On a Saturday night in October, a 16-year-old girl called 911 from a club in the East Village frequented by perenially-new-to-New-York NYU students whose idea of fun was pounding hard liquor until their livers burned. The girl and her best friend had bought fake IDs and had taken the train in from Ronkonkoma. The friend seemed overly tipsy and drowsy after just one drink, a vodka cranberry that, thanks to the club owner’s penny-pinching, was awfully light on vodka for the $12 they’d charged her credit card. The officers who’d first arrived on the scene caught Shane Firsey, a 21-yearold also from Long Island, sneaking out the door with a few doses of rohypnol in his jacket pocket.
“She asked me for drugs,” Firsey insisted to Rollins when she and Fin had him in interrogation after midnight. “She paid me fifty bucks, I’m telling you.”
“Rohypnol. Isn’t. Recreational,” Rollins said, enunciating each word as she stood, pressing her palms down on the table.
“You’re just saying that to get me in trouble,” Shane said.
Fin laughed. “Ask me how many undercover narcotics operations I’ve run.”
The self-isolating, cultlike church that Shane’s parents belonged to sent over a suburban defense attorney who accompanied Shane to arraignment court. His $100k bail was posted within hours.
A week later, he was picked up again, caught by a parking attendant raping a 16-year-old who he’d drugged in a club two blocks down the street sometime earlier that night. This time, the arraignment judge ordered $500k bail, which was once again posted immediately. Benson, exhausted for more reasons than she could count at this point, chewed Stone out for not insisting that Shane be held without bail, and for not bringing up the fact that the cultlike church his family belonged to held seemingly unlimited financial resoruces.
The case seemed cut-and-dry, but the defense attorney cast doubt on the parking lot attendant, who’d been running credit card scams o local students, and the case collapsed. The victim, who’d been unconscious, couldn’t testify as to who raped her. The jury decided that there was enough reasonable doubt to find Shane not guilty.
Benson went to Jack McCoy to ask for a new ADA. He reminded her that Stone had been a top prosecutor in Chicago. “A top homicide prosecutor,” Benson said. “Put him on homicide. Give me someone with experience with special victims.”
“I’ll consider it, Lieutenant,” McCoy promised, and Benson bit her tongue.
The first week of December, Rachel Waller, a 17-year-old emancipated minor who’d been living with her aunt ever since she’d left the church on Long Island that the Firsey family were prominent members of, came into the SVU squadroom. Rollins took her into Benson’s office, where she told them that despite her and her aunt’s objections — some filed formally in the family and guardianship courts — her 20-year-old sister, Emily, had been “married off” to Shane. The Wallers and the Firseys had told Emily that Shane’s prior convictions were for drink driving. Emily’s developmental disabilities meant that, although she could have a promising life if Rachel and their aunt could just get them out of that godforsaken church, she most likely couldn’t consent to the marriage, especially if her parents had kept information from her and outright lied.
“Prior convictions?” Benson asked Rachel. “Shane was found not guilty, and the original assault we picked him up on doesn’t even have a trial date yet.”
“My aunt found out that Shane has two convictions in a sealed record in Oregon. The guardianship people and our lawyers couldn’t get them unsealed because they were from a juvenile court. One of the lawyers we’ve been working with said to come to you. You investigated the case and I need to get that marriage annuled and Emily out of his house and away from my parents.”
Benson promised Rachel that they’d do what they could. Stone said he’d work on getting the Oregon convictions unsealed, but it was unlikely, because they were from juvenile court. He was going to push for attempted rape charges on the original assault, though, which meant that if he did by some chance get those records unsealed, they’d at least be admissible as evidence in the new trial.
Two times in one year with a gun trained on her in an enclosed space was a lot, even for Olivia Benson.
A third attempted assault in an abandoned building in Lower Manhattan had been caught on a closed-circuit camera installed by real estate developers. Benson and Carisi headed out to Oceanside to pick up Shane, who lived in an apartment above his parents’ garage with his new wife, Emily. Rachel and her aunt had been unable to get the marriage annuled.
The apartment above the garage would have elicited a million curses from a million firefighters: the only way in and out was a ladder that connected to a trapdoor of sorts so that you came up through the floor, like in a home’s attic. So, as soon as Benson came up and had her feet fully inside, she was irrevocably trapped by Shane pointing a gun at her head.
Benson looked up at the window installed into the sloped roof of the garage, her only hope, if it opened at all. A faint hope, because it was behind Shane and well above her head.
Carisi radioed for backup.
