Title: Stress Relief (Or how I learned to let go and love bondage)

Author: amyray

Book 7: Reverberations.

Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.

Rating: R, for disturbing content and foul language.

WARNING: In this story are descriptions of horrible child abuse. Yes, it has to do with the larger story.

Category: Part of the Light, Water and Muses saga. Takes place in 1997, and is a prologue of several characters introduced in Rapids.

Pairings: None, just some leading up to it!

General Disclaimer: This site contains stories between mature, consenting adult females. All characters are borrowed without permission, but without the intent of infringement. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Disclaimer: “Law & Order: SVU,” the characters, and situations depicted are respectively the property of Wolf Films, Universal Network Television, and NBC. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. This site is in no way affiliated with “Law & Order: SVU,” NBC, or any representatives of the actors.

Disclaimer: “Facts of Life,” produced by Embassy Pictures Corporation and TAT Communications Company. Created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon.

Disclaimer: “Third Watch,” A brief cameo from Alex Taylor and Bobby Caffney. A Warner Brothers and John Wells Production.

Summary: Trauma tests the souls of two of New York’s finest.

Stress Relief
(Or how I learned to let go and love bondage)
Part 1

++ Olivia Benson ++


“Hang on, I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” I muttered, stumbling to my front door where the intercom buzzed it’s familiar yet annoying cadence. In sleepy frustration, I jabbed the talk button and growled, “Dammit Polniaczek, it’s not even six yet… and why the hell aren’t you using your key?”

“Morning to you to sunshine. Didn’t want to surprise any guests you might have.” I could hear the leer in her voice and scowled. “Open up if you want your damn coffee.”

Letting my forehead rest wearily against the door jam, I buzzed the lower doors open. Damn, but it would be nice when her kid got back from that European trip with her Aunt Blair. I couldn’t help but smile around a yawn on the way back to my bedroom.

Feeling more awake after a quick shower, I found my annoyingly cheerful partner busy in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on breakfast. “Here, eat up.” Jo grinned as she set a plate of hot food in front of me. “Thought you had a date with Jeff last night.”

I thought of the Bronx ADA I’d met at Charlie Polniaczek’s bar and shook my head. The food smelled too good to ignore, so I dug in an spoke around a mouthful. “A big case came up and he had to cancel. No big deal. Frankly, the extra sleep was welcome. So once more, why the hell are you here so early this morning?”

“Jamie called.” Jo grin deepened with adoration as she mentioned her daughter. “She got a little confused about the time zones.”

Ah, that would explain it. “How is Little J doing? Has she conquered Europe yet?” I still had a hard time believing that little Jamie was overseas, let alone overseas with the high and mighty Blair Warner, her godmother.

“Not yet, but I hear France is about ready to surrender.”

“Just France?” I chuckled. “Your kid’s slowing down.”

“Nah. She’s just sitting back and enjoying the fireworks. Apparently Bailey has announced that she’s going to be the first woman on Mars.”

I nearly spit my coffee out. “You’re kidding. I didn’t know they had designer space suits.” It was a stretch to picture Blair’s snobby little sister, that I’d briefly met at Jamie’s last birthday party, doing something so dedicated. “How’s her family taking it?”

“Well, her father’s still laughing, her mother is scandalized, and Blair is debating the pros and cons of the various military uniforms. ‘Sides, I think she just wants to claim the best real estate.” With that sarcastic reply, Jo stood to grab her leather jacket. “Let’s go Benson, time to go serve and protect.”

++ Jo Polniaczek ++

I know the silly ass grin on my face was there all morning, but I couldn’t help it. Jamie’s early morning call had made my day, even if it had been at three in the morning.

“How’s Rick?” My partner’s voice startled me.

“Tired of being the rookie. He can’t wait till the next batch graduates and he’s not the low man on the totem pole anymore.” It was still hard to believe that my musician ‘husband’ had joined the boys in blue. The lucky bastard had been assigned the Bronx.

“How’s Gil adjusting?”

I shook my head and shrugged. “He’s getting used to it. Still hates that Rick could get hurt, but he does have a thing for the uniform.”

