“Hallmark movies,” Rollins grumbled, scrolling through a site on her smartphone with one hand as she held open Benson’s office door with the other.
“They’re not bad for what Lucy calls “hate-watching”,” Benson commented, a smile spreading across her face. “What’s up?”
Rollins closed the door behind her. “I try to stay off Facebook, being a detective with a kid and all, but ever since Al told his family about me at Thanksgiving, I’ve been getting friend requests from all of them, down to his teenage nieces and nephews. Now Facebook thinks I have a big family and all of a sudden I’m seeing ads for Hallmark Christmas movies. They think I’m part of his family. I’ve got to delete this account.”
“Amanda,” Benson said, “maybe you’re seeing the ads because it’s December, and everybody sees those ads in December.”
“Maybe.” Rollins lowered herself into one of the chairs in front of Benson’s desk, slumping a bit. “I’m up all night with leg cramps. I can’t wait to get this baby out next month.”
“Next month? I thought you weren’t due until spring.”
“No, I’m having a planned C-section at 38 weeks, second week of January.”
“I could have sworn you told me you got pregnant around the Fourth of July.”
“Weird,” Rollins said, wrinkling her forehead. “Time is weird sometimes.”
“Tell me about it. There are mornings I look at Noah and get this uncanny sense that he’s two years older than he should be.” Benson shook her head, echoing Rollins’ sentiment with another “weird.”
“We’re “career women”,” Rollins said, turning her phone so Benson could see the screen. “Tonight’s movie, tomorrow’s too, says we’re in big trouble.”
“Watch out for small towns and Santa Clauses.”
Rollins shrugged.”I’ll be all right. I’m just a little worried that Al’s planning an unnecessarily elaborate marriage proposal.”
“Unnecessarily elaborate marriage proposal,” Benson repeated.
“But … nobody does that in real life, right?”
“No, of course not.”
Rollins took a breath. “I should probably talk to him, anyway, work our situation out before the baby’s born.”
“Yes,” Benson said, folding her hands on top of her desk calendar. “That’s a good idea.”
She walked Rollins back out to the squadroom, which had been fairly quiet since they’d wrapped their case with the Edelman brothers. So quiet, in fact, that Fin and a few of the officers were gathered around an open laptop by the conference table, watching a local news story about a pig that had apparently escaped from a farm upstate and somehow made her way down the Hudson Valley to Central Park. The parks department didn’t want to touch Delacorte the Pig — who’d been named for the location where she generally plodded — unless a farm claimed her. The reporter talked about how Delacorte was of no danger to children or dogs in the park and couldn’t contract diseases from most other animals.
As a rare Tamworth pig, the reporter said, someone must have been looking for her. She was what was known as a “good bacon pig.”
Although the situation was objectively not that funny, the officers were laughing, and Benson couldn’t help cracking a smile herself. “Where’s Carisi?” she asked. “I thought he was working a swing shift.”
“I sent him to urgent care,” Fin said. “A bookcase fell on him last week, and he’s been on his feet since then. I said I can’t have him out in the field with broken ribs.”
“Yeah,” Rollins said, “he says he’s fine and then you see him bite his lip in pain. I know they can’t do anything for broken ribs, but you’re right, the guy can’t be out in the field if he’s waddling more than I am.” She laughed, half to herself. “If he gets stuck on desk duty, though, make sure you show him this pig story to cheer him up.”
“I,” Benson said, patting Rollins’ back, “have paperwork to do, and so do all of you, so let’s put the bacon pig away for now and get to it.”
Back in her office, Benson shut the door and the blinds, pacing the floor for a moment. “Unnecessarily elaborate proposal,” she repeated once more, lost in thought.
“Is this about the pig again?” Carisi asked when he noticed Rollins and Fin watching NY1 on a squad laptop yet again. “Stone’s calling about Joe Edelman now. We’ve got work. He’s making more work for us as usual.”
Carisi was in a sour mood because he’d been assigned desk duty through Christmas on account of the two fractured ribs he’d been working with for more than a week.
“All new Central Park human interest story,” Fin said, “but Rollins and I say the only human interest here is cash. Check it out.”
He restarted the clip from the beginning. Have you seen this couple? the reporter asked. NYPD is looking for the recently engaged couple who appear to have lost an engagement ring in the pond in Central Park. On the screen, a closed-circuit camera showed a man kneeling by the pond to propose, and then standing, presumably to put the ring on his new fiancée’s finger, but dropping the ring, somehow — implausibly — into the pond. The couple freaked out for maybe ten seconds, or at least that’s what it looked like on the black and white security camera, and then walked away.
