The Adventures of La Carmichaela and the Corona Kid
1. Slumming on Sunday
The cantina at mid-morning—or was it early afternoon?—was empty, quiet and haunted with the smoky ghosts of evenings past. Breakfast was coffee loaded with rum and something they called “American apple pie”—a sludge-like concoction of soggy dough and obscenely glazed apples.
Olivia Benson sluggishly pushed away the “pie.” Her head retreated, turtle-like, into her body. Shoulders hunched like a fortress, hands protectively cupping the back of her neck, she awaited the inevitable—the literal wake-up call that had blistered her ears and popped the bloodshot capillaries in her eyes for the past 3 days of her life:
The mariachi band began to play.
The horns’ high melancholy was the sonic embodiment of the pink-orange sky, of the nauseous, sickly sweet cocktail that was the reality of three continuous hung-over mornings. Still, she wasn’t sure if the horizon was blurry because it was just that way in this part of the world, or because she’d been sleepless and living on a diet of cheap hooch and Abbie Carmichael.
When Abbie had invited her to vacation in Mexico, Olivia had imagined pristine white hotels, tanning on the glorious beach with the sea sparkling before her like a jewel, romantic ruins, and fabulous sex in crisply clean sheets. The saving grace of the trip thus far was fabulous sex—on a sagging, musty, squeaking mattress in a shitty room above a run-down, fleabag cantina in the middle of fucking nowhere, without a beach to be seen.
It was, Olivia had realized sadly, a piss-poor time to discover Abbie’s love of slumming.
She choked back the thick, acidic coffee and slammed the cup down like she always saw the bad-ass villain do to a shot glass in the westerns. She scowled at imaginary patrons. Don’t fuck with me, man! I am El Benson, the Corona Kid, and I’ll fuck your shit up. Shakily, she stood.
Hey. Where’s my fucking gun?
She reeled from the wooden table and stumbled up the stairs, down the dark hallway, back to the room.
Unceremoniously she kicked open the door. Abbie was just as she’d been when Olivia left—clad in tank top and boxer shorts, cigar clenched between her teeth, and sitting at the rickety card table playing poker with the boys.
The boys were literally boys—teenagers. One was named Vicente and the other Miguel. One wore a green baseball cap all the time. The other didn’t. To her politically correct, bleeding-heart liberal shame, Olivia always forgot which one was which. They were both pretty, wide-eyed, and completely in awe of Abbie. They followed her around the town, they listened intently to her broken Spanish, they brought her food and tequila, they carried her bags, pressed her clothes, polished her shoes.
Abbie thought she’d earned this strange respect merely because she was a take-no-crap Texan. Olivia, however, suspected otherwise: Abbie appeared to have left all her bras back in New York and was merrily jiggling her way through the countryside. Yes, it was that, that and the boxer shorts that showed off her long legs to their fullest, most glorious advantage.
The boys were no fools. They knew that this would be the closest they would ever get to a living, breathing goddess.
On the verge of collapse, Olivia swayed ominously.
Abbie shot her glance. She grinned and folded her hand, tossing crumpled bills into the pot. “Vamoose,” she growled at the boys.
The boys exchanged looks at one another and giggled.
“G’wan, get the hell outta here. I wanna be alone with my senorita.”
The sudden movement of their booted feet stomping on the floor and the cacophony of rickety chairs being vacated sounded akin to a heard of moose breaking through a wall. The door slam was a gun shot to Olivia’s addled mind. She collapsed on the bed and ducked her head between her knees to fight off a tide of nausea. “Fuck,” she moaned. “Abbie.”
“Where the fuck is my fucking gun?”
“Yeah. My gun.”
“You know it was a mistake to bring that along, Detective.”
“Come on, I’m not kidding. Where is it?”
“Ah.” Abbie exhaled cigar smoke and idly reshuffled the cards. “Lent it to Vicente. He wanted to shoot some rattlers with it.”
“You—fuck!” Olivia unfurled her body and lay back on the bed. “Shit.”
“Oh, don’t be such a worrywart. He’s probably shot a damn gun more than you ever have.”
“Abbie, if something happens—if he loses it or shoots someone with it—I’m in a lot of fucking trouble.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll tell ol’ Donnie that it got stolen, if it comes to that.” Abbie blew a smoke ring and it settled like a cancerous corona above her head before drifting off into the invisible world.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Olivia moaned.
