“I think I like this one more each time I see it,” Rafael said, leaning back, hand on his chin, admiring the painting in front of them. “Remember we found a print at that flea market last year? Now I’m regretting not getting it.”
He wasn’t sure when or how he’d become this person, part of a couple who not only attended flea markets, but easily recounted items found there, but he chose not to spend too much time thinking on it.
“You can probably find one online if you really want it,” Sonny suggested, trying as he might to make sense of the odd shapes and random pops of color. He enjoyed the Met, he really did, but each time they visited, he understood less and less the appeal of modern art.
Rafael only hummed in response, as if a print purchased online couldn’t possibly match the character of an equally fake duplication found at a flea market in Brooklyn, before moving on to the next painting.
Sonny trailed along, watching as Rafael took in each piece of art. He might not get, or even appreciate, these works, but he did love watching Rafael appreciate them. He always supplied thoughtful comments and found emotion where Sonny only saw splatters of paint.
They’d just made their way into the final room of the wing when Sonny’s phone rang, garnering dirty looks from the other patrons in the room, including his husband. “Sorry,” he mumbled, pulling the phone from his pocket and stepping into the small walkway between the modern art and European sculpture wings.
Rafael frowned as he ducked out, knowing it must be work if he was actually taking the call. So much for their Saturday.
He knew he was right the second Sonny returned, an apologetic look already fixed across his features. “You have to go.”
Sonny nodded. “Yeah, sorry.”
“If only New York’s criminals kept business hours,” Rafael sighed. He’d known it was a bad idea to make plans on a Saturday when Sonny was on call.
“Hey, at least you got to see some of your stuff. We didn’t even make it to the weapons wing yet.”
Rafael rolled his eyes. “All of this priceless art and all you care about are some old guns.”
“Hey, there are swords, too,” he argued with a grin. “Look, why don’t you stay? Enjoy the rest of the museum. I’ll come back up and meet you for dinner if I can.”
“It’s boring alone.” It was a pout, plain and simple, but Sonny knew he’d be met with a categorical denial if he’d dare to point it out.
“I’m sorry,” he said instead.
“I know.” Rafael kissed him, quick and chaste. “Go.”
Sonny squeezed his hand, kissing him one more time. “I’ll be as quick as I can. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Be safe.”
Sonny nodded, assuring him that he would be, and disappeared into the museum. Rafael sighed again, debating whether or not he wanted to stay or go, but finally shrugged to himself before moving on into the next wing.
A cab was his fastest route across the park and he made good time, stepping onto the sidewalk less than twenty minutes after he’d received the call. He would have made better time if he hadn’t gotten turned around inside the museum. The place was a maze and no matter how many times he went, he always got lost. He would be sure to never tell Rafael, who practically knew the place like the back of his hand.
There was only one squad car parked out in front of the building—a nondescript walk up in a part of town that realtors would tout as being on the Upper West Side, but was actually Morningside Heights—and Sonny’s brow furrowed. Usually the scenes they were called to were a lot more hectic.
He was contemplating calling dispatch and double checking that he was supposed to be there when Rollins pulled the Interceptor up to the curb, parking behind the squad car.
“Didn’t expect you here this fast,” he said when she climbed down out of the SUV. He knew Amanda loved her weekend one on one time with Jesse and had figured it would take her some time to secure a sitter.
“I dropped Jesse at Liv’s. Luckily her place was on the way,” she explained, joining him on the sidewalk. “Just another thing to add to the long list of grievances she’s going to give her therapist someday.”
“Aw, come on, Amanda. You’re a good mom.”
She only tossed him a look, one that clearly said she didn’t believe him, before nodding to the squad car and putting voice to his thoughts. “Seems pretty calm. You get any details?”
He shook his head. “Just that it was a 10-52.”
She looked at him, confused. “They called us in for that?” The irritation bled through in her voice.
Sonny just shrugged, holding open the door for her to pass through in front of him. “I’m sure there was a reason.”
With little air flow and summer trying its best to hold on even though they were well into September, the heat in the building was oppressive as they began their climb up the narrow staircase. “Why’s it always a walk up?” Rollins complained, things that normally wouldn’t bother her only added to her annoyance today.
Sonny used the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow when they finally reached the the fourth floor landing.
They were almost to 4F when the door flew open and a uniformed officer shoved a handcuffed man through it. He was fairly young, probably early thirties if Sonny had to guess, handsome by conventional standards, and about a foot taller than the officer, and quite reluctant to be pushed down the hallway, but the officer didn’t seem fazed.
“You SVU?” she asked, keeping her grip tight on the man’s elbow, glancing at Rollins and then looking more skeptically at Sonny. He suddenly felt self conscious in his dark jeans and navy, short sleeved button up. Luckily he’d tucked his badge in his back pocket, just in case, when they’d gone to the museum, so he had it clipped now to the waistband of his pants.
