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Unbeta-ed. Mistakes my own.
Disclaimers: I am only playing with the people from Oz and SVU. They do not belong to me and I am making no money from this.
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody, Chris's professor and Mrs. Keller are mine.
Theme: B/K. What happened after what really happened at the end of Season Six. This overlaps with my previous story, "Settling the Bill.
Warning: In my Oz-verse, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Coming in from the Cold 13/17
Part 13: Disappeared
"Meet me at the apartment."
The text message was from Chris. This was easier than Toby had expected. His heart sang although he tried not to listen to it. Chris had replied pretty quickly to his first message, the previous day, sounding friendly enough, if a little cautious. The next couple of messages they exchanged danced around the issues, but that was to be expected. As a lawyer Toby had been a good negotiator and he decided he should put his rusty skills to good use.
He wondered if it was time to phone Chris. He should probably let Chris phone him. He sms-ed, "Can we talk?" Chris didn't get back to him immediately and Toby found himself watching his phone like a hawk for incoming messages. But when Chris's latest message came in, he breathed a sigh of relief. They arranged a time to meet and Toby took the rest of the day off work. He needed to think about what he'd say and do once at the apartment. He was still thinking about it as he took the elevator up to the penthouse.
Toby's fantasy of magnanimously forgiving Chris while saving face was cut short. The last thing he thought as something exploded in the back of his head and the world got turned off was, "Chris". And it was the first thing he thought as he struggled to return to his senses, struggled to sit upright in the dark and cold, struggled against the tape that tied his hands behind his back.
"What are you playing at, Keller?" he shouted weakly. "You don't scare me."
Actually Toby was scared. This was worse than the Prop Room episode back in Oz and he'd been pretty scared then. He should've taken the fucking gun when Chris offered it. He could always have pleaded self-defense. In fact he should never have gone anywhere near Keller after leaving Oz. Fucking cocksucker. His head was aching so much it made him nauseous.
Something was wrong though - more wrong - he could feel it. Couldn't put his finger on what it was yet. Fuck. The place was freezing. Must be some type of basement. Where the hell was he? Then he realized what "it" was. He was being watched from somewhere in the dark recesses of the room. He heard a match being struck. A thin flame glowed orange and grew as it met a candle.
The dark figure holding the light didn't move from the shadows. Toby squinted into the gloom. All he could see was a bright, blurry halo of light and in it a corner that seemed darker than the rest. Cat and mouse. He wasn't going to play along. Sooner or later Chris'd get bored and come out to boast, explain or mock. But he didn't. Toby started to feel a trickle of real fear and something else. Something instinctive that made the short, fine hairs on his bound arms stand on end.
The face that swam into view, emerging from the darkness, like a mask, was not Keller's. It was pale and unexceptional, except for its eyes. Toby had seen eyes like that in Oz on occasion. Some of the rapists, murderers and Aryans had them. Very dark and very cold. Predatory eyes. Rattlesnake eyes that held no compassion. Toby felt himself drawing back against the cold hardness of the wall.
"We have a mutual friend," the man said in such an ordinary voice that Toby almost wanted to scream. "I expect he's told you a lot about me."
"Detective Stabler?" said the voice on Elliot's mobile phone. "It's Victoria Beecher. I hope I'm not calling you during supper."
Elliot was in fact at his home computer, tidying up some paper work he'd slipped out of the squad room when he'd left for his forced vacation. He was putting off going into the kitchen to see what he should fix for dinner. Maureen had cooked him some food and frozen it as several single helpings. All he had to do was pick one and microwave it. Eat it in front of the TV when the silence got too loud. Chris had been out all day on secret errands and hadn't said when he'd be back. It had of course all started with a message from Beecher the day before.
Elliot hoped his call was from Chris. It took him a moment to realize who Victoria Beecher was. Toby's mother. How had she got his number? She sounded worried, as far as he could tell.
But, since he'd never heard her voice before, he couldn't be certain. Her voice could be naturally querulous for all he knew. He had a vague memory of Chris saying that morning that he'd be going to the Beechers for dinner at some point this week. Was it today? Around lunch, Elliot had sms-ed Chris about maybe going out for a beer and a pizza later, but Chris hadn't replied yet. Elliot felt slightly put out by that. He was his brother after all. That should at least warrant a reply.
