He didn't think for a minute that today's visit to the sex shop had fueled any fantasies. All in a day's work, after all. Although Stabler worked all day on sex crimes and was faced with every aspect of human sexuality, he firmly believed that he did not bring his work home -- not even the occasionally titillating parts of it. He could separate work and family, and sometimes his wife complained that he separated it too well, sharing little of his day with her.
He walked past the desk and noticed the light from the computer; someone had left the monitor on and the screen-saver had kicked in. He paused in front of the computer and touched the mouse. The screen-saver disappeared and an e-mail message appeared.
"Little Mo, I moved back in the pod with Toby today, after all this time apart. McManus said it was okay. He's in a good mood now that he's back in Em City. I can't wait to show Toby how I feel about him tonight. I'm better at the showing than the telling, but I know what you mean about being more honest about my feelings. You shouldn't let your dad get to you when he complains about the way you dress. He doesn't want guys getting the wrong idea and I'm here to tell you that guys are born with the wrong ideas. Take me for instance. If I was a cop and had a beautiful daughter I don't think I'd let her out of the house just in case she might meet a guy like methinks for what you said about the song. We hardly ever hear any music in here and they really limit what we watch on TV. But that song was perfect. You don't know what it's like to lay awake at night and listen to the sound of a man breathing. Even if he's not right next to you. When you're in the hole, you don't have that. And it's hard to ever sleep. Just breathe. That says it all. I've never heard of Nsync but like I said we don't get much music. A boy band sounds like a good thing to me though! Gotta go. CK."
Stabler's eyes narrowed as he read the message. Maureen had an e-mail pal -- and he appeared to be in prison.
Stabler pulled out the chair in front of the desk and sat down. He closed the message and found his daughter's mailbox open. Although he knew he was violating her trust, he didn't hesitate. He went to the list of messages and started to scan them, one by one.
"John said you were the cutest girl in O'Brien's class, but he's already taking Julie to Deb's party. Too bad. Are you still going with Charlie?"
"Don't tell me you didn't agree that Casey was a bitch on wheels. You know you did. She thinks she's the next coming of Christina Aguilera or something, but she just looks like a skank to me."
"Did your dad say you could come Saturday night? It's an after-hours club, but no alcohol and no rap. He should like that."
"Do you think Justin and Britney are really dating? I think that's all b.s. He's way too cute for her. I agree that JC is to die for. He's so beautiful he makes me cry."
"Little Mo, how did you find me? I've never had anybody e-mail me before and I have a hard time working this computer sometimes. How do you know I look like your dad? I didn't know any newspaper printed a picture of me. It was a bitch being shot but I've been out of the hospital a while. I have a scar on my chest, but it's not too bad. I died once on the operating table, but they brought me back. It's messing with my head right now. My podmate, Toby, is going through a rough time right now because his kids have been kidnapped. You should think about how much you really want to know about prison life, because it's no picnic. Yes I'm sure they read a lot of this stuff and censor it like our mail. Maybe it's harder to censor it though. They listen and tape a lot of our phone calls. You don't have a lot of privacy in prison but I guess you don't deserve it. If your dad is a cop I bet he wouldn't want you writing to me. I don't have any kids but I was married four times. Toby has a little boy and girl. What do you look like? I have to go. Write again. CK."
Elliot Stabler read this message twice. He grabbed a pad off the desk and jotted down the e-mail address. Then he scanned for more messages.
"Little Mo. I came to Oz in June of '98. I don't know if you really want to know what I was convicted of except it had nothing to do with rape or crimes against women. I would never do anything like that. I've done a lot of bad things and misused drugs and alcohol but there are things I wouldn't do. If the newspaper didn't say what I was convicted of I don't think I should, but you should believe me when I say it wasn't rape. I've been raped myself more than once, a long time ago when I was your age. Toby was also raped when he first came to Oz and a lot of other things. What is high school like for you? Do you have a boyfriend? Toby's my boyfriend, I guess. Sometimes it's hard to tell because we fight a lot. Toby found out his son is dead and today he's at the funeral. I wish I could do something. It's hard. I have to go. CK."