It was still a marvel, the directions my life had taken. Soon after our marriage, Rick and I had come to the mutual conclusion that it had been a huge mistake. So, we agonized over how we were going to break it to our families and friends…

But then life threw us a curve ball. Nine months, nearly to the day of our wedding, Jamie was born. Soon after she’d been weaned, I joined the NYPD and the two of us had never gotten around to actually getting divorced. Together we raised our daughter and though we lived as a family, Rick had Gil and I had maintained separate lives.

“Two-two-zero-four.” Our radio crackled to life, interrupting my musing, and I snatched the mike up.

“Two-two-zero-four, go ahead.”

“Zero-four, assist One-two at Forty-first and Oak.”

“Ten-four, ETA five minutes,” I barked back and looked over at my partner. “One-two? Isn’t that Olsen and his rookie?”

“Yeah,” Liv answered distractedly, already keying the black and white unit on and leaping out into traffic. “Kid’s driving him nuts. Said he’s greener than you were when you started.” Grinning at my half-hearted scowl, she changed the subject. “I hear there’s some openings coming up. Think we have a shot at any of ‘em?”

“Depends on how far down the list they go. Any of them at the one-six?” Part of me dreaded the answer to that. If there was one thing I knew about Olivia, she lived for that assignment. However, I had doubts that it was what I wanted. I loved being partnered with Benson, after seven years I knew I could count on her to watch my back, and I knew I’d do anything for her. But the one-six housed the Special Victims Unit. They were dedicated to nothing but rapes and child abuse cases and sex crimes. It was hard enough to deal with the occasional cases we came upon on the street, cases we only handled for a short time before handing them off. I don’t know if I could work those heart-breaking victims day after day.

“I’m not sure. At least one,” Olivia shrugged and parked behind the other black and white.

Getting out of the car, we approached the officers who were listening to an older Asian woman rant. She was pointing at the run-down building across the street. “What’s the problem Olson?” Olivia asked the older officer.

“Well, if it isn’t Nancy and Drew,” Olson greeted us indolently and smirked in his usual smarmy way.

“Yeah, yeah old man, just tell us what the problem is,” I growled at the older officer who had seen me through my rookie years. Not exactly what I wanted to say, but we were in front of a civilian.

“We’re having a hard time understanding what she’s saying,” Olsen relented. “Half of it’s in Korean. I think she’s sayin’ something about children in that building over there.”

“Looks abandoned,” piped in the rookie. “Probably some local kids partying.”

I tried to remember the little Korean I’d picked up on the street, while the older lady became even more agitated. “No, someone’s hurting the children.”

Olivia looked around. “There are some nice cars parked around here. That’s weird for this neighborhood. Olson, why don’t the two of you run some of those plates.” Instantly calm and reassuring, Olivia put a calming hand on the old woman’s shoulder. “Ma’am, you need to calm down and talk to us in English, please.”

The sudden, sharp retort of violently shattered glass grabbed our attention. Alarmed, we looked towards the dilapidated building as a girl’s voice called out, high-pitched and agitated. “Help! Fire!” Horror filled me as I spotted a naked little girl half hanging out of a window on the second floor. Before we could react, burly arms grabbed her from behind, dragging her back inside the building. “No! Leave me alone!” She was screaming shrilly. “Let me go! Help! Fire!” The girl continued screaming as she disappeared back inside the building.

We were too stunned to react for a long moment, watching tendrils of smoke escape the broken window.

“Shit!” I bellowed, shaking off the shock. “Liv call it in! Olson, see if you two can get in from the back!” I didn’t wait to see if they obeyed, but took off for the front door like a released hunting dog.

Liv’s agitated voice carried over the girl’s muffled cries and the city’s normal din. “Ten-thirteen, ten-thirteen, this is Two-two-one-four, I need back-up and fire engines on site now! Also, possible ten-twenty-five, notify SVU.”

++ Olivia ++

Tossing the radio handset away carelessly, I threw the hat after it and tore after Jo, drawing my pistol as I went. Olsen was already headed towards the back of the flophouse, his pale rookie literally in hand. With understandable violence, Jo put her shoulder into the door, stumbling into darkness as it splintered under her weight.