Abbie’s response to this was jumping on her and straddling her roughly, as if she were a horse that needed breaking.
“Sissy,” Abbie taunted.
“You’re fucking insane. Beautiful, but insane.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now you just relax a bit. We have an appointment later.” Abbie’s dark eyes glinted with mad excitement. “We’re gettin’ us some peyote later, Ben. We’re meeting up with a gen-u-ine god-damn sha-man.” For emphasis, Abbie’s drawl stretched the words like taffy. “Well, actually I think he used to be a philosophy professor from Berkeley, but either way, he’s got the goods.”
“And we’re doing that right now. Just you relax, darlin’,” Abbie cooed, “you don’t have to do a thing. Sit back and let me drive.” She stretched and shed the tank top, pulling it over her head. The gesture rumpled her hair even more. In the morning light from the window, she glowed—her head backlit like a voluptuous, rhapsodic Madonna—and the very air around her seemed luminous and charged like lightening.
“Corona,” Olivia whispered, and reached out to touch the intangible.
Abbie laughed. “No more for you, baby. You’re shut off.”
2. The Good Girl
After a lifetime of being good, or at least trying to be good, peyote was a liberating revelation.
While her teenaged peers were smoking dope, dabbling in speed, and even scoring LSD, Olivia Benson, Miss Junior Detective with an unwavering eye firmly trained upon a career in law enforcement, staunchly refused any and all offers of illegal substances. Sexual favors, of course, were an entirely different matter (“Okay, Benson, you can make out with my girlfriend but I get to watch this time”), but as far as drugs were concerned, she simply did not and would not partake.
Until it happened: That fatal collusion of Abbie Carmichael and Mexico, an eclipse of common sense that resulted in her life feeling like a particularly bad outtake from Oliver Stone’s Doors movie.
It was bad enough that thus far she had been drunk most of the time. But the road trip to Guadalajara in a beaten-up truck, and with Vicente, Abbie’s favorite minion, riding shotgun in the bed of the truck, would prove her undoing. On the way they would make a stop in Ajijic to buy the peyote from some old California hippie. Olivia had been self-righteous and petulant during this leg of the trip, even when Abbie attempted to feel her up while driving, and refused to go into the hippie house once they got there; while Abbie conducted the deal she sat broiling—literally and figuratively—in the truck, wondering why the hell she had ever agreed to go to Mexico at all. You know why, she thought.
It was their Last Hurrah. Abbie had already handed in her walking papers at the DA’s office. Her minimalist apartment—including the buffalo skull and the various Texas Longhorn paraphernalia—had been packed up and was, in all likelihood, in transport to Washington. She didn’t do the long-distance relationship thing, she had told Olivia. It was too hard.
Olivia hadn’t been entirely surprised. Between the arguments and the sex lay the vast chasm they called a relationship, and she would be hard-pressed to categorize its depth. Moments occurred when she believed herself to be wildly in love with Abbie—and these illuminating moments usually occurred when they were sprawled together in a naked, sweaty, postcoital heap. When otherwise in a vertical position and not intoxicated by Abbie’s scent, skin, talented tongue, and frequent cries of “Sweet baby Jesus!”, Olivia usually wanted to kill her.
What had surprised her, however, was Abbie’s invitation: I’m takin’ a little vacation before starting the new job, she had said. Come with me to Mexico.
Olivia had scowled suspiciously. Why? Just so you have someone to bang along the way?
It’s incentive, isn’t it? Actually, I’m dying to see you in a sombrero.
When Olivia’s scowl only deepened, Abbie had turned gently serious: I want to say goodbye to you properly. That’s all.
How doing peyote fit into Abbie’s notion of propriety, she wasn’t sure. Nonetheless, a plastic bag now sailed through the truck’s open window, landing in Olivia’s lap. “Score!” Abbie hollered.
Frantic, Olivia looked around the sleepy yet colorful residential street. “Will you shut up? You’re about as subtle as a sledgehammer.” With marked distaste, she shoved the baggie into the glove compartment.
Abbie climbed into the driver’s seat. “Don’t tell me you’re still not going to try it.”
