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11 November 2007 @ 12:24 pm
New C/O-Yay in honor of Passion & Perfection's 5000th Story Archived! Hooray!  
Title:  Meet Me in St. Louis
Author:  DiNovia
Fandom:  SVU
Pairing:  C/O
Rating:  MA (language, sexual situations)
Author's Note:  This is a sequel to my story The Awakening, which in turn is a sequel to The Good Earth, which was a response to Fewthistle's story Look Homeward, Angel.  The Awakening and The Good Earth can be found at http://community.livejournal.com/copper_n_steel/ .  Because of the timing of these previous stories, the following takes place in December of 2006.
Thanks:  Tiff, thank you for letting me read most of this over the phone to you, my love...  I hope you enjoy the ending.  
              Rachel, thank you for understanding why this story, like all my others, is so late to your inbox.
Spoilers:  None

Olivia Benson's nondescript sedan screeched to a stop near the black and whites, their lights flashing garishly in the night as a pair of uniform cops created a perimeter at the corner of West 170th and Fort Washington Avenue.  Another bundled up uniform cop held her door open for her as she climbed out of the car. 

"It's really starting to come down, eh, Detective?" he said, nodding to the heavy, wet snowflakes falling out of the ashy charcoal sky.  It had been snowing on and off all day but in just the last hour the storm system seemed to have stalled right over the city, blanketing everything in a rapidly deepening coat of white.

"What have we got?" she asked, ignoring the round-faced young man's attempt at small talk.  She headed to where she could see two blue clad CSIs holding a tarp over a huddled mass of navy blue that she could only assume was Melinda Warner.

"He's at it again, Liv," sighed the ME wearily, the familiarity of her voice somehow comforting to Olivia.  "Female, Caucasian, stripped, raped, strangled and painted.  The Red Cross Rapist."

"Dammit!"  Olivia's stony gaze swept over the scene.  Another woman left on a street corner for the whole world to see.  Another woman brutalized, murdered and humiliated.  Liv knelt near this victim's feet to get a better look at her.  She was in her mid-40s, short, and heavy-set.  A ruff of mostly-gray hair, no makeup, a few wrinkles around her eyes and mouth.  She'd likely had children judging from the faint stretch marks visible under the crude red cross covering her belly.  She was victim number five.  That they knew of, that is.

The Red Cross Rapist was one of those hot-and-cold cases; little activity spread over a long period of time.  The sick bastard didn't come out to play very often.  In fact, the last one had been in May: Alice Chin, mid-20s, Asian.  Found at the corner of East 99th and Lex.  She was a home health nurse who'd been working in Yonkers the day she disappeared.  The last person who'd seen her alive was her night replacement, Trina Washington.  She said that Alice lived in Mt. Vernon with a couple of roommates and had had no reason to go into the city that evening.  When Alice failed to show up to work the next morning, Trina reported it to their supervisor, who ended up calling Alice's roommates when the young nurse didn't respond to multiple pages.  Eventually the roommates reported Alice missing to the Mt. Vernon PD.  Two days later, an early morning dog-walker spotted her body barely three blocks from Central Park East.   

It was like that for all the others, too.  Missing nurses turning up on street corners all over Manhattan with red crosses painted on their bodies, right over their navels.  The paint was ordinary household matte wall paint and impossible to trace.  The victims--beyond their professions, their genders, and their deaths--had practically nothing else in common.  They ranged in age from 25 to 55.  Two, now, were white; one was Asian; one was African-American; and one was Indian.  Their financial backgrounds, where they lived, who they knew, where they worked--none of it overlapped.  And not a single one of them had a speck of physical evidence on her body.  

Olivia looked up, trying to get her bearings.  There was heavy traffic activity and some bright lights a few blocks south. 

"What's that?" she asked, standing to see if she could get a better angle on the building.

"Columbia Presbyterian," replied Melinda, not even glancing toward the hospital.  She knew exactly where she was; she'd been there on business a few times before.  "And before you ask, we've got a couple of guys down there asking if they're missing a nurse.  You know they're going to come back empty handed, though."