Briefly, Jo paused there at the threshold, allowing me to catch up and watch her damn back, the way I was supposed to. There was the sound of men’s voices yelling and the occasional child’s scream. It seemed clear, so Jo gestured that she was proceeding up the dilapidated stairs in front of us. Warily, I followed her.

It took a real effort not to shoot the half-dressed man that stumbled down nearly on top of us. But the look of horror on his face made the restraint worth it.

“Police!” My voice barked out of well-honed reflex and he paled even further.

Then the booming retort of gunfire made Jo and I freeze in our tracks.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Crackled over our radios. “We’ve got shots coming from the second floor, back of the building. One suspect in custody.”

Jo shook off her paralysis and grabbed the man by his arm to yank him down and to the side of the stairs. In a matter of moments I had him on the ground and zip-cuffed, while sirens sounded in the distance. Thank God.

“You keep your damn mouth shut until you’re collected,” I snarled at the cuffed man before chasing Jo up the stairs. The only room on the first floor looked like it had once been an office and the computer there stood out like a sore thumb. The monitor screen had been broken but the tower lights still flashed. “Hey, Jo. Should this thing be running?”

“Shit, it’s probably erasing itself,” Jo yelped, “turn it off!”

I pushed the power button, but nothing happened. “I can’t, the power button’s not working and the screen’s broken.”

“Dammit Liv, pull the damn plug!”

I yanked at the thick wire at the back of the machine and sighed in relief as the lights died. Jo’s tense voice crackled over the radio at my hip. “First floor clear.” Dammit, when had she snuck off?

“Stop wandering off without me,” I growled at Jo when she materialized in the doorway, but she merely shot me a flat, unfathomable look and vanished again. At least this time I was able to follow her to the second floor, where we paused to listen. Behind a nearby door, a child whimpered.

Before I could do more than open my mouth, Jo had rushed the offending door, once again splintering wood with her not-very-impressive weight. She was going to be hurting come tomorrow.

Six pairs of eyes stared silently at us from behind the busted door. All of them were pre-teens and in very poor condition. Jo cringed and stepped back into the hall, leaving the little victims to me. So I knelt by the girl who looked to be the eldest of the troop. “Is anyone else in here?” I asked softly, trying to project reassurance.

“No.” She answered even more softly.

“How many of you are there?”

“Nine. The others are working,” she replied quietly.

Nine? Good God, no… Keep it together Liv, these kids need you. “How many adults are there?”

“Four… I think.”

“What’s your name?”


“Okay Tara, I need you to do me a big favor. Can you do that?” Tara nodded bravely and my heart went out to her. “I need you to take the others down the stairs and out of the building. There should be some more police officers outside. Go right to them. Got that?”


“Good girl. Come on, let’s go.”

Jo and I took up positions to cover the children’s exit, relieved when several other uniforms showed up to escort them the rest of the way. That left us to continue down the hall where we found an open door. Carried on the breeze from the recently shattered window was the smell of the still-smoldering bedding. This is where the girl had been.

I was hard pressed to say what was more disturbing. Knowing what had been going on in this building, or the sparkle of fresh blood on the jagged glass and dripping trails on the ratty carpet.

There were more officers on scene now, and we silently communicated as the rest of the building was swept for the missing children. In one room we found a battered and naked young boy huddled next to a bed. Carefully, Jo wrapped the bed sheet around him and handed the silent, terrified child to one of the other uniforms.

In another room we found a girl in the bed and a man cowering in the closet. More officers arrived and the man was quickly cuffed and hauled away.

That left Jo and I to follow the fading blood drops to a half-hidden door at the end of the long hall. Behind the door we could hear a man cursing and a girl crying.

This was it.

++ The final perp ++

“Shut the fuck up you little bitch,” my voice was as stressed as my blood pressure. “God dammit, if I didn’t need you to get out of here I’d throw you out this fucking window!”