"Yes, Mrs. Beecher, it's Elliot Stabler," Elliot held the phone with his shoulder and jaw as he shuffled through documents looking for a missing tox screen report he'd seen a few minutes back, outside of the file where it belonged. Where was the damn thing?
"My, you do sound like Chris," said Mrs. Beecher.
She paused, clearly waiting for him to say something. He had no idea what to say. He was useless at small-talk at the best of times, and right now, at the end of a long day, packed with nothingness and irritations, kept from what he loved and was good at, rattling around in an empty house while there were innocent victims to be protected and avenged, he was clean out of ideas.
"Yeah." He was shorter than he'd intended. "Can I help you?" he added.
"Detective Stabler, do you know where Tobias and Chris are? I don't want to check up on them, but I expected them for dinner an hour ago and they haven't arrived."
"Have you phoned their numbers or Chris's apartment?" Elliot asked, squinting at a loose sheet of figures. He really did need glasses. Yes, it was a tox screen, but no, it wasn't the one he was looking for. How could two of them be out of their folders? Normally he'd blame Munch. He could never understand how a guy who was so anal about his own stuff could be so casual about everybody else's.
"Yes, there's no answer anywhere. I thought you might know where to find them. I feel worried. It's not like either of them to be late. They...they had a falling out recently. Tobias was going over to Chris's apartment to straighten things out, he said, before coming over."
Maybe they're making up, thought Elliot.
"Yeah, look, Mrs. Beecher..." he began.
"Detective Stabler, I don't know what else to do. Something's wrong. I can feel."
Elliot looked at the files on his desk and rubbed his eyes. Putting the tox screen back into its proper file could wait until tomorrow. He was just stalling. He might as well go to the Beechers' as stay here. Besides, in his experience, mothers often did know when something was wrong. But then so did identical twin brothers, right? And he hadn't felt anything amiss.
On the way to the Beechers he called Chris. Chris had caller ID and might not feel like answering a call from Toby's mother, but he'd probably take a call from Elliot. Chris's phone was on voicemail. Strange. Elliot left a short message. Chris's earlier silence seemed strange now too. It wasn't like him not to reply.
When he reached the Beechers' residence, Mrs. Beecher was astonished by how much he looked like Chris and Beecher's brother seemed positively thrown by his resemblance to him. Elliot made them retrace when they'd heard from either Toby or Chris, what Toby and Chris's activities were today (as far as they knew) and go through exactly what the supper plan involved and when it had been made. Mrs. Beecher kept murmuring that "Tobias was violating his parole conditions". Elliot had forgotten about Beecher's parole conditions, but then, knowing Beecher's record, it wouldn't be the first time old Toby had forgotten about them either. Chris still wasn't answering his phone.
Elliot waited with the Beechers for half an hour, politely refusing their pleas that he should join them for a drink or supper. Then, feeling edgy himself, he decided to go over to Chris's apartment to check it out. Angus had driven over there a little earlier, but had been told by the doorman that Mr. Keller was out. Elliot half considered calling in a favor and getting an APB put out on Chris's number plate, but dismissed the idea as alarmist. They hadn't been gone 48 hours and might not have taken Chris's car. In fact they very probably weren't gone at all. There was a perfectly simple explanation for all of this. Probably nothing more than a misunderstanding, he was sure.
At the apartment, he parked in the garage using Chris's spare parking disc. Didn't see Chris's Mustang. He went up to Chris's apartment and rang the buzzer. No answer. He called Chris's name and knocked on the door. Waited. Still no answer. No one home. He opened the door with his key and was about to punch the alarm code when he realized the place had not been armed up. Lights were on though.
Elliot stepped into the hallway. His "twin-brother" senses may have been underdeveloped, but his detective senses went into overdrive. Something was definitely off, even though a cursory scan of Chris's kitchen counter showed him Chris's car keys, wallet and phone were not there. He'd clearly left in a hurry. The blinds were open, the TV was playing in the background and, in the corner of the room, Chris's screensaver was flipping through its pictures. Sunsets were the theme. Elliot had expected the theme to be Beecher. Maybe he was the wallpaper. When Chris locked up, he tended to shut off the electrical equipment. But the apartment barely seemed locked up. Not like Chris at all. Elliot didn't enjoy invading Chris's space like this, but he decided he had better take a good look around before doing anything else.