The detective jammed her hands into the pockets of her bomber jacket and grunted in agreement.  It hadn't been that easy so far; what made them think he'd be anything less than meticulous this time?

"Anything on the body?" she asked as Melinda finally stood up.  The ME waved the crime scene photographer over and spoke to him briefly before stripping off her latex gloves and replacing them with fleece-lined leather. 

"This one's as clean as the others," she said grimly.  "No ID, no defensive wounds, no DNA on the body.  A clear dump job.  Though she's been dead less than twelve hours.  Probably ten."

That was different.  The others had been dead longer before being dumped; sometimes days.  The killer had been in a hurry tonight.

"He's probably trying to get out of town," said Olivia darkly.  "For the holidays."

Melinda nodded.  "It pisses me off to think of this bastard sitting around a turkey dinner with family," she spat.  "Smiling faces happy to see him...  A tree with all the trimmings...  And meanwhile he's left another family to mourn on this of all nights."  Warner left the words unspoken but Olivia heard them all the same.

Christmas Eve. 

The holiday had sneaked up on her; garish red and green decorations--not subtle before--suddenly seemed to explode throughout the city, backed by the ubiquitous holiday music loop tape.  The most offensive versions of a tired list of secular holiday favorites followed her all over Manhattan these days and she was sure that she would find the same thing no matter where she might find herself, from Peoria to Ponchartrain.

It was a strange time of year for Olivia.  Particularly this year. 

Usually she'd be the Squad Scrooge; the one scowling at Cragen's order to dress up the place a little or the one standing apart at the inevitable station house gathering, avoiding Munch under the mistletoe and downing spiked Eggnog as if it were going out of style.  The last to the party and the first to leave--even after her mother had died.  Even more so then.

Worried she was becoming her mother--a sullen, angry drunk--she'd stayed only a few moments at last year's Christmas party, silently glowering at the new ADA.  At the bright, tempting freshness of her unjaded smile.  At her openness and her earnest offer of friendship and camaraderie.  At the fact that she was alive. 

Now she was dreading the holiday for an entirely different reason: she was separated from the owner of that beautiful, still-fresh smile.  Casey Novak, her lover, was in Falls Church with her family.  Unaware that she'd be in a relationship--because really, when was that ever the case?--Olivia had volunteered back in March for the dreaded Christmas shift.  Usually that meant she'd be hanging out in the emptiness of the squad for three nights of unbridled boredom under harsh fluorescents draped in silver tinsel garlands older than she was.  This year it meant she was lonely and sentimental and far away from the one she loved.  And now the Red Cross Rapist was back.

Thrilling, she thought, her mouth twisting into a scowl.  She looked once more down the street at the lights of Columbia Presbyterian twinkling in the snow before she turned back to the ME. 

"Go home, Melinda," she said quietly.

Warner couldn't hide the relief she felt but she made a half-hearted offer to stay just the same.  "Are you sure?  I could--"

"Waiting a couple of days won't change anything, will it?"

"No.  Like I said, she's as clean as the others.  The COD is probably manual strangulation like the others, too."

Olivia looked away.  "Then let me ID her first.  She's probably got a family who's wondering where she is.  So do you.  Go be with them."

"Thanks, Liv," smiled Melinda, genuine gratitude shining in her dark eyes.  She didn't want to miss yet another of Allie's Christmases.  She'd be in high school soon enough and then her little girl's childhood would be a thing of the past.  She'd missed too much already.  "What about you?"

"I'll probably crash at the crib tonight.  I want to start checking the missing persons reports."

The ME shook her head slightly, saddened by Liv's continuous solitude.  Maybe she'd pack up some food for her and drop it by tomorrow.  No one should be subjected to Chinese takeout on Christmas Day.  "Try to squeeze some shuteye in there somewhere, okay?  You know how Santa feels about staying up late.  And hey, will the reindeer even be able to land that sleigh at the squad?" she chided, interjecting a little teasing to keep things light.  Before she got into her van, she said "Merry Christmas, Liv."

"Yeah, Merry Christmas."