Elliot swallowed. More messages followed about school and boys and music. Then he found another of interest.
"Little Mo, sorry I haven't written but I've been out of circulation. Toby and I had a fight and I was in the hole. They moved me out of his pod. Toby thinks I had his son killed. I've done a lot of terrible things but this is ridiculous. I would never hurt a child. Em City is falling apart and they're moving more and more of the white guys out. The new unit manager Querns is a real bastard and the place is going to hell. I don't know what will happen next and I guess I don't care. I'm glad your new boyfriend didn't push you too far. If he tries tell him you have a friend in prison with contacts on the outside. That will get him if having a cop for a dad doesn't. CK."
There was one message left in the list from 'CK.' Elliot read it quickly.
"Little Mo, how could you tell how bad I felt? I guess I really didn't care if I lived or died and maybe I still don't. But it helps to read your notes. Toby knows I didn't kill his son but I can't forgive him for thinking so. Toby is out of my life but I get to watch him every night. He'll go with any guy in here. If he thinks it's going to change my mind, he's wrong. You were right to tell your boyfriend off. Guys have to be put in their place. You can't let them get away with anything. There's a lots of ways to make a girl come without sticking it in, so he's really thinking about himself not you. I didn't make it that far in school so I don't know what you mean about looking forward to your senior year. But it sounds like you should make the most of it when you get there. You're only young once. Don't worry about me. I'm okay. I'm a survivor, believe me. CK."
Stabler took a deep breath and closed the mailbox. He sat for a time in the darkened room, and then the screen-saver kicked in and caught his eye. He switched off the monitor. It was now far too late to wake his wife with a kiss, and he wasn't ready to discuss this discovery with her. He finished his beer and headed upstairs.
* * * * * *
Stabler sat at another computer screen, this one at his precinct in Manhattan. A face eerily resembling his own filled half the screen, with a long list of crimes and convictions next to it. Christopher Keller. Most recent conviction: June 16, 1998 for felony murder, two counts of attempted murder, armed robbery, reckless driving and driving under the influence. Sentenced to 88 years, eligible for parole in 50.
Olivia Benson, Stabler's partner, glanced over his shoulder. "Who's that? He looks exactly like you."
"Who is he?"
Stabler gestured at the screen. "He's some kind of monster. And he's also my daughter's penpal."
"My god . . ."
Elliot switched off the screen and pushed the chair back. "Want to take a drive with me? I need to go to Oswald State Correctional Facility."
* * * * * *
Stabler and Benson showed their identification to the guard at the check-in point and stowed their weapons and wallets in a locker. Elliot had the guard call ahead to the section called Emerald City and was told the unit manager, Tim McManus, would see them immediately. A corrections officer escorted them through the first gate, past the double fences and rings of barbed wire, into the front door of the prison. When it had become politically correct to refer to prisons as 'correctional facilities,' Oswald State Penitentiary had changed its name. However, most people just called it "Oz" -- inmates and law enforcement officials alike.
Barred gates opened and closed behind them as they were escorted through the prison. Stabler saw the eyes of the inmates they passed fastening on Olivia Benson, and many of the comments about her impressive anatomy were clearly audible. When they entered Emerald City, Stabler noted the preponderance of glass instead of bars and the additional light. This was Oswald State's experimental section, closed for a while after a riot killed six inmates and two correctional officers and reopened due to political pressure brought to bear on the governor, James Devlin. Stabler and Benson were led up a flight of stairs into a waiting area. Their escort tapped on the glass before opening it and announcing their arrival.
"Come in," said a man Stabler judged to be a few years older than himself and a good deal more shopworn. "I'm Tim McManus -- I manage Em City. What can I do for you?"
McManus held Stabler's eyes for a long beat before looking past him to Olivia Benson.
"I'm Detective Elliot Stabler and this is my partner, Olivia Benson. We're here to talk to you about one of your inmates -- Chris Keller."
McManus hadn't offered his hand to shake, so Elliot didn't raise his. He stood, waiting.
McManus seemed to tear his eyes reluctantly off the attractive form of Olivia Benson before addressing Stabler again. "You know you look like you could be his twin brother?" he said bluntly.