“Of course I’m not going to try it,” Olivia sniffed. “I’m a police officer.”
“You’re an uptight Yankee bitch, that’s what you are, and you need to unwind a little. Now, if you don’t try a couple of those little buttons, I swear to God I am going to withhold my favors from you for the remainder of this trip.”
The quaint phrase “withhold my favors” dripped sweetly with Southern-accented sarcasm. Olivia gave her the smoldering once-over—the very look that made Abbie succumb to her dubious charms in the first place—folded her arms, and snorted in disbelief.
Defeated, Abbie sighed heavily and pulled on the dirty brim of her battered cowboy hat. “All right, fine. We’ll have sex. But I won’t enjoy it.”
Olivia gave her another look.
“All right, I will enjoy it, but afterwards I will be thinking what a little prig you are!”
“Okay, I’ll be thinking it after the afterglow!” Savagely, Abbie started the truck and strangled the gear shift into submission.
At twilight they stopped for a while around Lake Chapala. The sunset melted into Technicolor bliss, indiscriminately dappling both the distant mountains and the sprawling lake before them with soft blues, pinks, and oranges. Olivia breathed deeply, closed her eyes, and tried to let it all go—being a cop, being her mother’s daughter, being all too aware of everyone’s expectations. She just wanted to be a woman on vacation with her lover—and a teenaged Mexican boy. Olivia opened an eye. Vicente was sound asleep in the truck. Apparently traveling with debauched American women wasn’t as much fun as he’d hoped: No tantalizing threesome had come to pass—for which Olivia was thankful. It was not that she found the boy unattractive, but frankly she was simply too greedy to share.
She took the peyote.
About an hour later she was sprawled on the hood of the truck, observing the miracle of the universe. The stars danced. They were pinpricks in the fabric of night, each one a fissure leading to other worlds, unknown galaxies. If only she could reach them….
“You know, I kinda like you like this,” Abbie said approvingly.
Olivia ignored her, even though she was beautiful. Because the world was beautiful, the stars were beautiful, and she knew if she tried hard enough, she would find all those hidden worlds. Because she was El Benson. She was the Lizard Queen. She could do anything.
3. Pancho for Posterity
The following morning, Olivia discovered that Abbie’s idea of “Hair of the Dog” was tequila, and plenty of it. By lunchtime she was woozy enough not to protest when Abbie slammed a sombrero on her head and Vicente draped empty ammo belts (it was amazing what the kid kept in the tool chest of the truck) over each of her shoulders so that they criss-crossed her chest a la Pancho Villa. Thus posed in sunglasses and with her handgun stuck jauntily down her pants, Abbie snapped a photo for posterity, and possibly for blackmail as well.
“Okay! On to Guadalajara!” Abbie proclaimed.
“Hey. Don’t we get to eat?”
“I gave you trail mix when you woke up.”
“Screw that.” Olivia tossed the sombrero in the truck. “I want real food.”
“Hold out until Guadalajara, Ben. They got better places to eat.”
“Okay, look. I’ve had just about goddamn enough of your Queen Bee tendencies. We’ve done everything your way ever since the frigging plane took off from LaGuardia. I stayed in dumps, I have the flea bites to prove it, I took the peyote—so give me a break. Throw me a bone. ‘Cause you know what? You know what the problem with our so-called relationship has been from day one? It’s this: You are not supportive of me.” Olivia stopped her tirade when she realized that Abbie and Vicente were nowhere to be seen.
Then she blinked and saw the busted crown of Abbie’s hat floating from the other side of the truck. They had run for cover because she was waving around the Glock like an air freshener.
“Um.” Olivia stuck the gun down her pants again. Good thing it wasn’t loaded. Not that they needed to know that. “Sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Abbie cooed. “Wanna have some lunch, darlin’? Vicente knows this great joint—right, Vicente?"
"Tengo miedo," the boy moaned.
All was forgiven after lunch. And more tequila.
4. Thursday in Guadalajara
In the shadow of the Metropolitan Cathedral, they finally waved goodbye to Vicente and his truck. In a gesture striving for discretion but nonetheless still resembling a drug transaction, Abbie had crammed a flurry of cash into the boy’s fist before he left. Initially he resisted and, their hands clasped and shoulders bumping, he and Abbie roughhoused before he finally relented and walked away, his shoulders stiff with the loss of his Texan goddess. The last sight Olivia had of him was the back of his green baseball cap as he drove away.
