of drug use in the picture. “You think the new owner, Downing, had something to do with it?” He questioned, looking back up at Karissa with a concerned face. Ever since the last con with Nate, the one where they all faked their deaths, their cons had mostly revolved around dealing with names in the black book, not avenging murder. Hell, even when Nate was around, bringing down straight up murderers wasn’t their normal case. And now with just three of them, Eliot was wary, scared something would happen to Parker or Hardison. At the very thought his grip on Parker’s hand tightened slightly, to which Parker faintly squeezed back.
She nodded seriously “I’m certain of it. Those cops had something to do with it to… the way the case closed so quickly, making sure it didn’t get to SVU. They even threatened me and my kids.” Her laugh was humorless and borderline hysterical “They said that if I continued to pursue it or took it to the higher ups, they’d do to me what they did to Yvonne. And I can’t leave my kids, not when I’m all they have left. You all were my last effort. If Detective Benson could get on the case I know she’d do her best, but I can’t risk it. Please, please help me get justice for my sister.” Karissa was begging, pleading with them to help her before her sister’s death was lost to a corrupt system. Eliot glanced at Parker and knew that risks be damned this case was theirs.
Parker’s voice was hard, yet almost soothing, as she replied “Ms. Knowles, my team will gladly take your case.”
The relief was palpable on Karissa’s face at the words. “Thank you.” She said, on the verge of tears again “Thank you so much.”
“Why are you thanking us now?” Parker asked, a hint of confusion slipping into her voice. “We haven’t done anything yet.”
If Karissa even noticed Parker’s professional facade fall, she didn’t seem to care “Thank you for trying. Thank you for caring about us.”
Eliot and Parker left Karissa in the booth, with instructions to Amy to give her whatever she wanted (or Amy thought she needed) on the house. The pair made their way upstairs where Hardison was already pulling information up. The screes were lit up and he was ready and waiting. Eliot didn’t have to ask how he knew they were taking the care or what it was about. One of his partners had bugged the pub at some point, and after silencing the comms, Alec had still listened in.
He waited for Parker and Eliot to get settled, one the couch and in the chair respectively, before starting. “Yvonne Knowles. She was 22 and a dancer at the club Exotica.” He said explaining. “her death was ruled a drug overdose, from heroin. And if ya’ll are squeamish you might wanna close your eyes cause these photos are nasty.” Alec warned, before pulling up the pictures from the M.E.
Parker wrinkled her nose but stared with more abstract curiosity than anything. Eliot rolled his eyes. “I ain’t squeamish Hardison.” He muttered, lacking any heat. “And Karissa was right. That ain’t no Heroin overdose.”
Hardison raised his free hand in mock surrender, before pulling up another document. “This is the official report, but there was another report submitted less than three minutes beforehand, and promptly deleted. They erased it from all their servers, so the only version that we might get to is the paper copy which I can’t hack.”
“So I need to steal it?” Parker asked hopefully, causing Alec to give her an indulgent grin, despite the fact that Parker likely already had plan formulating in her mind. She didn’t need his permission, but she still asked, maybe only to make him laugh. A smiled ghosted across Eliot’s face.
“You’re the mastermind mama. You tell me.” Hardison said with a wink, causing Eliot to scoff slightly, though a grin played at his lips. He loved them, but they were both just so flirty, it was adorable, even when it wasn’t directed at him.
“Anyways, back on topic Hardison.” Eliot reminded him, taking a sip of the beer he’d snagged earlier. Hardison rolled his eyes, but continued his presentation, swiping the documents to one of the smaller screens, and pulling up a photo of a woman that Eliot didn’t recognize, as well as several news articles.
“This, is Sergeant Olivia Benson of Manhattan SVU. Karissa mentioned her earlier and I did some digging. Benson is a season detective, having ben with SVU for nearly 17 years now. She is notorious for siding with victims and never letting a case go. She isn’t afraid to go after anyone who has done wrong.” Alec explained. “Football players, millionaires, movie stars, and regular old scum, you name it, she and her department have arrested them.”
Hardison pushed that aside as well, bringing a picture of a sleazy man to the front of the screens. “This is Landon Downing, definition of scum. He’s got records a mile long and based on his finances, he is just a general slime ball.” Hardison said with a face of relative disgust. “And there was a definite connection between him and four of the officers who were working the night Yvonne was killed. The club was ending money to them and based on phone records, several men who worked in that prescient frequent the club. And, the three officers that found Yvonne’s body? All club regulars who got a nice big payout from an offshore company the same day. Now, if ya’ll don’t call that fishy, then I don’t know what you do.”
Parker nodded slowly, perched on ‘her’ chair. “Hush money. The club did something and wham, with a little money, the cops cover it up. Government corrupted by cash.” Eliot studied Parker’s face. He could see the wheels turning as she assessed the situation. “The real question is how far that corruption runs. The Benson lady looks nice, but can we trust the people in her office?”
Eliot had already thought that. If this Sergeant Benson was innocent of corruption, which she seemed to be, was everyone else? Or was someone within the SU department covering up leaks and making sure none of it got to her or the others. “That’s the gamble.” Eliot agreed. “That’s why we can’t just give our info to her. Someone might find out and hurt Karissa and god knows who else.” Eliot said, frowning deeply.
“I can vouch for Detective Tutuola , he’s been around nearly as long as she had, but the others are relatively new. Couldn’t find much on them, except for the Amaro guy, her partner. He’s been investigated several times for anger related issues.” Alec explained. “There are five detectives in total, counting Benson, not to mention a number of regular officers they regularly work with. I didn’t get a chance to look into them past the basics, but honestly? I’m not sure how much there is to find.”
Eliot nodded. “Police are like the service. Even good men screw up, and most of the time those screw ups don’t make it on record.” Eliot had served long enough and had enough encounters with cops to know that was a fact, not an opinion.
Silence washed over them for a moment before Parker broke it, as she abruptly rose from her chair. “Call Sophie and Nate. We’re gonna need extra hands for this one boys.”
“Already got a plan?” Hardison asked, even as he pulled out his phone to call the ‘retired’ couple. He grinned. “Damn you are good.” He said with a fond grin.
“You doubted her?” Eliot half joked, casting him a look.
“Naw man.” Alec said, shaking his head. “Never.”
At the praise, Parker’s grin widened and she rubbed her hands together, causing Eliot to smile, despite the seriousness of the job “Let’s go steal a club then. And a police force.”