It was the only thing that kept him from feeling like he’d showed up naked to class.
“That’s us,” Rollins, who’d been at home and at least had time to throw on a blazer over her plain white t-shirt, answered.
“My partner’s inside with the victim,” Officer Ramirez—according to her nametag— nodded toward the door that was still adjar.
“Victim,” the suspect, having stewed silently up until now, spat. “She’s no victim. Just ask her. I—”
“This one was giving us trouble,” she continued as the man continued to rant. All three of them paid him no attention. “So we’re going to let him chill in the back of the squad car while we wrap things up.”
Sonny thought about offering her a hand, but she seemed to have it under control, so he just thanked her and pushed open the door to the apartment.
The place was small with one open room looking to serve as the living room and kitchen, but it was tidy and smelled of something floral. Family photos adorned the walls and a child’s drawings hung on the fridge. It had all the makings of a happy home, all except for the frightened woman and child who sat on the couch.
The woman was thin, almost frail, and she had her arm wrapped protectively around a boy who couldn’t be older than ten. She looked nothing like the woman who smiled out from the frames on the walls. The right side of her face was already darkening to a deep shade of purple and blood dried at the split in her bottom lip.
Sonny’s jaw clenched when he saw the distinctive finger marks on her throat. The husband had certainly done a number on her.
An officer who looked barely old enough to be out of high school, let alone the academy, stood in the center of the room, notebook and pen in hand. “Excuse me just a second,” he said softly to the victim when he spotted the detectives. He gave them a pointed look and nodded toward the hallway. Rollins and Sonny followed him out.
“Officer Howard,” he said by way of introduction. “You guys SVU?”
“Detectives Rollins and Carisi,” Amanda said, gesturing first to herself and then toward Sonny. “But we don’t usually get called in on a straightforward DV.”
“I know, but it was the kid who called it in. Seems like he witnessed the whole thing,” Howard grimaced, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, flushed pink from the heat, and Sonny wondered if it was his first time dealing with abuse victims. “Figured if he’s doing that to the wife, he might be hurting the kid too. You all have more experience there, so we figured we’d play it safe.”
Sonny nodded. “Okay, so, give us the rundown.”
“Melissa and Bill Campbell, kid’s name is Luke, ten years old.” He was still holding his notebook, but didn’t need it to rattle off the details. “The wife isn’t saying much, but as you can see, her face is telling the story. Luke called 9-1-1, told the dispatcher his dad was killing his mom.” His voice shook a little at that, but he powered on. “We were just down the block, so we got here pretty fast. We heard him screaming at her through the door, but as soon as we knocked it stopped and he answered, all calm and collected, pretended there was nothing wrong.”
Howard sneered in the direction of the apartment even though Bill Campbell was no longer inside. “Real piece of work, that guy.”
“They usually are,” Rollins commented with no lack of disdain.
“Do us a favor, drop the husband at the 16th, would you? We’ll talk to the wife and kid,” Sonny offered. If they were getting stuck with this, he’d rather just take over now.
Officer Howard looked relieved. “Sure thing.”
With Howard off to meet his partner at their squad car so they could transport Campbell, Sonny and Amanda reentered the apartment. Mrs. Campbell and Luke hadn’t moved, only now she was running her fingers reassuringly through Luke’s short, ash blond hair, murmuring something they couldn’t quite make out.
Sonny let Amanda approach first, knowing from experience that abuse victims tended to be more comfortable with female officers.
All of Amanda’s earlier irritation was tucked away and she spoke softly. “Mrs. Campbell? I’m Detective Rollins and this is Detective Carisi.” She eyed Melissa’s quickly darkening bruises. “Would you like us to get you some medical attention? Or at least some ice?”
She shook her head, wincing at the effort. “No, I told those other officers that I’m fine. This is all just a big misunderstanding. Billy, he…” Melissa glanced down at Luke who was listening to every word.
“Hey, Luke, why don’t you show me your room?” Sonny asked jovially.
Luke looked up at his mom, who nodded. “Go ahead.”
After one last concerned look at his mother, Luke slid off of the couch and led Sonny down the short hallway toward his room.
“Seems like a good kid,” Rollins said, sitting down in the spot that Luke had vacated.
“I know this is hard,” Amanda began gently. “But can you tell me what happened?”
“Nothing, I—Billy just has a short temper, that’s all. It’s not a big deal, really. Can you please just have those officers bring him back?” She’d been staring at her hands in her lap, her fingers twisting together nervously, but now she looked up at Rollins, her eyes desperate.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. We’re required by law to arrest someone if we get a domestic violence call.”