Abbie shouldered her rucksack. “Hope you got some money.”
“You didn’t.” Olivia gaped. “You gave him all of your cash?”
“The kid needs it more than I do.”
“Is the hotel paid for?”
“Of course the hotel is paid for, Bitchy Benson. Wasn’t gonna ask you to pay for that.”
“Why not?” Olivia snarled defensively. With hands on hips, she felt naked without her gun—which, thankfully, had been solemnly returned by Vicente and was now securely in her rucksack, or so she hoped—yet she was poised for fighting or fucking.
Of course, Abbie knew that—and if indeed those were the only options available, she knew damn well in which direction she was going to steer. She blinded Olivia with a perfect lascivious grin. “Because you’re my guest. Because I invited you. Because when I get you to the hotel I’m gonna ride you like—”
Olivia thought she saw a nun; either that or it was a giant white-faced bat with the face of sheer repression. Panicked, she laced an arm around the foul-mouthed Southern temptress and steered her behind a stone column which, initially, seemed like a good idea until she was sandwiched between cool stone and warm flesh, her thigh trapped between Abbie’s legs, her lips claimed with a hard, sensual swipe of Abbie’s thumb. She took the thumb into her mouth and tasted sweet salt skin, a promise of more to come.
“I think we just scared a nun,” Olivia gasped.
“You’re just saying that to turn me on,” Abbie growled into her neck, and then kissed her.
Like you really need any more encouragement, Olivia wanted to say. Instead she succumbed, as she always did with Abbie—knees buckling, punch-drunk from only one kiss, and poised no longer for the fight but for the graceful, inevitable fall.
Hours later, she sat in a room in one of the city’s finest hotels—the slumming part of the trip was, apparently, officially over—naked while thumbing through a battered, stained copy of a Lonely Planet guide to Guadalajara. Not unlike a man, Abbie was, as usual, dead to the world after sex. Olivia, however, usually found her mind racing and eager for engagement. She wanted to drink, talk, eat, go to a museum, roam the streets. Quite coincidentally, it seemed, her cell phone purred from within her rucksack. She hesitated only a moment before answering, before speaking her name into the phone, because she knew it would suck every drop of joy out of this momentary idyll. It was the past and the future intruding upon the present, and she thought she had it all figured out: The only way to deal with Abbie Carmichael, or, more specifically, this thing she had with Abbie, was to simply be in the present.
The phone, however, would not shut up—so she answered, sighing: “Benson.”
“Hi, honey.” It was Elliot, sounding nothing like Elliot: Aside from the obvious use of the endearment, his voice was warmly intimate.
It scared the hell out of her. She had always worried that he had romantic feelings for her, but had convinced herself it was nothing more than mere infatuation borne of mild flirtation. I never should have flirted with him! I should have been a complete hard ass! Now was the time to nip this in the bud. “Elliot, I—“
“Uh-huh,” Elliot purred. “A parent-teacher conference? Tonight? I dunno—”
Olivia stared at the phone. The connection fizzled, and then grew stronger. She heard a siren, the vague rumbles of the city, and the sharp ache of homesickness took her by surprise. “Elliot?”
“OLIVIA!” She yanked the phone away from her ear, for he did not speak her name so much as roar it: This supersonic wave, a tsunami of rage, rolled across time and space with such power that it even rattled the unconscious Abbie, who made an endearing, childlike whimper.
Before she could say anything, he continued, in a mercifully lower tone that nonetheless still carried decibels of fury: “Where the fuck are you?”
“Um, I’m pretty sure we’re still in Guadalajara.” Unless some sort of time shift or continental drift had occurred during the sex—which was entirely possible, it had been that mindtrippingly good. Better than the peyote had been.
“Why the fuck are you still in Guadalajara?”
“Elliot, what the hell? Calm down. I’m not supposed to be back until Thursday.”
She heard him sigh deeply. “Olivia,” he replied wearily, “today is Thursday.”
The fact settled upon her like a feather. Until she really thought about it, and realized that he was right. Then it flattened her like a freight train. “Fuck.”
“You said it.”