Benson tried to reason with Shane. His hands were shaking. She heard a helicopter and voices outside, and she knew they were going to decide that their only option was to take a shot at Shane through the window. They always decided taking a shot through a window was their best option, and Shane’s finger was trembling on the trigger, and it was Nassau PD out there, a different radio frequency, a frequency she couldn’t reach —
A shot, and then a second shot, the sounds reverberating against each other, her face burning, hot, a searing pain in her leg —
Carisi shouting a thousand curses at Nassau PD —
Carisi: “Yeah, I got it tied off, looks like it might have stopped.”
Hazy light, muted sounds for a few minutes. Carisi again: “Lieu, paramedics have got to strategize a way to get you down without the bullet moving, I’ve been sending them pictures of your leg, okay? They said it doesn’t look like an artery, so that buys them some time to figure it out. Stay with me, Lieu, stay with me.”
“Noah,” she whimpered.
“I’m going to teach him how to make dinner for you while you recover.”
“I could make pasta e fagioli before I was four.”
“No you couldn’t.”
“Liar.” She smiled and felt the tears hot on her cheeks, then heard noises below. “What’s happening?”
“They’re working on getting you out safely.”
“Because,” she said, swallowing hard, “otherwise the bullet or a piece of it could go straight to my lungs, or my heart.”
“Don’t think about that.”
“Noah,” she said again.
“Think of Noah.”
“Carisi.” She squeezed the detective’s hand. “I have a will that says Noah is to go to Rollins.”
“Don’t worry about that now.”
“I have to,” she insisted. “Rollins signed off on it. When I’m in the hospital, when I’m in surgery, if they get me the hell out of here, you need to call Trevor Langan and make sure the Porters, if there are any ones out there we didn’t find, can’t file for custody. Can you do that for me?”
“You’re going to be fine, but, yes.”
A wave of pain crashed into her leg, hard. How stupid had she been to climb a ladder into a room where there was unlikely to be any other exit? No, of course she wasn’t stupid, she’d realized beforehand that if they asked Shane’s parents to have him come down to the house, they’d tell him to run. She remembered something Barba had told her after Noah had been kidnapped and returned to her, when he’d come to visit them at home: “You can’t beat yourself up for thinking your instincts are wrong. Sometimes their instincts are bad.”
Rafa. She could see his face before the trial, that night when they met with Dworkin at Forlini’s, when Barba’s eyes were red, his hair suddenly dappled white, his forehead wrinkled, the horror of being tried for murder over an act that might have been pled out with probation.
The night before the verdict came in, she’d walked him home. Outside his building, she’d squeezed his hand, a small gesture of support. His hands were cold. He was scared.
She remembered how he tried to hide how scared he was.
She remembered how he clung to her in his lobby, how she invited him to stay at her place so he didn’t have to be alone that night, how he turned down the offer and asked how she’d explain it to Noah if he went to jail.
“We got you, we got you,” she heard Carisi say. She was upside down, maybe. She couldn’t orient herself.
“Noah,” she said when they were in the ambulance. Tears set her eyes and the space beneath them on fire.
“It’s all right,” Carisi said. “Lucy’s with him, I called her after they got you down. You’re all right.”
The paramedic said something about surgery to remove the bullet, something about her brain, her lungs, her heart, something about fragments. “You need me to call anybody else?” Carisi asked.
In the last eight, ten years, her world had narrowed considerably. There was no one else. Her world had narrowed, too much, and if she didn’t make it, all Noah had was the SVU’s senior squad, maybe Lucy, and the defense attorney who’d promised to look out for his interests.
“I don’t have anybody else,” she admitted to Carisi, stripped bare of all her pretensions. “I have Noah.”
“You’ll pull through for him,” Carisi promised. “And for me, and Amanda, and Fin, and — if you need more people, I’ve got a load of Carisis I can lend you.”
She forced a smile. “Shane,” she said. “What happened to Shane.”
“Dead at the scene.”
“We needed him tried. We needed to be able to make — to make — legal precedent.”
“Yeah. PD didn’t know how to do it any other way. They brought in a hostage negotiator but Shane wasn’t interested.”
“We’ve got work to do in family court, still,” she said. “Emily will go right back to the parents who got her into this situation,”
“Hard to do anything about it since she’s over 18.”
“Worst part is, she could live on her own if she had a support program, a social worker, and parents who didn’t lie to her.”
“I’ll work on it,” he said. “I’ve got a friend in family court. I’ll see what I can do.”
Benson squeezed his hand. “Thank you.”