A couple of hours and a couple of bad cups of coffee later, Olivia still sat at her desk, poring over missing persons reports from all five boroughs.  At least they were online now.  There was a day, in the not-too-distant past, when a search like this would have meant phone calls and dusty dotmatrix reports from a printer whose sole purpose seemed to be jamming on command.  She did not miss those days.

While she was reading a promising report of a missing mother of two from Astoria, her cell phone rang.  

"Benson," she said curtly, picking it up on the half-ring.  She'd been waiting for a callback from the 61st regarding a report she'd seen a few hours ago and she was hoping this was it.  


Concern flooded through the connection but it was the voice itself that jarred Olivia from her caffeine-fueled single-mindedness.

"Casey?"  The startled brunette blinked her dry eyes and looked up at the clock on the wall.  "Honey?  Are you okay?  It's three am."

Casey Novak chuckled a little.  "I could ask the same of you, you know, Detective.  Something tells me you're sitting at your desk right now.  Am I right?"

Olivia Benson smiled in spite of herself.  That Casey knew her so well was extremely comforting somehow.  She didn't dwell on how odd it felt. 

"Yeah, you're right," she conceded.  "But I have a good excuse: the Red Cross Rapist dumped another body on us tonight.  I'm trying to ID her from missing persons reports but so far, no luck."

"The Red Cross Rapist?  Oh my God, Liv!  It must be chaos there!  When was the last one--May?  Honey, if I hurry, I can be there in--"

"Whoa, Casey!  Down girl!"  Olivia tipped her office chair back into a semi-reclined position and grinned unseen at the beautiful ADA.  "It's not chaos here.  Unless chaos is a lot more boring than I remember it.  We haven't IDed her yet.  Which means we haven't even notified the family.  And since Melinda said this one was as clean as all the other vics, I made an executive decision and she's at home spending Christmas with her family instead of with a body at the morgue.  Once we get the woman IDed, then it might be chaos.  You'll probably be back by then.  At the rate I'm going, anyway."

Silence hummed on the line for a second as Casey processed that information through three glasses of champagne.  "Oh," she said, sounding a little confused.  "Oh.  So what're you doing again?  Missing persons reports?"

"Pretty much, yeah."  They were being ignored at the moment, though.  In favor of someone infinitely more arresting to the detective.  Liv rocked her chair back and forth as she chatted with her lover.  "What are you doing up so late, Case?  Shouldn't sugarplums be dancing in your head by now?"  Casey could hear her smile all the way in Falls Church.

"We've been celebrating!  Liv, she popped the question!  They're getting married!"

Olivia sat upright so quickly Casey could hear her chair thunk.  "Who popped the question?  Casey, what are you talking about?"

The redhead giggled.  "Julie did, Liv!  After dinner we were all sitting around the tree, drinking eggnog and singing some carols--badly, I might add--and after we finished a horrible rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, she pulled out a little black box and asked Chris if he was ready to make an honest woman out of her yet!  It was so romantic and so funny at the same time and--oh!  The ring she got him!  I mean I knew librarians made a few bucks but if I'd really known, maybe I'd've been a bookworm instead of a lawyer, you know?"

"Have you been drinking?" asked Olivia, laughing.  God, how she wished she could be there right now, seeing all of this first hand.  Sitting in Matt's warm living room with a fire crackling in the fireplace.  The smell of turkey lingering in the air.  Snow falling outside.  Singing along to the radio.  Had it really only been last month that she'd been dreading the trip to Falls Church?  It seemed so long ago.  A lifetime, even.

"We had some champagne after Chris said yes!  Plus some eggnog spiked with Jameson's before that.  Come to think of it, I'm a little warm."  There was a rustle on the other end of the line and a small yelp and then Casey was back.  "There!  That sweater was too hot!"

A sudden image of Casey sitting on her bed with nothing on but a lacy bra in some outrageous color and a pair of jeans assailed Olivia's exhausted brain.  An aching warmth spread throughout her body, coming to rest somewhere south of her bellybutton.  She did her best to ignore it.

"I miss you," she blurted, still half-dazzled by the vision in her head.

Casey's breath caught.  "I miss you, too," she said softly.  "Everyone does.  Daddy even said he's going to order you not to volunteer for Christmas next year."