Melissa’s good eye, the one that wasn’t bruised over and beginning to swell, widened. “Domestic violence? No, no. That’s not what this—no. He’s not—we’re not—like that.”
“Okay,” Amanda said slowly, realizing her mistake. “What is he like?”
Down the hall, in a room barely big enough to fit the twin bed and the dresser that filled it, Luke was showing Sonny several ships, superheroes, dinosaurs, and other figures built from Legos. Each one was placed equidistant from the other on a set of shelves that hung on the wall.
“You built all these yourself?” Sonny was impressed. His parents had bought him a few of the sets when he was a kid, but Sonny had never had the patience to actually turn them into what they were meant to be. Bricks that were supposed to become the Millenium Falcon were simply used for whatever quick, random creations he could come up with until he grew bored and dumped them into the bin that held all of the other sets that had never reached their full potential.
Luke just nodded, adjusting a model of a helicopter so that it sat straight on the shelf.
“It was pretty brave of you to call 9-1-1,” Sonny started off carefully.
The boy didn’t say anything, continuing to straighten Lego models that already looked perfectly straight to Sonny.
“I know it’s hard to talk about,” Sonny tried again, “but we just want to help you and your mom. That’s why you called us, right? So we could help?”
Luke nodded again, his hand resting on a model of a t-rex.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
He didn’t answer at first and Sonny could almost see his brain working to decide if he could trust him or not. “I missed one,” he said finally.
“What did you miss?”
Luke gestured to the pile of Legos on his floor and what looked to be the beginnings of a pirate ship. “If I’m good mom lets me watch TV while I build, but then football came on. He stepped on a Lego and got really mad and then—” His voice trembled and Sonny’s heart wrenched as tears welled in his dark brown eyes.
“Your mom tried to stop him?” he guessed. He’d seen it before.
Luke just nodded, chin still trembling as he fought back tears. Sonny had a feeling that Bill Campbell didn’t react too well whenever his boy cried.
“It’s okay,” Sonny told him, placing a gentle hand on the kid’s shoulder. Luke flinched at first and Sonny nearly pulled away, but then Luke relaxed under his hand. “You didn’t do anything wrong, okay?”
“But if I didn’t—”
“No matter what you did, no one should hit you or your mom.” Sonny tried to keep his tone gentle even though he felt his own rage bubbling within him. “Okay?”
This time Luke nodded and a few tears spilled down over his cheeks.
“Want me to take you back to your mom?” Sonny hoped he’d given Rollins enough time. Luke nodded again, more vigorously this time. “C’mon.”
When they went back to the living room, Rollins was on the couch with Mrs. Campbell, a gentle hand on her knee. Sonny was happy to see that Melissa was holding a bag of frozen peas to her cheek. At least that was something.
She dropped the bag to her lap when she saw Luke and Sonny, holding her arms out when she noted Luke’s distress. The boy ran to her, pressing up against her and wrapping his arms around her neck. Sonny watched as Melissa winced in pain, but didn’t pull back, instead wrapping her arms around Luke as well.
“I think we have enough for now,” Rollins said, giving Sonny a look as she stood from the couch. She dug in her pocket. “But here’s my card if you have any questions or anything.” Mrs. Campbell released one arm from around Luke to take the card.
“Actually,” Sonny started tentatively. He knew this wasn’t going to go over well, but it was necessary. “Would it be okay if I take some pictures? For the file.”
“Do you have to?” Melissa asked over Luke’s shoulder, eyeing Sonny’s phone as if it were a weapon.
“It would really help,” Rollins told her.
She looked like she wanted to say no, but this was not a woman who was used to standing up for herself, especially not with a male authority figure, and Sonny felt like an asshole for being another man who she was too afraid to go up against.
She finally nodded. “Okay.”
Sonny did his best to be quick and as noninvasive as possible, but Melissa still flinched each time the camera sound effect rang out in the quiet room. When he was sure he’d gotten every angle, he pocketed his phone with a murmured, “Thank you.”
“You sure you’re going to be okay?” Rollins asked. “Do you have any family we can call? Or we could help you get into a shelter.”
Melissa shook her head. “No. My family, they’re in Milwaukee, and I need to be here when Billy gets home. I have to make dinner.”
Rollins glanced at Sonny and her eyes said it all. Melissa Campbell was in no way ready to leave her husband. Sonny only hoped that they’d be able to keep him in jail so that she wouldn’t have to.
“Well, you have my card. Please call us if you need anything.”
Melissa nodded, pulling Luke to her again as Sonny and Amanda headed for the door.
They both let out a breath as soon as they were on the sidewalk, like it was a relief just to be outside of the building, away from the pain and terror contained within its walls.
“Think she’ll come around?” Sonny asked, climbing into the passenger seat as Rollins slid behind the wheel.
“Honestly?” She looked over at him, face grim. “No.”