Shit! Fuck! Damn it all to hell! I told those pricks this place wouldn’t work, there were to many people around, to many nosy neighbors. I told them this little bitch wasn’t ready, that she was a troublemaker. But did they listen to me? Hell no! Now I’m the one stuck here and this bitch wouldn’t fucking shut up!

I could hear ‘em coming down the hall and the window was a no go thanks to the cops outside. Trapped like a fucking rat.

This is all her fault. God damn troublemaker. I burnt my hand beating out that damn fire she started. Hell, the bitch even bled all over my new shirt. When I found a way out of here, I would beat her senseless, if not dead, with my own two hands!

I grabbed a chunk of the girl’s hair and pulled her to my side. “When we get out of here, I’m taking all this out of your hide,” I hissed into her ear. Damn, I love it when they whimper.

Suddenly, the door crashed open and I spun away from the bedroom window. One black uniform stumbled in, rolling to the floor before coming up in a painful crouch. Good, that one, a woman by the stature, would be an easy target. “We’ve got you covered,” snarled a Bronx accent from the bitch cop. “Put the gun down and release the girl.”

It was too damn dark! That god damn black uniform was like fucking camouflage! There was a flicker of movement in the doorway and my finger tightened on the trigger. No, wait, you shoot, moron, and they ventilate you. Use the girl! She whimpered again at the cold gun barrel digging into her temple. “Get the fuck back!”

“We can’t do that, and you know it,” came another bitch voice. What the fuck was this? Amazon night? “Give us the girl.”

“Bitch, I said get the fuck back or I’ll kill her.” Shaking the brat like a dog toy made her cry out nice and pretty.

“The only way your walking out of here is to drop the gun and let the kid go.”

“Fuck that! You do this on my term, bitch! Or I’ll, augh!”

The fucking bitch bit me! Without thinking, I slammed my gun upside the girl’s head. The dead weight abruptly yanked me off balance and the shadowy cop blurred into motion. This just wasn’t my day.

++ Jo ++

I’d caught the look in the girl’s eye a moment before she bit him, and faked just enough to catch the bastard’s eye. As soon as he bellowed, I uncoiled like a spring and tackled him, but not before he pistol whipped the poor girl. Liv jumped in to secure the gun, while I happily ratcheted the steel cuffs around the perp’s wrists. “Game over, asshole,” I snarled as the steel made him whine for mercy, then raised my voice as my gaze fell on the girl. “Liv, we need a paramedic in here.”

Liv’s voice murmured at the radio, but I ignored the exchange and crawled to the filthy, bloodied and bruised child. Liv knelt beside me, cursing softly. “No one in until the building’s clear.”

“Damn. Can you find something to cover her with?” Nodding, Liv scrambled to find something and the girl stirred with a groan. I had a quick glimpse of dark eyes, before she threw her hands up defensively, trying to twist away from my hands.

“Get away!”

“Hey, hey, you’re safe now” I purred in my gentlest tone, and kept my hands lightly on her upper arm. “We’re the police, honey. No one is gonna hurt you anymore, I promise.”

Those dark eyes stared incredulously around the cut, bloodied arms for a moment, flickering to the gold pins at my collar, across the dark fabric of the uniform, to focus intently on the silver badge on my chest. “My name is Jo,” I nodded to my partner who had just returned with a blanket. “And this is my partner, Liv.”

Unfortunately, comprehension was fuzzy at best. Her lovely brown eyes were unevenly dilated and I suspected that the bastard had given her a concussion. Her black hair was matted and filthy, and her golden brown skin was marred from head to toe. The cuts on her arms were fairly gory, but at least they were only oozing. There were bruises and scrapes everywhere, many in places that no one should ever have them, especially an innocent child. I shared a pained look with Liv before covering her with the offered blanket.

Despite the nausea I felt at seeing the physical evidence of what this child had been through, I forced a smile again. “What’s your name?”


“Gloria? That’s a pretty name. What’s your last name, Gloria?”

“Par… Parkins.”

Hmmm, a southern accent, how interesting. Liv moved to cover the door while I continued to talk to Gloria.

“Well Miss Parkins, you don’t sound like you're from around here,” I drawled out in my thickest Bronx accent.