“Oh, shit. Has Cragen—“
“Yeah, he asked, I told him you were sick. Dysentery, of course. But I think he suspects something. When I was calling just now he was hanging around, so I had to pretend you were Kathy. But you have to get your ass back here now.”
“Shit,” she repeated. She began a frantic search for clothes. There was the bra. Where was the underwear? One hiking boot. The other one?
“When can you get here?”
“I—I dunno. If I get a flight tonight, I can be there tomorrow morning.”
“You’ll be dead on your feet.”
“All I’ll need is coffee, partner.” She pulled on a pair of shorts. Or were they really tiny Capri pants? “Look, El, I’m really sorry.”
“Forget it. Just hurry. All right?” He paused, his voice finally softened into its usual teasing wryness. “You must be having a good time down there.”
“Yeah,” she said, unconvincingly. Days had passed in such a haze that she had no way of truly knowing how she felt, what she felt; when she attempted to touch the nerve leading to the bundle of emotions that comprised the Carmichael cortex, all she came up with was numb bewilderment. Time—and the distorted lens of nostalgia—would lend some perspective, although accuracy was always sacrificed in the bargain.
Did she love Abbie? she wondered after Elliot had hung up. Then she wondered something else, and threw a pillow at the dark head of the naked, slumbering lawyer.
“What’d I do?” Abbie moaned from under the pillow.
That she was automatically on the defensive was telling. Of what, Olivia had the faintest idea. “Did you know today is Thursday?” she barked.
“Yeah.” Abbie removed the pillow from her head and snuggled it.
Olivia ignored her rising envy of goose-feather down, and tried not to think of how those sweet, soft breasts, generously crowned with richly brown areoles and wine-dark nipples, would press against her. “You knew I had to leave yesterday. That I had to be at work today.”
“Are you crazy? I’m goddamn lucky Elliot is covering for me.”
“That man is a prince,” Abbie said sleepily. “Someday I will amply reward him for all his troubles. Until that day, may the good Lord pay all his children’s tuition bills.”
“Damn it, are you listening to me? Why didn’t you get me on the plane yesterday?”
Abbie abandoned the pillow. “Girl,” she said, voice tinged with gravelly menace, “you’re not going anywhere till you take off my Waylon t-shirt.”
Olivia looked down. The craggy mien of Waylon Jennings was taut over her breasts. Angrily she whipped off the t-shirt.
“Now.” Abbie rolled onto her back, fully and shamelessly displaying everything she had to full, glorious advantage—the smooth planes of her shoulders, her thighs, her stomach, the eddies of her tan receding in those most intimate of areas into delicate, creamy white. “Tell me that you really want to get on that plane.”
Did she? No. But did this go beyond sex? “I think I love you,” Olivia blurted. No Casanova was she; no mellifluous meditations on love were forthcoming. She would blunder, bleary-eyed, into this—knowing full well the moment she boarded the plane, it would be over.
Abbie raised an eyebrow. “For the moment, you do.”
“Yes,” she admitted. “For the moment.”
“Then,” Abbie said softly, “get back into bed with me.”
It would be two more days before she arrived back in New York, and the first thing Don Cragen would say to her when she got back was: “Dysentery’s a bitch, huh?”
It was indeed.
5. The Burden of Evidence
Laughter was not something often heard in the squad room—particularly the laughter of a woman. But that morning, as Olivia walked up the steps and through the hallway of the precinct, it drifted in from the bullpen. Apprehensively, she clutched her coffee cup tighter. It couldn’t be good—it had to be a hysterical, grieving parent. Not the kind of thing that Elliot should have to deal with on his birthday, she thought. Damn, I didn’t get him anything. So I guess my options are buying him lunch or taking him to a strip club. Hey, wait, it’s his birthday, not mine.
The laughing woman, however, turned out to be none other than the relatively new ADA, Alex Cabot. And not only was the perpetually cool, collected Cabot laughing loudly, she was bent over from the effort of doing so. Next to her was Elliot, red-faced and grinning, holding an opened FedEx envelope.
Eager to be in on the joke, Olivia grinned as she reached her desk. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, God,” Cabot said breathlessly. “I’ve got to go.” She grabbed her briefcase and, laughter trailing in her wake, sailed out of the squad room.
Elliot wiped away happy tears and handed over the FedEx envelope and its contents to his partner.