"I know I look like him. This isn't about that."
McManus motioned for the two to sit. "What is it about then?"
Stabler glanced around the office, lined on three sides with windows and blinds. It didn't give a great deal away about the unit manager, unless one could surmise that his tastes were simple and he didn't go in for knickknacks. Stabler couldn't imagine what it would be like to sit in this office for eight to ten hours a day; the thought made him squirm slightly in his seat.
"This Keller has been e-mailing my partner's teenage daughter," offered Olivia. "Somehow she got an e-mail address for him, and they became penpals."
"You're fucking kidding me!" said McManus. "Keller using the computer?"
"Absolutely," said Elliot. "I've read the messages myself."
"Are they obscene?" McManus asked, leaning back in his chair and looking at Olivia again.
"No, unless you consider it obscene to have a murderer communicating with a 17-year-old girl," Elliot answered icily.
McManus glanced at him and pursed his full lips. "Someone else may be writing the messages and using Keller's name," he speculated.
"Why?" Elliot asked, sitting forward.
McManus shrugged. "Why not? Lots of crazy things go on here. Maybe somebody here knows you and wants to fuck with your head."
"I want to talk to Keller," Elliot said.
McManus sighed and rubbed his small beard. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
Elliot had had enough. He stood up and looked down at the unit manager of Em City. "Keller is going to stop e-mailing my daughter, and you're going to make sure of it. And I'll be happy to tell him myself."
McManus took a deep breath and stared back at Stabler. He was clearly used to strong men trying to intimidate him and couldn't be easily impressed. "I'll set up a private interview with Keller. But I'll have to check on his rights about using the computer and e-mailing your daughter. The e-mail thing is relatively new here. And I don't need another lawsuit on my hands."
McManus stood up and walked past Stabler and Benson; he stuck his head out the door and motioned to someone. A tall c.o. approached and McManus spoke with him briefly. Then he turned back to Stabler. "You can follow Officer Murphy to an interview room. He'll get Keller. Your partner will have to stay here."
Stabler guessed by the way McManus looked at Olivia that he was happy to keep her company while Elliot met with the convict. He glanced at his partner to make sure she was okay with this arrangement, and she nodded at him with a slight smile. He gave McManus a terse 'thanks' and walked out of his office.
"Follow me," said the man identified as Murphy. Murphy gave Stabler a long look, probably due to his resemblance to Keller, Elliot knew. To his surprise, Murphy had a pleasant face and a twinkle in his eye. Elliot didn't doubt that underneath the genial exterior was a very tough man.
The interview room was stark; it held a table and two chairs and had windows and blinds on two sides. When Murphy left him, Stabler turned a circle in the small room and then stood awkwardly. He felt an itch under his nose and rubbed it, finding a tiny bead of sweat. He was suddenly nervous about the upcoming encounter. He didn't want to sit and have the convict standing over him when he entered, so he stood, his back to one of the slate walls. He crossed his arms and grimaced, breathing deeply. He had interviewed several hundred perps and suspects over the years, and he knew he could handle Keller.
Murphy opened the door and motioned with his head. The man who entered stopped a few feet in front of Stabler, his dark blue eyes narrowing. He smiled a very unpleasant smile, his teeth white and straight. "I bet I know who you are," he said in a sly tone.
Stabler didn't answer; he looked at Keller, trying not to react to the similarities he saw. Murphy, however, was openly staring.
"Sit down," Murphy ordered Keller. Stabler looked at Murphy in surprise, thinking he was being addressed.
Keller gave a long look to Murphy before he swaggered to a chair and sat down, leaning back and crossing his legs. He wore a tight white tank that showed off his muscular arms and chest and the two distinctive tattoos on his arms -- one on the left upper arm, one on the inside of his right forearm. Stabler stared at the tattoos and swallowed, feeling sweat starting under his arms. Under his own shirt and jacket he had the same tattoos -- the exact same tattoos. On the same arms.
Keller looked over at Stabler and smiled again. Stabler felt paralyzed, his back pressed into the wall, involved in a mental battle to fight the growing impression that he was faced with his own 'evil twin.' There had to be a good explanation for this. There had to be.