“Did they flag down an officer, a parks worker, anybody?” Carisi wondered out loud.
What’s unusual, the reporter continued, is the provenance of the ring, which NYPD special ops rescued from the pond this morning.
“They put special ops on this?” Carisi sputtered.
“Human interest story. Social media shares,” Rollins said.
Special ops consulted several jewelers in the Diamond District, who all agree that the ring’s setting and cut suggest that it’s from 1940s Cuba.
“That’s a grift if I ever saw one,” Carisi said. “Couple just walks away, nobody can find them, and they don’t tell anybody they lost the ring? This’ll turn out like that GoFundMe scam in Jersey, I’m telling you now.”
“Or,” Rollins said, “the ring was stolen. 1940s Cuba, that’s either a family heirloom or a museum piece. Ring falls off a truck, so to speak, the guy buys it because he’s trying to impress his girlfriend, drops the ring, and can’t report it to police because he knows it’s stolen. I wonder how he explained to her why they couldn’t tell anyone.”
“Speaking of Central Park,” Fin said, scanning his email, “search team’s heading out for the Madeira case.”
“Now? That’s stupid. It’ll be dark soon,” Carisi said. The Madeira case had been his since he’d caught it over the summer. Missing child, evidence of murder, no body. The defense was propping itself up on the “no body.”
“Stone wants more,” Fin said. “He wants more by tomorrow.”
“Stoney Baloney doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Carisi said, pantomiming taking a shot of liquor.
“You know that’s also slang for —”
“Whatever. I’m going out there with the officers. Asking for a search at sunset when we gave the DAs office all the evidence we had. That guy’s got a pair on him.”
“Sonny,” Rollins said, “take it easy.”
“Sarge,” he said, addressing Fin, “I swear on my grandma I’ll just observe. No running around, no bending.”
“You know a bookcase fell on you,” Fin reminded him matter-of-factly.
“Mami, what’s going on?”
Barba was surprised when his mother texted him as he was wrapping up a class at Hudson Law, where he’d been hired full time after teaching three courses there over the summer. She said she was in the neighborhood. He was suspicious but told her to meet him by the quad.
“Rafi,” she said, hugging him and planting a kiss on his cheek, “I might have screwed up. When I moved over the summer, there were a few boxes I couldn’t find, but I was busy, I’m so busy, you know …”
“Which is why you should consider retiring.”
“What money do I have to retire? Raf, I can’t find abuelita’s ring anywhere. I thought it was in the jewelry box in my drawer under my socks and stockings, but it’s not.”
“Mami,” he said, “calm down.”
“Did you see that story on the news where the couple dropped the ring in Central Park? NYPD’s saying it’s from Cuba, from the 1940s. I’ll bet the movers stole the ring and sold it to this guy, and — you’ve seen the story, right?”
“No. I’m making up final exams, haven’t had the chance to read the paper or even scroll through —”
“Well, look it up, and tell me what you think.”
“When I was at your place for dinner last weekend,” he said, “I saw that you still had boxes everywhere.”
“Just watch the story. It’s probably on the NY1 website.”
“Three years ago, when we were sorting through abuelita’s things, and you were too upset to continue, I took some of her jewelry, the really old pieces, and had it reinsured and registered. If it was abuelita’s ring, it would have pinged NYPD’s radar right away as stolen. NYPD would have called us first, before this ever became a news story.”
He could have sworn that the shaky breath Lucia let out was dripping with frustration.
She still had at least five boxes in her dining room, and NYPD would have known right away if the ring in this Central Park incident was hers, since he’d been smart enough to register it. Why was Lucia panicking?
“Okay,” she said. “I trust you.”
“You want me to come over this weekend and help you look?”
“Sure. You can help me look. It’s yours now if you want it, anyhow. Is there anybody special in your life?”
Barba rolled his eyes.
“Come on, you can tell me. You’ve always told me.”
His tongue darted out to lick his lower lip. “I’m still putting my own life back together,” he said. “Leave it alone for now. Please leave it alone for now.”
She linked her arm with his and they walked across campus, where the sun was setting over the river in front of them. “All right,” she said, patting his arm with her gloved hand, “I will, for now.”
Ten officers combed through a small wooded area near the Central Park pond at dusk, while Carisi stood in front of a bench, squinting in the direction of the trees, cursing Stone out under his breath at regular intervals as the sun went down.