"He doesn't have to worry.  I've already told Cragen this is the last Christmas duty I'm doing for a while."

"Oh good." 

Olivia looked out the dirty window of the squad room and saw that snow had begun to fall yet again.  The silence of their longing stretched between them until Olivia's desk phone started ringing; a harsh jangling noise that was way too loud for the hour.  The detective snatched the phone up and barked her name into it while still holding the cell to her other ear.  She listened for a second then asked the caller to hold.

"Honey?" she said into her cell.  "That's the 61st calling me back about their missing person.  I've got to go."

"Okay, Liv," replied Casey, her voice almost too bright.  "You'll call tomorrow night, right?  When you have a chance, I mean."

"It's a date," answered the older woman, her smile genuine if a little sad.  "I love you, Casey," she whispered.

"I love you, too," sighed the ADA, and the strained cheerfulness in her voice melted away to be replaced by sweet warmth and the comfort of certainty.  "Merry Christmas, Olivia."

"Merry Christmas."  She flipped her cell shut and grabbed the receiver of her desk phone.  "Yeah, Tony, sorry to keep you waiting.  I'm by myself here."

It wasn't the news she'd been hoping for.  The 61st's missing person had turned up safe and sound, shacked up with a man who was not her husband.  Olivia was back to square one.

"No, no, Tony.  I figured it was something like that when I saw the tag at the bottom of the file.  I just wanted to make sure...Yeah, I hope we find out who she is soon, too.  Christmas is no time to be lost."  She would have laughed at the hypocrisy of the words if she wasn't so goddamned tired.  "Have a good night, Tony...Happy Holidays to you, too."

Olivia dropped the receiver back into its cradle and scrubbed her face with her hands.  She looked at her cell lying next to her computer and thought briefly about calling Casey back.  She just wanted to hear her again, even if it was only to hear her breathe.  She decided it was too late and--besides that--too silly, and she glanced at the screen of her computer, considering whether or not she should call the 114th about their missing woman.  Duty warred with exhaustion for a long moment before she reached over and hit the computer's sleep button.  She'd compromise.  She'd grab a few hours of sleep and then follow up with the lead in the morning.  Part of her hoped it was the woman just so they could move on with the investigation and so her family could find some closure.  Another part of her hoped that it wasn't the woman because that would mean that she'd have to go to someone's home on Christmas Day to tell them that a loved one had been murdered.  That, by far, was the worst part of the job.

Downing the last of a cold cup of coffee, Olivia pushed her chair away from her desk, grabbed her cell, and headed back to the crib, hoping that the last person to use it had at least remembered to put an extra blanket on the bed.  She wasn't at all prepared for what she found.

A tiny table in the corner of the room held a tinier Christmas tree and on it was a strand of the tiniest lights she'd ever seen, twinkling merrily in the semi-darkness.  The bed was made up with a cheery wine-colored comforter and real pillows and neatly folded at the foot of the bed was a set of dark green towels.  Next to the towels, Olivia found a pair of her flannel pajama bottoms--freshly laundered--and one of Casey's Sex Crimes baseball shirts.  She brought the blue top to her face and breathed deeply, hoping beyond hope to catch Casey's scent still lingering in the fabric.

Next to the clothes was a little travel toiletries bag with a white envelope attached to it.  The detective, grinning unapologetically, opened the bag first and found travel-sized bottles of her favorite shampoo and conditioner, a fresh bar of soap, two packets of gourmet hot cocoa powder, a razor, a new toothbrush and a little tube of toothpaste.  She waited to open the envelope until she had changed clothes and was settled, warm and happy, in the crib's once-utilitarian bed.

She slid her thumb under the envelope's lightly gummed flap and pulled out a crisp, ivory card.  On it, in Casey's animated hand, was written:


I can take a lot of things.  I'm a pretty strong woman and I've seen a lot.  But every time I thought about you crashing in here alone on Christmas, I would start to feel panicky and unhappy and that is simply unacceptable.  So I decided to do something about it.  I hope you don't get teased about it too much.

I love you.  I can't wait to see you again.

Merry Christmas, love...


When Olivia woke up a little over three hours later to the sound of a phone ringing, she still had the card in her hand.


