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Unlikely

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In late February, Daniel Zadon, a 39-year-old bookkeeper at a private school in Manhattan, was ROR’ed on charges of sexual assault of a minor. Daniel never should have been working at a school in the first place: there was a 25-year history of similar charges against him in Florida and New York. Stone, who was a very good homicide prosecutor, was unable to get bail, and could not convince the judge to require Daniel to surrender his passport. The next day, Daniel disappeared. NYPD, and later the feds, were unable to locate him.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Benson had said when Stone approached her at Forlini’s a few nights later. Go the fuck back to Chicago and take Jack McCoy with you, was what she held back.

Carisi was looking into Daniel’s uncle Will, a corporate lawyer who had, according to several acquaintances, taken Daniel in after his mother died, when he was only 10 years old. Will Zadon, they said, was more fiercely loyal to Daniel than any of his five children, presumably because of the promises Will had made to his sister.

Twelve years ago, Will’s daughter Dara, backed by her brother Geoff, alleged that Daniel had molested her on several occasions throughout her childhood, but when they told Will, Will immediately argued that Daniel had emotional problems on account of his early family life and needed to be protected. Will’s daughters quickly learned that they were less worthy of his protection than his beloved Daniel, and Daniel continued to live with them.

Dara and Geoff Zadon’s amounted to nothing. The cops and lawyers in Miami and points north told them that the statute of limitations was up. A month later, Will moved himself, his wife, his two minor children, and Daniel up to New York City.

All the charges and complaints against Daniel in Florida were dropped or withdrawn, and sealed.

“He never should have been working at a school,” an agitated Carisi told Benson. “But the background checks would have turned up nothing, thanks to the uncle and his connections.”

The kicker: three months after the rest of the Zadons moved to New York, 23-year-old Geoff was shot in an alley behind a Tallahassee bar. He’d gone out for a smoke and had been killed when a robbery went wrong, the detectives declared. “Bullshit,” Carisi said when he read about the case.

One detective in Tallahassee was convinced that Will had ordered a hit on Geoff, but she could never prove her theory, especially after the perp was arrested and confessed to killing Geoff in the process of robbing him.

“Why would anyone want to rob a law student?” Carisi asked. “Twelve years ago, 2006, even then, nobody who was a student carried lots of cash on them.”

Benson had never seen Carisi so frustrated by a case. “It’s out of our hands now,” she said, “unless the feds find Daniel.”

“Yeah, right. Our buddy Stone couldn’t even get the judge to take Daniel’s passport. Where do you think he went, Massapequa?”

“I know we’ve all had a rough time lately —”

“McCoy couldn’t have given us an experienced special victims prosecutor who gets that in special victims cases, families are sometimes completely off on where their priorities are supposed to be? I saw this coming a mile away.”

“We are all —”

“The thing with Barba, though, that I never saw coming.” He paused to look down at Benson, who was signing papers spread across her desk, her left hand shut tight, knocking absentmindedly against her desk calendar. “Sorry, Lieutenant, look at me, pouring salt on an open wound.”

“It’s all right.” She stood from behind her desk and walked over to the window, gazing into the empty interrogation room. “He’s in Miami.”

“Who, Zadon?”

“Barba.”

“You heard from him?”

“He’s staying with friends there until he pulls it together.”

“Good, good — did you —” He bit his lower lip. “None of my business.”

“He texted me and I didn’t answer.”

“I mean, look, Barba helped me through a lot after Dodds died, when I blamed myself for not going on that call. I had lots of experience with DV unlawful imprisonment back on Staten Island, but anyway, look, I can’t say what came over him, what made him —”

“Let’s not worry about Barba. Let’s worry about McCoy finding us a new prosecutor.”

“Agreed,” Carisi said. “You want to know what else I found out about the Zadon family?”

“Will it help the case?”

“It could. There’s one person who knows more about what happened to Geoff that night at the bar — his girlfriend at the time, also a law student at FSU. She gave a statement to PD, but all that’s sealed.”

“You’re stepping on Florida’s toes,” Benson warned. “Watch it. Drop it, in fact, until Daniel is found.”

“The girlfriend, Laura, married Geoff’s twin brother Joseph a year after she graduated law school.”

“That’s … that’s incredibly strange, but to each her own, and what does it have to do with our case?”

“There’s a clause in Laura and Joseph’s divorce agreement that says she’s not allowed to talk to the press, law enforcement, or any attorneys about the Zadon family.”

“And how do you know what’s in a private divorce agreement?”

“Fordham. I’ve got people.”

“Tread lightly,” she said. “So lightly you don’t leave footprints.”

With a dopey smile, Carisi tiptoed out of Benson’s office.