“Heading to the next section,” one of the officers radioed in.
“Nothing?” Carisi asked.
“All right. I’ll head over in a minute.”
In front of him, near the trees, Carisi heard a high-pitched whoosh that faded in and out, followed by a series of pops and a burst of light. “Fireworks,” he said, “some jerk’s lighting fireworks in Central Park in December.” He radioed the search team, telling them to grab a parks officer if they could.
And then he saw the fire.
The ground had caught fire, and the flames had latched on to at least two trees. Carisi called for FDNY, who he knew would come quickly because they had a station in the middle of the park, then radioed the search team again, telling them to locate and pick up the idiots who set off the fireworks.
Carisi shouted for everyone to clear the scene, waving parkgoers away as he waited for the firefighters. In a flash — a split second — no time to think — he saw Delacorte the Pig scurry out from behind a bush, into the fiery patch of trees. He ran after the pig.
He was a first responder. It was his job to go after that pig, right?
Delacorte was all over the news. She was Central Park’s beloved stowaway. He had to save her.
The pig was running. Carisi was running. Carisi dove for the pig. He heard a loud “what the HELL are you doing? Get OUT of there!” behind him.
He hoped that at his funeral, Benson and Dodds would make up a better story about his demise than “he ran into a fire to save a pig.” No, he thought as he locked his arms around Delacorte’s torso, nobody’d be nice enough to do that for him. Who was he kidding? The mass cards would probably include a picture of the patron saint of pigs.
Carisi stood slowly, his injuries from the week before tugging at his ribcage. He nudged Delacorte towards the main path, where he flopped down on a bench. Delacorte decided to stay by her rescuer’s feet, snuggling up to his leg. Do pigs snuggle? he wondered, bracing himself because he knew he was about to be called an idiot by the —
“Detective, you look like you’ve been on the job a long time, probably been to a couple of our seminars,” an FDNY commanding officer said, “so what were you doing running towards a fire to save a pig?”
“She’s not just any pig,” Carisi insisted, hearing the words coming out of his mouth, unable to stop the words from coming out of his mouth even as he knew he was making a fool of himself. “She’s Delacorte. She’s an unusual breed and she’s been all over the news.”
“She, and you, will be all over the news tomorrow, I’m guessing. Do me a favor, head over to my medics and get yourself looked at.”
Carisi reluctantly agreed. Delacorte stayed by his side.
By the next morning, the local news station had forgotten all about the mystery couple and their 70-something-year-old Cuban engagement ring and were instead focused on Carisi’s rescue of Delacorte the Pig.
Benson had come in at 8:30, offered cursory greetings to her squad, and slammed the door to her office, which she hadn’t emerged from in two and a half hours.
“Is she mad at me?” Carisi asked nervously. “She’s mad at me.”
“Just ‘cause you attracted the mockery of the FDNY?” Rollins teased. “Actually,” she added, leaning back into her chair, “Liv’s usually pretty sympathetic about that sort of thing, so it’s probably not you.”
“Good. The Central Park fire captain and his crew already got me a 6 month subscription to a Bacon of the Month club.”
Rollins tried valiantly not to laugh. She covered her mouth with her hand and feigned surprise instead.
“So, uh, how’s the pig?” she asked.
“She wouldn’t leave my side when FD was surveying the scene,” Carisi said, a slight smirk finally forming on his lips. “Look, I see the humor in the situation, I really do, but no farm has claimed her yet — nobody wants a pig that’s smart enough to leave — and she deserved a chance.”
“Aww, okay, you’ve got to take her home as a pet, then.”
“Landlord already said no way. In less nice terms than “no way.” Hey, you could —“
“We’ve got almost two kids, a dog, and Al thinks we should get Frannie a cat.”
Carisi was quiet for a few seconds. “He wants to get your dog a cat?”
“It’s been done before.”
“How about I get Frannie her very own pig?”
“Yeah, sure, that’ll work out well.” Rollins rolled her eyes. “Hey, Carisi,” she said suddenly, “ten o’clock, behind you.”
Carisi rotated his desk chair and saw Rafael Barba calmly making his way through the back of the squadroom, towards Benson’s office.
“How long’s it been?” Rollins asked, keeping her voice low.
Carisi counted on his fingers. “Ten months. Almost exactly.”
“I wonder if she’s seen him since then.”