His scalp prickled as he moved quickly and stealthily into the passage way. The gym was empty, so were the shower and spare bedroom, other than some boxes. Didn't look like Chris was moving though. The main bedroom was deserted too. No sign of anything amiss. The bed was made with institutional neatness, the way Elliot had made his even after leaving the Marines. Elliot checked the cupboards, feeling like an intruder, but Chris's clothes were in them and some of what appeared to be Beecher's - a couple of suits, chinos and some polo shirts Elliot was pretty sure Chris would never wear. Shaving foam, soap and toothbrush were in the bathroom. Where ever Chris was, he had clearly not prepared to stay long.
Nothing out of order. Nothing out of place. But something was definitely wrong. A mobile phone rang. And it wasn't his. Who else was in the apartment? Shit. He hadn't secured the kitchen area properly. Heart pounding, Elliot crept back, close to the passage wall. The ringing was definitely coming from the far end of the living room, near the kitchen. He instinctively drew his hand gun. The ringing continued. The living room was empty. The kitchen too. The ringing stopped. Elliot lowered his gun.
After a moment's thought, he put his gun back in its holster and pulled out his own phone. He called Beecher's number. The ringing started again. He traced it to the couch and found the phone underneath it on the tiles. Beecher had definitely been in the apartment. But when? Why hadn't he taken his phone when he left and how did it end up under the couch? Elliot's instinct was becoming a definite bad feeling.
As he searched Beecher's phone for missed calls or text messages, Elliot only hoped Chris had done nothing stupid. Chris had been pretty cut up about the fight he'd had with Beecher. He was completely overboard about him, obsessive, even. What would he be capable of if cornered?
Elliot didn't want to think about that as an option. Instead he focused on Beecher's messages and missed calls. He felt grateful for the first time that Chris had got Beecher the same type of phone as he had given him. Meant he already knew how to work it and could save time.
His own recent call was there and the one before it was listed as "Gussie". Must be Angus, the brother, trying to reach him again. There were a couple of other messages from earlier in the day, including a reminder from "Mother" about dinner this evening. Amongst the text messages was one from "Chris" saying he missed him and asking if Toby would meet him at his apartment later.
Elliot decided it was time to speak to the doorman. He took the elevator down to the ground floor.
"Mr. Keller?" The doorman beamed at him.
"No, Detective Stabler," Elliot said.
"Sorry, Detective," the doorman beamed again.
"How long has my brother been out?" Elliot asked him.
The doorman pulled his log book onto the counter with a flourish and ran his finger down the entries.
"Mr. Keller went out at about ten o'clock and came back around twelve thirty, like every Wednesday, sir. He stays in most days to write his assignments, I guess, being a student and all, although he hasn't been home much for a week or so. He said he's been staying with you, sir. He went out again at about three fifteen, which does not happen every day. You can see here, sir, where I signed for him. He never signs the book, even if he leaves through the front. Regular as clockwork is Mr. Keller and one can't help but notice when..."
The morning visit was to Elizabeth, Elliot knew. The doorman had seen Chris on the CCTV system as he left the garage and had not spoken to him. He'd have no way of gauging Chris's state of mind.
"What about Mr. Beecher?"
Mr. Beecher, it seemed, had arrived by taxi shortly after midday and had gone up to the apartment. The doorman had not seen him leave and Mr. Keller had left alone. So where was Beecher then? And where the hell was Chris?
"Is there a problem, sir?" asked the doorman, his beam a little dimmer.
"I'm not sure," said Elliot. "Let me see the CCTV footage for Chris's elevator when Mr. Beecher arrived."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible, sir," said the doorman.
"I take full responsibility..." began Elliot loudly, his worry turning into anger.
"We don't have any footage for the first part of this afternoon," the doorman explained hastily.
"What?" Elliot demanded.