Ann Dalton from Astoria was actually 51 years old; not the mid-40s she'd looked to Olivia last night, blindly staring up at the falling snow.  Ann was a night nurse at a surgical rehabilitation center in Brooklyn and had been reported missing by her husband of 31 years when she hadn't returned from work as expected.  The cops at the 114th had only been mildly sympathetic when Lester Dalton had come in, telling the poor man that they couldn't make an official report until 24 hours had passed.  They tried to assure him that she'd gone to see a sister or a friend and had forgotten to tell him; that she'd be back before the day was over.  When Ann did not return as predicted, Lester and his two grown sons returned to the 114th to file an official missing person's report.  That had been the morning of Christmas Eve.

Olivia dropped numbly into her desk chair.  She didn't even take off her jacket.  That house...

Ann and Lester Dalton's house had been so...homey.  The tree with all those unopened presents underneath it; a holly wreath on the door; wide, red velvet ribbon wrapped around their mailbox post like a candy cane.  She'd hated being there, having to tell those devastated men that Ann Dalton was never coming home again.  She hated even more not having any answers for them.  She promised them she wouldn't give up finding this monster that had taken their wife and mother.  And between Lester Dalton's openly shed tears and the boys' furtive, angry swipes at their eyes meant to hide their own, Olivia could only think of Matt and Chris Novak; of how it would feel to tell them something as devastating. 


Melinda Warner's soft voice caught Olivia before she could wander too far down that macabre mental pathway and returned her to the confines of the squad room.  She looked at the ME in confusion.

"Warner?  What are you doing here?"

Warner began setting plastic containers on every available surface of Olivia's desk.  "My office called and said you'd IDed our victim," she explained.  "I'm on my way to do the autopsy.  But I wanted to drop this by first."

As if just noticing them, Olivia's befuddled eyes took in the containers.  The ME popped two of them open and the most amazing aroma filled the room, catching a ride with some escaping steam. 

"Dinner?"  She'd meant the question to sound less haunted but she didn't have the emotional strength at the moment.

Melinda nodded, her dark curls bouncing with the movement.  "A little of everything Duane, Allie, and I had this afternoon.  Including the last slice of my Great Aunt Chessie's Chocolate Pecan Pie--because you've been a such a good girl this year."  She said the last sternly but her plum-black eyes danced.

Olivia's sudden laughter startled both of them.  When she was able to speak again, she raised one eyebrow and cocked a lopsided grin.  "So...did you bring a fork or what?"

Warner produced an entire set of cutlery wrapped in a cloth napkin.  "Have a good dinner, Detective," she said, watching with pride as Liv dove into a steaming container of her special cranberry-walnut stuffing.  "I'll let you know if I find anything on the body but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."

"I won't," said Olivia around a mouthful of turkey and gravy.  "And Melinda?"

The ME turned back, donning her gloves in preparation for the cold outside.  "Yes?"

"This is great.  Thank you."

"You're welcome, Olivia," she replied, inclining her head just a bit.  She didn't know exactly what she'd been expecting but simple gratitude was definitely not it.  She wondered at the small changes she'd been noticing in the usually moody woman of late and found herself hoping that they would last.

A long, long time, she thought as she headed out into the frigid night.


"No, Captain, it's not necessary," said Olivia, scraping the bottom of a container that had once held some sort of mixed berry cobbler with her borrowed fork.  "Warner's doing the autopsy now but she won't be done for hours.  And anyway, we know that she's not going to find anything.  I called the vic's workplace but her supervisor said that the other nurse who left that morning--what was her name?"  She lifted an empty food container and found her notepad.  "Gloria Appleby.  She's out of town with family until the 3rd.  If Melinda finds anything that could be helpful, I'll call the supervisor back and ask her to get in touch with Gloria.  Otherwise, we can wait until she gets back.  This guy's not escalating.  If anything, he's slowing down.  It's been seven months since Alice Chin.  We have some time."

"Well, let me know if Warner finds anything useful.  Hell, let me know if she finds anything at all.  That would be a change.  In the meantime, I guess pull the files on all the previous vics for us to go over tomorrow.  Maybe we'll get lucky and find something that overlaps.  Have we done a map of the dump sites before?"