Two weeks later, when a bitter winter chill had still not left New York City even as spring approached, Carisi stood outside the 16th Precinct station, studying a row of pastries through a coffee cart window, when his mobile phone started to buzz in his pocket. He answered the phone and, when he turned around, found himself facing Benson, who came down to the cart most mornings for something better than the muddy coffee always on in the squadroom.

“What’s up?” she asked when Carisi shoved his phone back in his pocket.

“Will Zadon’s body was found near a dumpster by the Staten Island Ferry terminal this morning.”

Benson’s eyes grew wide. “Just like his son was found near a dumpster behind a bar twelve years ago?”

“That’s why the detective called me. Could be one of Daniel’s victims, or their parents, out for revenge. Can I take Rollins with me?”

“She and Fin are headed to a meeting with Stone. I’ll tag along. Let me run back upstairs and get my stuff.”

When they arrived at the ferry terminal, Benson was startled to see traffic cordoned off in a six-block arc around the southern tip of Manhattan, with FBI and Homeland Security spread out as far as Battery Park. “What’s your business here?” one of the Homeland Security officers asked Benson and Carisi.

“Lieutenant Olivia Benson, Special Victims Unit. My squad was investigating Daniel Zadon and, since Daniel’s disappearance, Will.”

“Right, right, the body from this morning. We had to clear out NYPD from here ten minutes ago. We’re trying to leave your crime scene undisturbed, but right now we’ve got bigger problems. You heard of the guy who’s been stealing New Jersey commuter ferries since 1975? He just stole the Staten Island Ferry.”

“But our crime scene —” Benson started to say.

“Like I said, ma’am, we’ll try our best to preserve it.”

“Are there passengers on the ferry?” Carisi asked.

“No. He only steals ‘em empty. Historically returns them a couple days later, but this is a 5-story, 2800-ton ferry that he’s already gotten out to the Atlantic Ocean. You guys aren’t getting to your crime scene before sunset.”

“Shit,” Carisi said.

“Come on,” Benson offered, “I’ll buy you a donut while I share this news with Captain Dodds.”

The Homeland Security officer caught up with them as they started to walk away. “Hey, uh, Lieutenant — my guys just found another body.”

“I’m never eating breakfast,” Carisi complained.

The officer waved them through. “Floater,” he told them, turning his head from the body. “You recognize her? Any relation to your case?”

“No,” Benson said, “but we need to get CSU and the ME down here right now.”

“We can’t allow that until —”

“With the body drying here on the dock, the ME’s not going to be able to determine a time of death. Carisi, call Lieutenant Bernard, he handles homicides in this precinct.”

In the afternoon, Carisi, who’d finally acquired a breakfast pastry for himself, interviewed Cordelia Zadon, Will’s wife, who furiously defended Will and Daniel. “You bring me down here like this, a widow, I have to plan my husband’s funeral and you have me at a police station. You have no soul.”

“What about your son Joseph?” Carisi asked. “You know where he is?”

“In Miami,” she said sharply. “How dare you.”

“How did Joseph feel about Will back when Geoff was murdered?”

“How dare you,” she repeated. “Joseph grieved for his brother, he was depressed and miserable after Geoff was killed — by a mugger, mind you, there’s a man in jail who confessed to everything in front of a judge — but what got to him even more was when the police questioned Will, as if Will would ever do anything like that to his own kids. He was the most protective father you’ll ever meet.”

“And your three daughters?”

“Dara’s in Florida. Molly lives with me, she was with me all night, and Hallie lives in Jersey. My kids had nothing to do with Will’s murder.”

“Even Dara, who accused —”

“I’m calling my lawyer. There are court orders that say that you do not get to ask about those “accusations,” which had to do with Geoff getting in over his head with people in law school who put funny ideas in his head. You do not get to ask about the lies he and Dara tried to tell.”

“Mrs. Zadon —”

“Enough,” she interrupted. “Will knew every judge in this county. I’ll have your badge, swear to God, if you violate any of the court orders.”

By six, the feds had taken over the Zadon case entirely. Two states and a missing perp who had probably left the US altogether meant the case was out of Manhattan SVU’s hands.

Ordinarily, Benson would have fought the feds (and Dodds) on jurisdiction. Daniel was theirs to bring to justice. Benson wanted to see him convicted on behalf of his prior victims, too, the ones who had been swept under the rug in Will’s overzealous defense of his nephew. But, between Noah’s kidnapping, Barba’s trial and departure, and being forced to make a life-or-death decision on behalf of a child waiting for a heart transplant, the first three months of the year had left her exhausted.

The other body, the floater, was identified a few days later as Amy Rankin, a 26-year-old with a history of Internet fraud and privacy violations. She’d been missing for six months, but, according to the ME, dead for less than a week when they’d found her. She might have jumped or been pushed off the Brooklyn Bridge, according to CSU’s analysis of river currents. No signs of sexual assault. She was homicide’s case and had nothing to do with SVU.