"So you found out Little Mo has been writing me?" Keller asked.
Elliot didn't answer, but forced himself to move forward and take the other seat. Murphy stood near the door, his eyes on Keller.
Stabler leaned forward and took on Keller's stare. Then he spoke for the first time to Chris Keller. "Yes, I'm Elliot Stabler, Maureen's father. And I know she's been e-mailing you. I want it to stop."
Keller smiled again, but his eyes were hard. "I bet you do."
"I've told the unit manager that it's going to stop," Elliot said, the tone of his voice very flat.
Keller snorted air out his nose. "I'm sure McManus will get right on it." He continued to lean back, while Stabler moved slightly forward.
"Look," Stabler said, "I don't know what you're after, and I don't care. But you're going to leave my daughter alone."
Keller furrowed his brow and looked somewhat puzzled. "I wonder if our cocks are the same," he said, studying Stabler. "What do you think? Should we whip 'em out?"
"Knock it off, Keller," Murphy warned.
Murphy's voice jolted Stabler. He glanced back at the c.o. and motioned at him. "Leave us alone, Officer Murphy. It's okay."
Murphy threw Stabler a dubious look. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Keller laughed. "He's afraid I'll hurt you," he said.
Stabler frowned at Murphy. "Do you mind? I'll take responsibility."
Murphy shook his head, but left the room.
Stabler stood up and closed the blinds. He turned to Keller. "You want to play games? Okay, then. Play with me, not with my daughter."
Keller shook his head. "I got no games for you," he said, his face twisting. "You and me got some kind of connection. You don't like it, but that doesn't change a thing. Little Mo found me -- I didn't find her."
Elliot bent down across the table and put his face close to Keller's as though he were interrogating a suspect. He breathed into Keller's face. "You think I'm not serious about this, that I won't do whatever I have to do to protect my daughter?"
Keller pulled back, but his eyes didn't retreat. "You think you have to protect your daughter from me?" he asked. "Little Mo and me are connected, just like you and me. I'm no threat to her."
"I don't want her to have anything to do with you. I don't want her to know you at all."
Keller smiled, but his eyes suddenly welled. "Too late. She already does."
Stabler backed off and studied Keller. "It's gone far enough," he finally said.
Keller was frowning and blinking. He didn't look at Stabler. "Whatever," he announced. "I don't give a fuck."
Stabler sighed and rubbed the back of his head with his right hand. He wasn't sure exactly what was being accomplished, if anything, or how to continue. Keller was a man with nothing to lose, and that made him someone beyond most threats. On the other hand, didn't Keller have something he cared about? Stabler mentally reviewed the e-mail messages from Keller.
Stabler sat back down and faced the convict. He stuck out his jaw, wondering if he could get Keller's attention. "You leave Maureen alone, or I'll make sure you're transferred out of here -- away from Toby."
Keller fired a look at him, clearly surprised. His mouth opened and his brows came together. He stared through watery eyes at Stabler. "If you know about Toby, you know there's nothing between us now," he said. He closed his mouth and a muscle in his cheek twitched. Then he smiled again -- a very unpleasant smile. "You are like me," he said. "A real bastard." A drop of moisture escaped out the corner of one eye and ran down his face. He quickly wiped it away with the back of his hand.
Elliot felt his stomach roll. Deliberately hurting this man had taken some work, but now seeing the results left him sick. He was suddenly reminded of an old episode of the television show 'Star Trek,' where Captain Kirk was separated into two people, one good, the other evil. At the end, Kirk had reached out to his dark self, holding him in his arms, carrying him, sensing his vulnerability. It was ridiculous, he knew. Chris Keller was not really a part of him. The similarities -- the features, the build, even the tattoos -- were only part of some twisted coincidence. But still . . .
Keller stood up. "I won't e-mail her again. Like I said, fuck it. It makes no difference to me."
Stabler looked up at him, mentally commanding him to look back. Keller avoided his eyes. "Sit down," Stabler said. "For a minute more."
Keller shook his head. "There's no connection. You just happen to have my face."