Barba hadn’t worked in a courtroom in almost a year. The sharp-tongued prosecutor who got witnesses to confess on the stand, the uniquely focused ADA who’d spent days in front of a grand jury taking down a major airline, was gone, replaced by a man who, after being tried for murder on account of the misguided decision to interfere in a family’s right-to-die case in a manner that went way beyond his scope of practice as a lawyer, panicked whenever he had to set foot in a courtroom.
For the past ten months, he’d been working as an associate at a firm that handled family law in Suffolk County. New York was the only state in which he was licensed to practice law, so he’d have had to either remain jobless for months while he waited to take, and pass, the Bar exam in another state, or work here, out in the Atlantic Ocean, to get away from Manhattan SVU, to get away from what his six-year stint there had turned him into.
He pushed papers. He met with families. He advocated for them in offices, in boardrooms, in judges’ chambers. That didn’t bother him, that didn’t get to him any more than it used to. When a tough case made him ball his hands up into fists, he fought harder, made sure the children involved were protected. But when a case went to trial, or when there were hearings or procedures that took place in a courtroom, he passed those duties on to a colleague.
He tried, twice.
The first time, he (barely) made it though a short hearing, holding himself together by threads. His heart raced. The hairs on his arms stood up. He was unreasonably warm, his throat dry, his tonsils threatening to obstruct his breathing, his stomach dropping repeatedly to his knees. He held it together, by threads, slowly shredding threads, so the arbitartor and opposing counsel couldn’t tell that he couldn’t get Stone’s do you feel guilty, the do you feel guilty that sounded like a condemnation to hell, out of his head. He held it together until he threw up in a courthouse bathroom stall, beads of sweat sliding across his forehead, his body shaking.
He didn’t fare much better the second time. After he argued on behalf of his client, everyone else clueless as to the horror running cold in his veins, he was sick to his stomach for days.
His firm had helped emancipate Rachel Waller, and was working with Rachel and her aunt to get Emily Waller’s marriage to Shane Firsey annuled. Barba knew that if he could have put himself back together and walked confidently into a courtroom like he used to, he could have stopped the marriage from taking place.
He’d been fighting with DAs in Washington and Oregon to get old records unsealed. In the newer records, the ones from New York County, he saw familiar names: Det. Amanda Rollins, Lt. Olivia Benson, NYPD.
Liv was trying to get those records unsealed too.
They were working the same case, and she had no idea.
He’d been the one who’d sent Rachel to see her.
“Rafael, you in there?” His colleague Alicia, who’d been going to court in his place, knocked on his half-open office door. It was after 2, and he was eating lunch at his desk. If he couldn’t be Rafael Barba in a courtroom anymore, he was at least going to be Rafael Barba everywhere else.
“Still here,” he asnwered.
“So.” She came into the office and shut the door behind her. “Shane Firsey is dead.”
Barba looked up. “Okay, this removes one step from the process of getting Emily out of the Firseys’ house and away from her parents. What happened?”
“There was a third incident in Manhattan, and when they went to arrest him, Shane pointed a gun at a police lieutenant.”
Barba’s face fell.
“This was NYPD?” He tried to hide the alarm in his voice. “What happened with the lieutenant?”
Alicia looked at her phone. “Nassau PD took a shot at Shane through the garage window, he might have had his finger on the trigger, shot Lieutenant Benson of NYPD in the leg. You know how he lives up in that room over the garage? Of course you do, you’re the one who reported it to the fire department, I heard. Paramedics couldn’t figure out how to get her out of there.”
“Any word on her status?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “The, the lieutenant.”
She sat in the chair in front of his desk. “You worked with her?”
“There was a press conference ten minutes ago. She’s in emergency surgery. I’ll have Laura file a motion and —” Alicia cut herself off and searched Barba’s face. “And find out what hospital she’s in.”
“They usually take them to Mercy. I can find out myself. Have Laura take care of those motions.”
He tried Carisi, Rollins, and Fin, whose numbers he still had stored in his phone, as much as he’d wished for a clean break from his six years with Manhattan SVU. No one picked up. Finally, after ten minutes, Carisi called him back.
“Carisi,” the detective answered, as if he didn’t recognize the number on the other end.
Barba breathed in sharply. “How is she?”
“Yes. Rachel Waller is one of my clients. I heard Liv was shot when she went to arrest Firsey.”
“She’s been in surgery the last two hours, no word yet. I’m in the third floor waiting room at Mercy, the 34th Street entrance.”
“All right. Will they let me in if I come down?”
“Lots of NYPD around, but I’ll vouch for you.”
Barba locked his office and hurried downstairs to catch the Long Island Railroad, hoping there would be good news when he arrived at Mercy.