"Yeah.  No pattern to them.  Except that they've all been here in Manhattan."

"No pattern yet," said Cragen grumpily.  "Go ahead and pull that again, too.  It has to mean something that he's dumping them all here, even if it is that he's just a lazy sonofabitch.  Add the new site and we'll see if anything jumps out at us.  Maybe he's drawing a smiley face or something.  You still planning to take the next few days off?"

"Well, I was, but if you need me--"  

"No, Liv, you've done all the hard work.  The three musketeers and I are just gonna sit around picking our noses because this bastard is too damned smart.  You deserve the time off just for having to notify Ann Dalton's family on Christmas Day.  Do you have plans?"

Olivia blinked, startled by the question.  "I--uh--yeah.  Nothing too special, but yeah, I have plans."  She glanced out the window only to groan inwardly at the sight.  It was snowing again.  Fuck!

"Good.  You should get away more.  You work too damned hard.  Anyway, don't stay too late, Olivia.  Looks like the North Pole out there."

"Yeah, I won't," she agreed, knowing even as she said it that they'd find her in the crib in the morning.  "See you tomorrow, Captain."

She dropped the phone back in its cradle and hurried to Cragen's office, turning on the TV he kept there.  She flipped through a few channels until she found a local newscast sporting a tarted-up, bottle-blonde weathergirl.

"--four more inches today with no signs of stopping," she said, indicating a map of the five boroughs.  "So far, both airports have been able to keep up with the snowfall and there have only been minimal delays at both LaGuardia and JFK.  However, that could change later tonight as this system dumps another eight or nine inches on us.  And we're just getting started, folks.  There's another system behind it that could bring up to two feet of snow over the next few days.  What a white Christmas we've gotten this year--"

Olivia turned the set off in disgust and trudged back to her desk, now littered with mostly empty food containers.  She gathered a few of them up and began stacking them neatly to the side to be dealt with later.  Great Aunt Chessie's Chocolate Pecan Pie was the only thing left and Olivia was saving that for a midnight snack.  She got herself a cup of sludge from the pot she'd brewed that morning and sat down to her computer.  First, she put in a request for the files on the last four victims of the Red Cross Rapist from Records.  Then she put in a request for a wall map of Manhattan Island from TARU.  She didn't think they'd cough up one of the shiny interactive ones for a case as hot-and-cold as this one but you never knew.  It had been kind of slow lately.

Bored and at a loss for anything to do, Olivia glanced at the clock.  It was almost 7pm and she wondered whether or not it was a good time to call Casey.  They could be having dinner or something and she didn't want to interrupt...

Jesus, Benson, get a grip.  She can always call back if she's busy! 

She pressed a well-worn speed dial button on her cell and listened to the tinny rings on the other end.  Casey didn't keep her waiting long.


"Hey, sweetheart.  Is it a good time?  Because if not, just call me back when you aren't busy--"

Casey cut in on Liv's rambling.  "Liv, it's fine!  I'm not busy at all.  In fact, I'm at the house by myself.  Dad, Chris, and Julie went to the movies."

"To the movies?"  Olivia had done many a thing on a lonely Christmas Day but going to the movies hadn't been one of them.  She wasn't much for showing off her loner condition in public places.  Why bother when you could rent movies and order take out and enjoy both in the privacy of your own home?  "Why didn't you go, Case?  You okay?"

The young ADA smiled, pleased beyond reason that Olivia was worried about her.  "I'm fine.  They went to see that new Cate Blanchett movie...'Notes on a Scandal'?  It's about a teacher having an affair with a 15 year old student.  I told Daddy that this was my vacation and I wasn't going to see a movie that could just as easily be a case of mine.  They said they'd go to whatever I wanted to see but I said I was waiting for a call from you anyway..."

Olivia snorted.  "I can just hear Chris's response to that!"

Casey laughed.  "If you're asking whether or not he made a smart ass remark like 'Well, now you two can have phone sex in peace!', the answer is yes, he did.  He was safe, you see.  He was on the way out the door and he'd already opened all his presents.  I had no leverage."