"The system was undergoing maintenance. Technicians had to come out to work on it. Several of the tenants had been complaining it wasn't functioning properly. The cameras had to be disconnected for a while so that each section could be tested separately."
"How long was the maintenance crew here?" Elliot was thinking seriously about that APB now.
"From about eleven to two thirty."
How convenient for someone. He hoped like Christ that the someone wasn't Chris. He started back up to the apartment to scrutinize it more closely. On the way his phone rang.
"Detective Stabler?" A sonorous, cultured male voice greeted him. It sounded like a walrus on a distant beach might sound, had he studied at Oxford. "Edgar Gambodge."
Chris's celebrity lawyer. How had he got Elliot's phone number?
"Can we meet? I'm outside Mr. Keller's apartment now."
"How did you know I was here?" Trapped in the ascending elevator, Elliot considered his options and fingered his gun.
"Never mind that now," Gambodge replied. "I bear you no threat."
"I'm on my way up," Elliot said resignedly.
Gambodge was even larger and more impressive in real life than on TV. Tonight he was draped in a dinner jacket of epic proportions, which was off-set by a luxurious russet cravat that contained more swathes of silk than a starlet's Oscars ball gown. He extended an enormous hand to Elliot.
As they shook, he said, "I am afraid your brother is in very great danger and very probably so is Mr. Beecher."
"What makes you say that?" Elliot's hand was enveloped in what felt like several pounds of warm, raw dough.
"Your brother was star witness at the trial of a serial killer who has killed a number of young men across several states."
Elliot nodded. He'd heard about the freak around the time he'd found Chris. Casey Novak was following the case and was sure the guy was going to use the different state laws to walk. She'd update them every time she came to the precinct. It was out of Elliot's jurisdiction though and he hadn't given it much thought until Chris told him how he was involved. He'd been somewhat scant with the details in hindsight, but Elliot knew he was an important witness for the prosecution. Chris had always referred to the killer as "Junior".
"Are you aware, Detective, that Junior has disappeared while being transported from Rikers to Bellevue Hospital?" So Gambodge called him Junior too. From his mouth it sounded inappropriately arch. Elliot wasn't concentrating on Gambodge's change in register though.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. He had been complaining, apparently, of stomach pains. At eleven o'clock this morning, he was ... mislaid while en route to Bellevue for abdominal scans. The matter is being looked into by the authorities, but of course that doesn't help us. Do you have any idea where Mr. Keller might be? I have been attempting to contact him ever since I was notified."
Elliot let Gambodge into the apartment as he ran through the bases he had covered so far in his search for Chris. Gambodge confirmed that he too had been calling Chris since three thirty, but to no avail. Eventually he had e-mailed him, but had received no reply to that either.
"Maybe he left because he got your message?" Elliot suggested.
"He didn't open the e-mail," Gambodge said. "My system allows me to see when my communications are read."
The doorman had seemed pretty sure that Chris had left just after three, so that would make sense.
"Have the Special Victims Units been notified about Junior's escape?" Elliot asked. "I've been on leave. Nothing's coming through to me."
Damn Cragen. He should never have kept him out of the squad room. He should have been there. Chris needed him. He could have helped stop this crap. He knew it.
"I consider it unlikely that any information about it went through to your unit, Detective. It was an inside job. Someone was on his payroll. I expect it's been hushed up while the culprit or culprits are being found."
"How did you find out?"
"I was contacted by an interested party."
Elliot couldn't think about what that might mean right now.
"I'm notifying my captain." He needed to find Chris before Junior found him and Cragen had better help him do that.
While Elliot was busy on his phone, Gambodge stared at the computer for a while and then crossed over to it. His exclamation brought Elliot over to him.
"Detective Stabler, you should see this."
Gambodge had opened an e-mail message that contained a video clip. It showed a badly lit room, with a single bound figure in it. The lighting was adequate to discern Tobias Beecher, naked to the waist and blindfolded, strapped to a wooden chair. There was no sound with the clip, but Beecher's mouth was moving and he was struggling against his restraints. The e-mail message read, "If you want your little lawyer back, you'd better take the call." It was dated today at eight minutes past three.
"I think we can safely assume," said Mr. Gambodge, "that the message is not referring to me."
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