Five Things That Never Happened to Olivia Benson
She hums as she removes bullets from the shining service revolver, her hands deceptively, gracefully fluid in their motion, as if she’s done this hundreds of times before, even when sober.
Five bullets, in an immaculate line like sentries, guard the bottle of Dewar’s. The chamber of the gun, a whirling dervish of metal, death, chance, spins and clicks shut. The soft humming elides, as it frequently does, into a snippet of calm recitative—this time Coleridge, and one of her favorites: “‘Weave a circle round him thrice,/ and close your eyes with holy dread!/ for he on honey-dew hath fed,/ and drunk the milk of Paradise.’”
Gun to her head, she pulls the trigger. The empty click reverberates in the silent kitchen.
Serena Benson slides the revolver across the table. “Your turn, tough girl.”
Olivia takes the gun. She thinks about pointing it at her mother; would the old woman be so lucky two times in a row? But she doesn’t. The muzzle digs into her temple. She’s not sure what she wants to happen. Her finger cloaks the trigger. She squeezes.
The Veuve Cliquot cork ricochets with a ping off an antique brass lamp and predictably, the bottle runs over. A frothing river coats Alex’s hand, but she is careful to keep it away from her new wool suit. She kneels beside Olivia on the couch, holding the bottle above her lover’s head. “Open wide.”
“It’s like we’re in a sorority.”
“Yes, a sorority of our own. We’ll call it Alpha Bitch Alpha. Now do as I say.”
Reluctantly, Olivia tilts her head back, opening her mouth. A stream of champagne breaks against her lips like a wave, splashing against her chin and her cheek.
Alex laughs. “‘For he on honey-dew hath fed,/ and drunk the milk of Paradise.’”
Olivia hopes the trembling swipe of her hand across her face masks her expression. The last person she heard those lines from was her mother, when she—she blinks, shudders, and regains herself, grateful that Alex hasn’t noticed. “Great. I’m a mess now.” She forces a smile. The cool champagne bleeds into the edge of her shirt, pools in a hollow at the base of her neck.
Alex’s mouth greedily captures winding drips of champagne along her face and her neck. “You’re fine,” she whispers into Olivia’s ear. “We’re fine.”
“Yeah?” Olivia’s voice is tremulous, unsure. Like anyone who grew up with a drunk for a parent, she waits, always, for the other shoe to drop. But the past seems dead and buried. At least Cesar Velez is, as are all the key players in his cartel. And Alex Cabot is on the verge of becoming the youngest District Attorney Manhattan has ever seen. Olivia only hopes that the press’s interest dies down. Dealing with her colleagues’ ridicule—particularly over the headline NEW DA’S LADY LOVE IS A DUNKIN’ DETECTIVE, which featured a candid snap of Olivia with a box of donuts—is tiresome.
Of course, if that was the worst that could happen, she would gladly take it.
How anyone can look so smug and yet so tender at the same time seems impossible, but somehow Alex achieves this. “I’ve always told you, things would work out for us.”
After she’s dressed she washes her face in the bathroom. She’ll save really getting clean for home—a long soak in the tub, an act of simultaneous remembrance and forgetting. The milk of Paradise. She closes her eyes. She hasn’t thought of it in years, that poem her mother would declaim with whiskey-burnished commentary; after all, Serena Benson did her dissertation on Coleridge. It’s the River Lethe. A place of forgetting.
She wants to get to that place. She doesn’t regret what happened, exactly—he was gentle, sweet, and vigorously passionate—but she’s glad it’s done. She only hopes he feels the same way; that this was nothing more than the inevitable collision of two lonely people both aching with and defined by absences. In a moment of uncharacteristic optimism she thinks they’ll be stronger because of it.
When she opens the bathroom door, Elliot is already gone.
4. Angst in D Major
In the end, she is grateful for her mother’s neglect.
In an effort to keep her tomboyish seven-year-old out of her hair and her liquor cabinet, Serena Benson shoved a cheap plastic guitar in her daughter’s hands. Since then, Olivia has never really let go. She graduated from the toy guitar to a real one, played it until blood coated the strings, and developed such thick calluses on her fingers and her hands that anyone could crush a lit cigarette on them without her feeling so much as mild discomfort.
In fact, she once had a lover who liked to do that.
But now she is in a penthouse, on a leather sofa, a Stratocaster giving her a lap dance, and working on a song—The Song that will put the ghost of her mother to rest. But the amp crackles and fizzles. The notes are wrong. Again. It sounds like the beginning of the Pixies’ “Debaser.” Then it sounds like a Scarlatti sonata. The music morphs, running through her fingers like water. She isn’t sure if she changes it, or if it changes her.
Her manager comes in the room. Some days Odafin Tutuola dresses like a nineteenth-century banker; other days like the aging former rapper he really is. Today, it’s the latter. His man is in tow. Olivia forgets the guy’s name; Fin always refers to him as “my Jew”—pretty stereotypical, Olivia thinks, since the guy is their money man. He is gaunt, dressed in black, eyes eclipsed by sunglasses.
Fin flops into a leather chair. “You done with the song?”
Curled protectively over the guitar, she doesn’t stop playing. “No.”
“Is this the ‘Kubla Khan’ piece?” Fin’s man pipes up.