"Oh, God!"  Olivia hid her face behind one long-fingered hand, blushing slightly.  "Did he really say that?  Casey, don't take this the wrong way, but are you sure you're related to him?"

"Well, I grew up with Buttbrain, yes, but am I sure we share DNA?  No, not at all.  I think my mother found him in a box of bananas, like a tarantula, and felt sorry for him for some reason.  Once she'd fed him, that was it--we were stuck with him."

Olivia chuckled.  "Your mom was a soft touch," she accused.

"She had to be!  She let him live, didn't she?"  They both laughed again, then Casey changed the subject.  "By the way, Chris loved the gift you got him, Liv.  Everyone loved their gifts!  You're really good at this Christmas thing!"

Olivia shrugged the compliment off.  "It was nothing," she demurred.  "Your family is easy to shop for."  

"You spent too much, though, Olivia.  My God, the Ivan Berryman print alone must have cost you hundreds!  Daddy loved it.  He's already put it up in his study, over his desk.  Where did you even find something like that?"

Olivia, grinning happily, said nonchalantly, "I have my sources."

"And that box of yarn you got for Julie?  I've never heard her squeal like that before!  Handpainted Angora?  She's already started knitting something with it."

"Tell her it should be something for herself!  I don't want that yarn coming back to me as a sweater or something, okay?"

Casey laughed again.  "Yeah, she said you'd probably say something like that.  Don't worry.  She said until she can figure out a way to knit you a Kevlar vest, you're only getting scarves and she figured you wouldn't wear one made of this yarn.  It's so soft!  It's like a box full of rainbow-painted kittens!"

"Without the hairballs and the claws," agreed Liv.

"But Chris's gift...  He couldn't believe it when he opened it, Liv.  He kept sitting there, saying 'How did she know?'  I was just as shocked as he was which is the only reason he believed me when I told him I hadn't mentioned it to you.  A letter from General George Pickett to a younger cousin before Gettysburg?  How could you possibly--wait, don't tell me: you have your sources."

Olivia grinned.  "Yep.  And you know us detectives--we hate to give up our informants."  A sort of preening pleasure in herself and her gift choices suffused Olivia.  She had spent years being the curmudgeonly Scrooge; her generosity lavished on Elliot's kids and whatever kids Simone Bryce thought she could help.  Now she knew--a little bit anyway--how it felt to be the other Scrooge; the one who thought it was perfectly normal to send a street child to buy a fatted goose.  She had a sudden, inexplicable craving for hot cocoa with mini-marshmallows.

"And everyone loved what you got me, sweetheart.  I still don't know why you sent gifts when we're supposed to be exchanging our gifts tomorrow.  I didn't leave anything for you to open!"

"You left me the crib, Case.  That was amazing."  She raised one eyebrow suggestively, forgetting that the redhead couldn't see her.  "Besides, now I'll have something extra to unwrap tomorrow."  She'd sent two small gifts in Casey's suitcase: a leather document case made from reclaimed vintage English bridle leather, embossed with Casey's initials in 22k gold leaf, and a blackberry purple thigh-length silk slip with lace-up sides.  The idea of those laces alone... 

Suddenly, Olivia's little fantasy took a hard left turn.  "Wait a minute...  Casey, did you open both gifts in front of everyone?"

"Yep.  My father says you have good taste in lingerie.  I think Chris's exact words were 'Hubba hubba!'--"


"Relax, Olivia," laughed the attorney, interrupting the detective's coronary.  "I can still read, even down here in Falls Church.  The tag clearly said 'Open alone.'  So I did.  Just before you called, actually."  

When she could breathe again, Olivia asked, "So does that mean you've tried it on?  Does it fit okay?"

"It fits just beautifully, honey," replied Casey warmly.  "If you were here right now, you could see for yourself.  I still have it on."

"Oh, you do, do you?"  Olivia's rust-brown eyes twinkled and she rose from her desk chair, heading for the crib.  "Did you remember to pack your hands-free, Case?  Because I think you're going to need it..."


TBC in Part II



My State of Mind: exhaustedexhausted