The effort earned me an exhausted smile. “N’oleans.”

“New Orleans? Is that where you’re from?”

“Uh huh,” Gloria raised her arm and a filthy charm bracelet gleamed dully in the bad light. It had been so tarnished that I hadn’t even noticed it before. Faintly, I could make out club shapes, like in the deck of cards, most of them holding a letter of her name. There were also charms in the shape of a feather, the state of Louisiana and various animals, but I could only identify an alligator.

“That’s very pretty, where’d you get it?” I asked to keep her attention focused.


“No. No honey, I know you’re tired, but I need you to stay awake for me. Tell me about your bracelet.”

++ Liv ++

Stress made my voice sharp as I keyed the radio. “This is Benson, how much longer till we’re clear?”

“About five, ten minutes. SVU just got here.” The indolent, uninterested reply made me grind my teeth in frustration. That bastard lieutenant wouldn’t be so blasé if he were in here with us, or with those poor kids. Shaking off my irritation, I scrubbed at my dirty face, and ran fingers back across my temples. Oops, there went the carefully off-the-collar hair. Dammit.

SVU. I have to admit to a small thrill when I heard that. Special Victims had been my goal since I’d first heard it existed. It was a chance to stop the bastards that attack women, a chance to avenge my mother.

However, SVU was more than just being the ‘Panty Police’. Special Victims included attacks on the elderly, and children. When I first hit the streets I was pretty hopeless when it came to dealing with kids. Thank God for Jo. Watching her with her daughter, watching her with street kids, the abused, the trouble makers and the little ones that still looked at us with awe in their eyes taught me more than any of the classes I’d taken.

The problems we’d dealt with on the street so far was nothing compared to this. On the street, we dealt with the random evils of the world. Gangs, pick pockets, shoplifting, and the occasional abuse. But this, God… this little piece of hell was organized. Someone actually planned this brutality. I’d be dealing with these kinds of cases on a regular basis when I got what I wanted. It killed me to admit it… but I didn’t know if I was ready.

I wasn’t sure that I would ever be ready.

To distract my thoughts, I watched Jo as she tried to keep the girl talking. If this was tearing me up, I couldn’t even imagine what it was doing to her. Gloria was only a couple of years older than Jamie, and many of the kids we found in that room were younger. If I knew my partner, and I knew her better than most, if anyone even thought of doing anything remotely similar to her daughter, we’d never find enough of the body to identify.

God help me, I knew that I would help her.

“Officer Benson?” A male voice I didn’t recognize came from down the hall and I jumped guiltily. A hot crime scene was a lousy place to space out. Gun in hand, moving gingerly, but with competent ease, I approached him, straightening up and trying to look as though he hadn’t startled me.

“Stabler, SVU,” he introduced himself quietly, and searched my face with cool kindness. Better than most of the detectives that looked at us beat cops like brainless fodder. “I saw the kids outside. How are you doing?”

Damn good question…

++ Jo ++

“Come on honey, stay with me,” I begged Gloria softly. The last few minutes had lasted forever. My God, what this kid had been through…

My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of EMS, and I nodded respectfully to Alex Taylor, who was, strangely, by herself. “Hey Benson, Polniaczek, Stabler,” she greeted the three of us, her face a mask of sober pain at what had happened in this building. “Bobby’s outside helping get the other kids out of here.” Was the quiet answer to my questioning expression. We’d known the paramedics for years, and they were some of the best.

“Take care of her Taylor, she’s been through hell.”

Even as she moved towards Gloria, the girl grabbed my arm and cried out in panic, “don’t go!”

The lump in my throat was like trying to swallow a baseball, and I gently smoothed a hand over her tousled curls before pressing a kiss there. “It’s okay honey, I’m not going anywhere, I promise. This is my friend, Alex, and she’s gonna fix you up as best she can, okay? I’ll just be over by that door, talking to Olivia.” Weary and pained, I went to my partner and dimly noted an introduction to the plain-clothed detective talking with her. Barely noting his words, I numbly shook his big hand and scrubbed my face with both palms until it hurt. “How are the other kids?”