Now Olivia stops. Munch, she remembers. His name is Munch.
Munch smiles at her—the expression so benign she finds evil in it—and recites: “’Could I revive within me / Her symphony and song, / To such a deep delight ‘twould win me, / That with music loud and long, / I would build that dome in air, / That sunny dome!’”
She glares at Fin, plucks an angry chord. D Major. “You weren’t supposed to tell anyone,” she growls.
“Get over ya’self.” Fin scratches his cheek. “Liv, I think you need to take a break.”
“I don’t need anything.”
At this, Fin throws back his head and laughs. “Naw, baby. That ain’t true. I think I know exactly what you need. And she’ll be here at nine sharp.”
Olivia reconsiders her bad mood. A distraction might be good. “What’s her name?”
“Hell if I remember…wait.” Fin stretches thoughtfully. “Nikki, I think. She’s a pro.”
Olivia scrunches her face in a moue of distaste.
“I’m tired of you pickin’ up junkies! They steal shit and trash the place.” Fin stands, and gestures for Munch to follow him out the door. “We’re gone. Put that fuckin’ thing down and have some fun tonight, all right? That bitch cost me a lot.”
She runs a hand over the Strat. Women are complicated instruments, she thinks. She’s never quite gotten the hang of them.
5. Fugue State
This was what it was like to be on the wrong side of the table.
Olivia is flattered to see that she has earned Jack McCoy’s full attention. He is going it alone: No bubble-brained ADA will botch this case for the city, particularly not after what happened with Novak in the Connors case. Of course, if Casey had done her job, Olivia thinks ruefully, she wouldn’t be sitting in this room, in this office, staring at her hands. Maybe not. Maybe biology is destiny.
McCoy had heralded their entrance into the conference room, by relishing, with his puritan perversity, the “traitor” in their midst—the woman more a criminal in his mind than Olivia: “Alexandra Cabot. The once and future DA. Now the new William Kunstler.”
Alex doesn’t rise to the bait. She has a spacious Tribeca office, an obsequious gay assistant who dotes on her like a second mother, and enough tailored suits to open her own boutique. She can pick and choose cases with the same confident ease she does an outfit every morning. “You will at least admit I’m more photogenic than Kunstler.”
“True,” McCoy agrees. “Of course, my analogy doesn’t quite fit. Kunstler never would have defended a drunken, trigger-happy, vigilante cop—“
Olivia glares at him. Drunken? Pot calling the kettle black there, McCoy. Besides, she isn’t drinking anymore. Alex, and a prescription of Antabuse, have both ensured that.
“—not to mention who has a penchant for jailbait.”
Olivia stiffens, opens her mouth to protest, remembers how many times she’s heard a suspect say, But she told me she was 21!
“Those charges were dropped,” Alex reminds him.
“Uh-huh. Well, I’m sure your personal attention to this case must be keeping your client satisfied. ”
Olivia’s grip strangles the chair’s armrest. Ever since she killed Liam Connors her rage is unabated and unquenched, a tidal wave of oblivion, a fugue state. She doesn’t really remember killing him, just things leading up to it: Finding his hideaway near the waterfront in Red Hook, the pungent smell of the shore. And the soft dirt floor of the basement.
Revenge is strange, she thinks. Such a powerful driving force behind what, in the end, results in such futility.
Then Alex’s fingertips—light, reassuring, gentle—run the length of her thigh. Alex’s touch is as good a drug as the pills that help her sleep, that get her through the night without thinking of Elliot with a bloody hole in his chest, sprawled on a sidewalk, eyes wide open, dead.
“Is Branch’s homophobia official policy these days?” Alex crosses her legs to good effect.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“A strange request coming from someone who specializes in leering insults. What do you say we…actually talk about this case? You see a simple murder, committed by a bad person. The jury, on the other hand, is going to see a damaged, sympathetic woman outraged at the blatant incompetence of a legal system that allowed a cold-blooded killer, a professional assassin, to go free—this monster who murdered her partner and her best friend, and who would have gone on to kill other innocent people.” Triumphant, Alex leans back in her chair. “Do you really think they’re going to convict a cop who kills a cop killer?”
McCoy looks tired. “I suppose you’re backing this up with the usual psychiatric bull.”
“I have the reports right here.” Alex reaches for her bag. She smirks at him. It’s her predator’s smile, served especially for the occasion. She will win.
Olivia wants her to lose. Plead me out, let me go. It isn’t that she really wants to be punished—at least not by going to prison. But she can’t see how she could be anything to Alex other than a liability. She’s tried to convince Alex of this numerous times, but can’t; her protests only serve to strengthen Alex’s resolve. Instead, she closes her eyes.
“…profiles from three different psychiatrists, each one arriving independently at the exact same diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder…”
The basement is rich with the musty smell of damp, old, earth.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
It’s dark. He’s handcuffed, lying face down. She presses his face into that soft floor.
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing…
“I’ll offer you manslaughter.”
“You must be joking.”
Please, he says.
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
When it’s done, a fine spray of blood marks her hand. She’s never been so close to anyone she’s killed before. There in the dark, she wishes for the earthen floor to crumble and fall away into the deep caverns leading down the sacred river to the sunless sea, to the ultimate escape—the never-ending enchantment of Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome. And then, at last, she understands why her mother loved the poem so much.