“If she hasn’t —”
“She’s in a baaad mood today. He’s in trouble. Probably deserves it, after all he — ohh, wait a second.” Her eyes grew wide. “Join me in the breakroom, will you, Detective?”
He followed her. As soon as she saw the room was empty, she waved her arms excitedly, frustrated that she couldn’t jump up and down. “Carisi!” she said. “The ring. The tourists with the ring from the other day. Special ops. Cuba. 1940s Cuba.”
“Are you saying —?”
“Liv and I were talking about unnecessarily elaborate proposals the other day.”
“You’re saying she got hold of a ring that belonged to his family and staged an elaborate hoax so she could propose to him?”
“Stranger things have happened. You rescued a pig from a fire.”
“That’s not as strange as Benson and Barba.”
“You’ve got a point,” Rollins said. “She was crushed when he left, you don’t know the extent of it. Maybe I’m wrong.”
Barba had registered and re-insured his grandmother’s ring three years ago. He had no reason to believe that the ring in the pond was hers, even if it was a rare cut and setting particular to 1940s Cuba. And now, Carisi rescuing that damn pig was all over the news, to the point that the mystery couple — actually two officers she knew from her brief stint in computer crimes — were forgotten. Benson was cranky. She’d wanted to propose because she didn’t feel comfortable going public with her and Barba’s going-on-9-month relationship without anything less than a solid engagement.
Maybe a little of that was her problem.
Maybe he’d thrown her for a loop in February when he’d said he needed to move on.
Maybe she still had trouble believing he wouldn’t leave again.
Maybe. But Carisi and that stupid pig had ruined her plan nevertheless.
Someone rapped on her office door. She peeked through the blinds.
“Rafa,” she said with a loud whisper, letting him in, “what are you doing here?”
He closed the door behind him and kissed her. She couldn’t help grabbing on to the lapels of his tan peacoat. “I owe you a few promises,” he told her, “a thousand promises, but first: where are you hiding my grandmother’s ring?”
“Liv, sweetheart, I love you, it’s okay. My answer is yes. Mami wears her heart on her sleeve and all it took was a few minutes of her badgering me about my love life for me to realize why she all of a sudden was “worried” about where the ring was. I love you.”
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “What are those thousand promises you owe me?”
“Where’s the ring?”
“Where’s the ring? Enough squabbling.”
“Do you know,” she started to say, thinking better than to finish that with you broke my heart back in February. Instead, she unlocked a file drawer, pulled out a small box, opened it, and started to remove the ring inside.
“Let me?” he asked.
She nodded. He took the ring and slid it on her finger. “I promise,” he said, clutching her hand, “never to be the idiot I was last winter again. I promise to love you forever. I promise to love Noah forever. I promise to come to you when I have doubts. I promise to talk to you instead of walking away.” He pretended to count on his fingers. “What’s that, five promises? 995 left to go. I promise —”
“Shut up,” she said.
“I promise —”
She cut him off with a kiss. “Marry me,” she said, her lips still on his.
She laughed and, opening his coat, poked him in the ribs. Before they could kiss again, there was a knock at the door, followed by Rollins walking in backwards, her hands covering her eyes. “I see nothing,” she said. “Nothing that’ll upset my delicate digestive system.”
“Get in here, Amanda,” Benson said.
“I swear to God, it dawned on me ten minutes ago, you walked in, haven’t seen you in months, that ring was from Cuba of all places, could not have been a coincidence — oh, you’re wearing it —”
Benson wiggled the fingers on her left hand.
“You and I,” Rollins said, pointing an accusatory finger at Barba, “are going to have to sit down and have a talk.”
Barba raised an eyebrow. “An interrogation?”
“Well, yeah,” Rollins said, sidling up to him.
“See,” Benson said, “this is why I didn’t say anything.”
“When did you two … wait, wait, maybe I don’t want to know.”
“After that little boy died waiting for a heart transplant,” Barba said. “I saw it on the news, and I said, life’s not nearly as long as we imagine it is, and I’m in love with Olivia Benson. I called her and within a few days I was back in New York picking up work with Legal Aid, and we talked all night.”
Benson cleared her throat. “We didn’t just talk.”
Barba nudged her.
“This,” Rollins said, holding her hands up near her red eyes, “is just hormones, okay? And you,” she added, that accusatory finger pointing at Barba again, “are absolutely getting interrogated, but” — now she was laughing and crying at the same time — “first I’ve got to reassure Carisi that he did right by saving that pig.”
Confusion washed over Barba’s face.
“I’ll explain later,” Benson said.