“They’re prepping the last of them for the hospital,” Stabler answered quietly, despite the fact that I wasn’t even looking at him. I couldn’t keep my eyes from where Alex was working on my young friend. “Apparently, Gloria here was causing trouble and had been taken out to, ‘teach her a lesson,’ to quote the dirt bag outside. The others were ‘working’.” All three of us cringed at the word, despite the truth of it. “We have two customers in custody. The suspect caught in back was apparently the door-man. That bastard you caught with Gloria here is begging to testify to save his own ass. We had to tell him to shut up and shove him in a black and white where we didn’t have to listen to him. Claims this is part of something bigger. He also says that your girl here started the fire.”

I had to grin, despite the situation. “Her aunt told her that if she ever got into trouble to yell ‘fire’. She thought it would work better if there actually was one.”

“Gutsy kid. Did she give you the aunt’s name?” Stabler asked as he wrote in his notebook.

“Kali Parkins, New Orleans,” was my distracted reply as I watched Alex carefully gather Gloria into a gentle embrace. Olivia jumped to gather up the paramedic paraphernalia while I forced myself to stay with Detective Stabler.

“She’s from out of state?” He cringed as I reluctantly returned my attention to him. “Damn, the Feds are going to want this one.” With a heavy sigh, he gentled again and gestured to where Alex and her precious burden were moving past us and out of this hell-hole. “Officer Polniaczek, why don’t you go with her? Take notes on what she says. We’ll meet you at the hospital.”

++ Liv ++

Not wanting to appear too eager to Stabler, I wrapped up our little debriefing and got the hell out of that godforsaken slice of torture. There was no way to describe how that place felt. The horrors there had left something almost palpable in the air. Even the familiar stench of New York City was almost pleasant, and I took a deep breath outside.

Olson’s rookie was leaning against his car, and he looked a little green around the gills. “Hey rookie, how ya’ holding up?”

“Okay I guess,” he replied with more restraint than I normally saw in male cops, new or old. “I don’t understand… how could someone do that?”

“That’s the million dollar question,” was all I could manage to say. Sarcasm was noticeably missing from my tone. With an encouraging slap to his arm, I left the rookie for my own black and white unit and headed for the hospital.

The emergency room was chaos, but I managed to find Jo in one of the private exam rooms. Wearily, I sat next to her and we both played absently with our hats for a moment before she leaned her head on my shoulder.

“Gloria’s up in x-ray,” came the quiet, familiar voice. “In addition to the concussion, they suspect cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder. That’s in addition to the cuts, bruises, and repeated sexual assault. They just finished up the last of the other kids.” A shudder ran through Jo’s body and I moved to wrap an arm around her shoulders. “I don’t ever want to sit through exams like that again.” Straightening up, she ran her fingers through her hair. “One of the kids, when they brought her in for the exam, saw the bed and asked the doctor how he wanted her.” It was hardly a shock when she suddenly bolted to her feet and was halfway to the door before my arm had fallen to my side. “I gotta get out of here.”

I followed her out of the exam room and almost ran into her back. “Shit, forgot my hat,” my partner growled irritably and turned back around. “I’ll meet you out front.”

In the main ER, I noticed several waiting officers and asked, “what’s up?” Then I noticed who was in the nearest exam room and a horrible sinking feeling froze my stomach. “What the hell is he doing here?”

“Getting his burns treated,” came the bored reply.

“Who the fuck’s idea was it to bring him here?” Exploded out of me on a wave of fury. “What if any of the kids saw him?” My fellow officers only stared stupidly at me.

“This is the closest hospital to the precinct, where else would we take him?”

“How about any one other than the one his victims are in!” I roared as another thought struck me.

Jo would go ballistic.

As though conjured by my thoughts, Jo was suddenly there, lunging at the prisoner. Thank God I was between her and everyone else, and I prayed that I was the only one that saw that her hand was on her gun. Quickly dragging her into an empty supply room, I did my best to talk her down. “Jo, calm down. They’ll get him treated and out of here as soon as they can. The kids are all upstairs, they’ll never even know he’s here.”