Your face, your body, your tattoos, Stabler thought. Even your voice, to a certain extent. There was no doubt they had to be related in some way. Stabler got up and walked toward Keller. He reached out a hand toward the man, and Keller dodged it.
"Wait a second," Stabler commanded. "Let me talk to you."
"Fuck you," said Keller, and his tone was menacing. "I'm through talking to you."
Before he had even considered the idea, Stabler found his arms going around Keller's wide shoulders, pulling the man to him, up against his chest, close enough to smell his sweat. Keller struggled, and for a moment they tested one another's strength, their muscles bunching. Keller was breathing hard, but Stabler couldn't hear the gasps over the throbbing in his temples. They wrestled and fell against the wall, their shoulders slamming into the cement. Elliot's injured side cramped and he lost control of his grip, slipping down. Keller followed him to the floor of the room.
Stabler groaned, feeling Keller's weight land on him. He reached out to push him away, but now Keller's arms were locked around him and the man's face loomed over his. Stabler looked into Keller's eyes and felt a wave of heat move up his body, flushing his skin and swelling his crotch. He shuddered uncontrollably and opened his mouth before Keller's lips closed on it. Keller's tongue thrust out and almost gagged him, until he reciprocated and pushed back with his own tongue. Stabler's right hand closed around the back of Keller's cropped head and he gasped into Keller's mouth. One of Keller's legs was grinding into his burning crotch. Elliot rocked against the hard leg, thrusting his pelvis up. He couldn't get his breath, couldn't see, couldn't stop his thrusts. He was coming in his pants.
Keller pulled slightly back, evidently aware that Stabler had climaxed. His mouth freed Stabler's, and Elliot gasped for air. "Jesus," Stabler choked out. "My god."
"Get up, Keller," said the stern voice of Officer Murphy. "Right now!"
Keller's weight lifted from Stabler, and Elliot could suddenly see again. Officer Murphy stood over the two men, looking vaguely irritated. Keller, used to being interrupted in the middle of a sexual encounter, stood up slowly. Elliot groped to steady himself before standing.
"You okay?" Murphy asked. "You want me to help you?"
"I'm fine," Stabler said. He got to his feet, wondering if his passion showed on the front of his pants. He glanced down, then back up at Murphy.
"I'll take him back to his pod. Then I'll come and get you. You better stay put."
Keller looked back at Stabler as Murphy pushed him toward the door. "Wait," Stabler insisted. "Give me one more minute."
Murphy shook his head. "Sorry. I can't do it."
Stabler fished for his tablet and pen. "Just give me a second, Officer." He opened the pad and scribbled on a page, then ripped it out and handed it to Keller. "My numbers, home and cell. Call me."
Keller looked at Murphy as though he thought the man might confiscate the note, but Murphy just shrugged. "I'll be back," Elliot said. Keller's eyes locked on him for a moment, and then he allowed Murphy to escort him out.
Stabler sat down in one of the chairs and rubbed his temples. His pulse was still racing and his legs felt weak. He had never experienced anything like this before, and he didn't think he could analyze his feelings right away. He needed distance and time, which the two-hour ride back to New York City might provide. But he needed to be able to face Olivia, so he had to pull himself together fast. He hoped Officer Murphy could direct him to a men's room before returning him to McManus' office; splashing cold water on his face might help.
It was a test of will, which Stabler knew he could win. He was a strong man, both physically and psychologically, as he had to be to do the difficult job he had chosen. Now, for the first time in his career in law enforcement, he imagined the strength of will it took to face life in prison, to get up and go through the motions day after day after monotonous day, and not to reveal even the tiniest crack. Stabler was not a man to feel sorry, even for a moment, for the fate of criminals; he despised those who willfully broke the law and savaged innocent lives. But today he had glimpsed a small crack in a man who looked just like him, but was somehow terribly different. And that man was a criminal and had probably caused a great deal of pain in his life. And he had reached for that man, and he had breathed into his mouth and given himself up against the man's leg. And Keller was right -- they were connected. Undeniably.
When Officer Murphy returned a few minutes later, Elliot Stabler was able to stand up and follow him out.
End Part One
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and all related characters belong to Dick Wolf, NBC Studios and USA Studios