It was the photo from Mexico—of her in the Pancho Pose, with Vicente at her side flashing a v-for-victory sign. La Carmichaela strikes again! Abbie never missed a trick, never forgot a date or a debt: In one sublimely absurd gesture she managed to amply reward Elliot for covering Olivia’s ass, as she said she would all those months ago.
All those months ago. Soon, it would be a year. All the passion of that trip had been downgraded to the perfunctory exchange of Christmas cards, an awkward phone call on her birthday. Despite that, she knew—or at least hoped—that Abbie Carmichael would never be relegated to the lowly status of just another ex.
Elliot grinned at his partner like a kid who had received a lifetime’s supply of chocolate cake. “Best birthday gift ever.”
Fin, who had just come in with Munch, overheard this. “Yeah? Whatcha got?”
“Oh, shit,” she groaned.
Ever the gentleman, Elliot allowed her a generous head start toward the bathroom before saying, “Guys, you gotta see this….”
Unfortunately, Alex Cabot had seen fit to make a pit stop in ladies’ room. The ADA was still chuckling as she washed her hands. Olivia glared at her. Can I not pee and sulk in peace? Stalling for alone time—she was not exactly piss shy, but after what amounted to a major humiliation in her mind, urination in the presence of the Demon Bitch Cabot was more than she could handle, particularly since Cabot looked like the type who would relish conversing with someone in the sanctum sanctorum of a stall and Olivia hated that—she too began washing her hands.
“Must’ve been some trip,” Cabot said. She reached for a paper towel.
Olivia lifted the transparency of meaning and peered underneath for sarcasm and insincerity. She found none, but proceeded with caution. “Yeah,” she said, noncommittal. “Too bad I don’t remember any of it.” That was not true; she remembered that last day in Guadalajara with crystal precision. In a mental landscape filled with dead children, broken women, drunken mothers, and bad dates, it was sacredly singular in beauty and comfort.
Cabot chuckled. “You know, it’s not a bad photo of you.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her jacket to wipe her glasses, still smudged with tears of laughter.
Olivia put her glare on retainer.
“It looks like you were having a lot of fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” Cabot smirked, yet sounded smoothly reassuring. It was utterly infuriating.
Then Olivia felt panic prickling her skin. Elliot didn’t tell Cabot about the exact nature of her relationship with Abbie, did he? He would never do that. But if anyone could worm the truth out of him, it would be Alex Cabot, that evil smug arrogant cravenly ambitious selfish—
As she put on her glasses again, Alex dropped the handkerchief. Her graceful ease in retrieving it—the bend of her long, lovely legs, the tilt of her blonde head, and the clear if all-too-brief view of her cleavage—proved an epiphany.
—beautiful sexy delicious bitch goddess.
Alex stood, folded the handkerchief into a perfect square, tucked it inside her dark blazer, and something in her expression altered; her mouth gentled, her blue eyes softened a bit. Olivia would have described the look on anyone else’s face as concern, but clearly Alex Cabot could not be read like other people. “Are you all right?”
Why must I always encounter these devil women lawyers, enchanting me with their long legs, their shiny hair, the way they smell? Why? Why? “Fine,” Olivia mumbled.
“So tell me, you did have a good time in Mexico, didn’t you?”
Olivia smiled reluctantly. “Yeah.”
“Must’ve been some friend,” Alex said wistfully.
Their eyes met.
Alex’s gaze abruptly slipped toward the floor. She folded her arms nervously, and the faintest hint of color touched her pale complexion. “I should go.” She grabbed the briefcase at her feet and headed to the door. “Keep me posted on the Sanderson case,” she bossed as the door fell shut behind her.
It was a piece of evidence that didn’t quite fit. Yet. Olivia filed it away for further inspection. She would have a lot of time to ponder both the baffling present and the bewildering past. Because as far as the immediate future was concerned, she had absolutely no intention whatsoever of leaving the ladies’ room until that photo had somehow been miraculously annihilated into oblivion. And yet somehow she knew that at this very moment Elliot was Xeroxing about 100 copies of it and that later Munch would scan it and email it to everyone. In fact, she was willing to bet it would end up in the New York Post somehow.
She sighed and decided to hide in the stall for a while. Perhaps for several months.