“I don’t care,” she hissed through her teeth as she shoved me away, to stand rigid and shaking in the middle of the room. “I don’t want that son of a bitch on the same planet, let alone in the same building with Gloria or the others.” I’d never seen her this furious. “That bastard spent time with each and every one of those kids. You heard Stabler. The Fed’s are gonna grab this fucker, he’s gonna turn states and get a slap on the wrist.” Jo’s voice was dangerous and low. “He beats and rapes children, ‘rents’ them out and he’s gonna end up somewhere drinking margaritas, laughing about how he got away with it.”

“I know, it sucks,” I responded, my voice tense with stress. “The bastard should rot in hell, but what if he actually has information? What if this is part of something bigger? Including Gloria, at least four of those kids are from out of state and right now he’s our only source. This prick could help us save more kids just like them.” It was hard to watch my partner struggle with her anger.

“There’s always someone bigger.” She finally hissed and shoved passed me to the door, but suddenly paused. When she spoke again, her voice was soft and almost distracted, weighed down with pain. “You remember Tara? The girl you talked to in that first room?”

“Yes,” I replied, a little thrown by the change in subject and mood.

“She’ll be twelve in a month,” Jo said in that same hollow voice, and visibly shuddered. “She’s pregnant.”

There was nothing I could say to that. I was numb.

Jo’s voice turned icy and dangerous. “She’s twelve years old and pregnant and she doesn’t even have the luxury of having been too drunk to know what was happening to her.”

The backhanded reference to my mother felt like a physical blow, and I recoiled from the hit.

“I’m getting the hell out of here.” Slamming the door open, Jo stormed out of the hospital. This day would be the death of us both. Or at least a part of us.

++ Jo ++

Punching my locker had been a bad idea. My skin was already raw from an hour spent scrubbing Gloria’s blood off and now there were bruises on my knuckles to match my shoulder where I had smashed three doors down without feeling a thing.

But all of that was trivial to the pain of what I’d said to Liv. I loved that woman like a sister and had lashed out and said something unforgettable to her.

Worse, I’d bailed out of the hospital without speaking to her again, catching a ride with Olsen and the poor rookie. At least those two had shown some reaction to the events of this night, unlike the other uniforms. The station house was in chaos when we’d gotten back. The damned media vultures were already camped outside the door and brass from all over the city crowded the halls of the precinct.

I was yanked into a string of debriefings that left my mind like pudding, only the horrific images of the flop house clear as photographs in my memories. Several times, Liv was by my side, but we were in full formal mode around the brass.

We’d still be debriefing everyone and their grandmother for the hundredth time; what we saw, what we did, why we didn’t wait for back-up, if the captain hadn’t told ‘em to just read the damn report.

With the brass still sputtering objections and the media hounds baying for us, the captain sent us both to the locker room. No shock that we were told to take a few days off with pay. What we had been through was something no one could just walk away from.

Well, no one with a heart anyway.

It was also suggested that we talk to the department shrink. That memory made me snort irritably as I sucked my sore knuckles. “Yeah right, tell the shrink that I felt like killing a perp. Better yet, a handcuffed perp. Now that would be a stellar career move.”

What weighed on my heart as much as the children’s torture, was that I hadn’t gotten a chance to apologize to Liv before she’d left. How could I have been so vicious as to drag her mother into it? I felt like punching the locker again.

Actually, I wished that she’d taken a swing at me. I deserved it. But that just wasn’t Liv. No, Liv had a tendency to lock herself in her apartment to brood and drink till she forgot. Normally, it was my job to barge in on her pity party and get her to unload what was on her mind, and if she needed to, I’d hold her while she cried herself out. Only this time I was part of the problem. All I wanted to do right now is run home and hold my daughter, but I couldn’t. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t even in the god damn country. Ma and Pop were still on that cruise and Rick’s on the late shift. ‘Sides, he’d go straight to Gil’s anyway. I stared at my boots.

“Fuck it. I need to get laid.” It was the only thing I could come up with through the haze in my brain. Some physical outlet for all the chaos inside me. With shaking fingers, I went for my wallet and fished out a familiar card. The thin plastic was military green, and a black-gold spade was the only marking on it. “And I know just the place.”