Until, that is, Laura Perez called SVU and asked for Benson.

She introduced herself as an associate on the team who’d represented Amy Rankin in her fraud cases. “They sent you to me?” Benson asked. “My detective and I happened to be on the scene when Homeland Security found her. Have you spoken to Lieutenant Bernard?”

“Yes.”

“And he sent you to me?”

“I wanted to make sure NYPD had the correct timeline.”

“Our MEs are the best. I’m sure you’re fine, Ms. Perez.”

Benson sucked in a sharp breath when it dawned on her that the attorney she was speaking to shared a name with the girlfriend who had been with Geoff Zadon when he was killed in 2006. A Laura Perez — surely a common name, but still — had called 911 after finding Geoff shot dead in the alley. She’d supported Geoff and Dara in their accusations against Daniel. A Laura Perez had married Geoff’s twin brother Joseph three years after the murder.

This Laura Perez was a defense attorney in Miami.

A quick Internet search on Benson’s end turned up the name “Laura Perez Zadon” associated with the same firm. She’d dropped the “Zadon” almost three years ago.

Laura and Joseph’s divorce agreement allegedly kept her from discussing the Zadons. In what happened to Geoff, she must have seen Will Zadon’s fury, what he was willing to do to protect Daniel. Maybe Laura hadn’t recognized that fury until it was too late, until she’d already married Joseph.

Maybe, Benson wondered in the pit of her seasoned detective gut, Laura wanted to say something about the Zadons but her tongue was tied by their legal (and other) threats.

“Ms. Perez? You know I’m working the Zadon case, well, if it comes back from the feds, so —”

She heard a gasp, a serious gasp for air, on the other end.

“I — did — not —” Laura stammered.

A pause. A long one. Benson waited.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I am not permitted to talk about that family per the conditions of my divorce, and I’ll ask you to please understand that any sort of communication we had about them just now was unintended.” Her voice was flatter, more matter-of-fact now. “I was contacted by a federal investigator, I provided an alibi, and have been cleared as a suspect in the case that we are not discussing.”

So Laura really had been calling about her client.

Of all the bizarre —

“I spoke to Captain Walker with homicide in Brooklyn,” Laura continued, “and he suggested I update you on who Amy Rankin is, because she was the product of an extramarital affair. Her father was Neil Tiposi.”

“What?”

“Captain Walker suggested that since you had provided some critical evidence in the Mira Margolis case —”

Benson stopped listening. Captain Walker would never “suggest” that someone talk to her about Mira Margolis; he and his team had always seen Benson as an annoyance, a meddling friend distracting them from their task at hand, even after Paul’s conviction was overturned. Benson and Walker did not like each other. Laura was lying.

But, having heard the utter panic in Laura’s voice when Benson mentioned the Zadons, she decided to leave it alone.

Laura filled Benson in on Amy’s story.

“I’ll tell Lieutenant Bernard downtown that he should seriously consider homicide here.”

“Thank you. And —”

“I’m not sure this will have any effect on the cold case, but I appreciate you bringing this to me.”

Laura Perez was at the nexus of three unsolved cases that concerned Benson: the Zadons, Amy Rankin, and Mira Margolis.

Miami.

The thought struck her as she rode the subway home that evening: Laura had called to tell her about the Amy Rankin-Mira Margolis connection not because of Captain Walker, who’d have never disclosed the connection between Margolis and Benson, but because of —

Maybe —

Barba.

Her stomach soured a little.

Laura was a defense attorney in Miami, a large, impossibly sprawly city. It was very, very, very unlikely that she and Barba knew each other — wasn’t it?

(It was also very unlikely that Laura had been both Amy Rankin’s defense counsel and Joseph Zadon’s ex-wife, but there they were.)

Why had Barba betrayed something she’d told him in confidence — Mira’s darkest secret — to a 30-something defense attorney?

Well.

Benson clenched her teeth and tried to let the metallic squeaking of the subway drown out the possibilities that were crossing her mind.

That wasn’t like Barba, though, to hook up with a younger woman defense attorney and spill someone else’s confidences, no matter how much they might help her case along.

Then again, flipping the switch on an infant with whom he had no familial connections wasn’t like Barba either.

Neither was leaving her the way he did.

She remembered the young ADA she’d met in 1999, the trouble that refused to leave his eyes, the balled-up hand in his pocket, the cigarette breath, the fear, the resignation that he’d been forced to carry too much on his shoulders.

If he’d found some comfort there in Miami, some escape, then good, she convinced herself. She imagined he’d find a job there too.

At night, she finally responded to his text from four weeks earlier:

I love you too. I’m sorry I called you that night when I knew you were the worst person to call on a right-to-die case. I hope you can forgive me.

Not your fault, he texted back seconds later. I shouldn’t have walked away.

Dear Rafa, she wrote, nothing changes except what has to.