The bike rumbled to a halt outside the building and I swaggered, yes I admit it, I swaggered, into the Jousting Club. With my riding leathers on, I fit right in amongst the other bikers in attendance. There was some interest from the thin crowd, but I ignored it and headed to the back of the club to swipe my card through the reader at the door marked ‘VIP’. After a moment, a green light flashed and the door slid open. The girl wearing latex by the door took my helmet and I headed straight to the bar.

The VIP cards had been a gift months back. Liv and I had randomly saved a battered guy from a pack of pissed-off skinheads. Turns out Gabe was one of the head honchos of a local company that maintained a top-notch security force as well as dozens of clubs and bars in New York and surrounding areas. Including some of the distinctly exclusive, risqué, and downright kinky dark corners of entertainment. His business partner had an interesting way of showing her gratitude. The two of them brought in their young lovers and gave me and Liv a joyride that left us sore for a week after the ‘party’.

Afterwards we’d been given these cards, giving us what Michael described as ‘open access to any of the businesses in the organization.’ Because it would have been unethical to accept such an expensive gift, I’d insisted on paying for them. Not that the party would have been considered any more acceptable, I suppose, but at least there wasn’t a paper trail. Or so I hoped. With an enigmatic smile that had haunted me ever since, Michael charged us a couple hundred dollars, providing us with company-letter receipts and everything. I’d bet my teeth the amount was a mere fraction of the real worth of the cards. That smile turned warm and left me melting on the spot while she explained that everyone paid what she decided to charge them. Some just paid more than others.

This was the first time I had used the card.

It was time to hunt.

++ Tony, the bartender ++

The computer behind the bar let me know I had a new customer coming in. Quickly finishing up my current order, I wiped my hands on the towel at my waist and scanned the information. Interesting, this one had been sponsored by the mighty Archangel Michael herself. Don’t see those very often. Better roll out the red carpet and anticipate as best I could. So I went ahead and cleared her card for room five, in case she required some private time. The rooms upstairs were provided for our special customers in case they needed a place to crash or if they wanted to ‘entertain’ someone. All part of the top service.

There were a few personal notes; sexual preference, a favored brand of beer, a love for motorcycles. With a practiced flourish, I had the abovementioned beer on the bar, no glass. She didn’t look the type for a glass. The coaster was labeled to let her know which room was available for her use. The brunette eyed the beer speculatively as she approached and I nodded calmly. “On the house. Welcome to the Jousting Club.”

The beer was lifted, a long drought gone, before the woman studied the coaster. “Thanks.”

Something about this one, the way she moved, the sound of her voice, and definitely the look in her eye, set off alarms in my head. I wasn’t sure what it was, her profile didn’t say anything about her being a troublemaker but… After years behind the bar you start to develop a sixth sense about these things. I made a note to keep an eye on her.

It was almost an hour later that Sally came behind the bar to log out. “Who is that?” She asked as she finished filling out her time card, eyeing the brunette at the bar with carnal speculation.

“Sally, not this one,” I tried to warn her off. Watching the woman in question as she seemed to coil within herself, made the hairs on my neck stand up. She was a time bomb waiting to go off.

“Why not? She someone’s property?”

“Not that I can tell… Just not her, not tonight. I’m not sure what it is, but she just don’t ‘feel’ right.” How do you explain instincts?

“Well she may not ‘feel’ right to you, but she sure as hell ‘looks’ right to me.” Sally stowed the vest that ID’ed her as an employee at the bar and moved to the leather-clad brunette.

Sally made her play and a few moments later, they left for the upstairs. God, I hoped I was wrong about this one. Unfortunately, I was rarely wrong, and the Archangels paid me well, more for my instincts than my bartending credentials. So I took a deep breath and picked up the phone to dial a number from memory. “’Ello,” bellowed the happy voice of the Archangel Gabriel.

“Sir, I apologize for disturbing you this evening. This is Tony at the Jousting Club. We may have a problem.”

To Be Continued… in Part 2