Chapter 35:  Nothing Gold Can Stay

Jim stormed into Alex’s office the next day.  She was sitting at her desk.  “You got an adjournment without talking to me?” he yelled.


Alex put down the phone.  “Escobar’s lawyer wants to make a deal.”


“Of course he does.  He read the witness list and realized that Kellner was ready to testify,” Jim snapped, talking a mile a minute.


“I am not willing to risk a mistrial, Jim, or an acquittal because some juror is pissing in his pants!”


“For God’s sake, Alexandra, this is not the—”


“Think about the jury,” Alex interrupted. 




“They already know a DA was murdered,” she continued. 


“Escobar needs to go down for murder two—life without parole.”


“We offer 20 to life and keep parole on the table, Escobar will bite.”


“Yeah, and if he buys a beanie and reads the Koran, he’ll be out when he’s 47,” Jim said sarcastically.


“It’s the right move!” Alex insisted.


The guy had Mike murdered!


“That is not relevant to this case,” Alex retorted coldly.


Jim balked.  He couldn’t believe his ears.  He thought that surely someone who had been through it before would have a little more compassion.  Instead she sat there with her elbows planted firmly on her desk and dismissed everything he said.  “Not relevant?  Wh-what do you mean, what do you mean ‘not relevant’?”


“Jane Ritchie’s parents are on their way over here right now.  After we are done talking to them, you are going to go to Rikers and you are going to make a deal,” Alex ordered, staring him down.  “This conversation is over.”


Jim looked at her in disbelief.  Turning around, he slammed her door back against the wall and gladly left, ignoring the stares he’d attracted in the hall.  He just couldn’t stand to be around her another minute.




“We, um, believe that pleading Escobar out to murder two is clearly the best resolution to a very difficult situation,” Jim explained. 


“The risk of a mistrial, even an acquittal, is significant,” Alex added.


“Right.  Good, so Escobar, he’ll be in jail for the rest of his life.  Right?” Mr. Ritchie asked.


“He will be eligible for parole but not for twenty years,” Jim answered.


“Twenty years?” Mr. Ritchie asked in astonishment.  “That…that’s not good enough.  I won’t accept that.”


“I know that this is difficult to comprehend—” Jim started.


“You don’t know a damn thing!” Mr. Ritchie shouted.  “This animal cut open my little girl like a lamb for the slaughter and you’re telling me he’s gonna be released from prison someday?  Is that what you’re telling me?”


Jim looked to Alex for assistance but she sighed and looked away.  Shamefully turning his gaze back to Jane’s father, he answered, “It’s possible, yes.”


“You’re a coward, Steele, you know that?  A coward,” Mr. Ritchie accused.  “This guy not only killed my daughter, he murdered your friend and now you’re cutting him a break?”  He angrily pushed his chair back and took his wife’s arm to leave.


Alex turned to Jim.  Before she could speak, he ordered, “Don’t ever sell me out like that again.”  He got up from the table and left his office.


Alex smirked and did a nonchalant eyebrow jump.  Oh well, she thought.  She was amused not at his pain but at the childish way he expressed himself.  She didn’t have time to coddle him.  It was cold-blooded but as she’d told herself many times, that was the way of prosecution.  She thought he needed to drop the persecution complex because he was the one who begged to have the case in the first place.  So I’m selling him out just because I made him properly do the job he asked to do?  Please.  Nonetheless, a part of her secretly enjoyed having the power to make him carry out the tough decisions because she’d been forced to do the same thing by her superiors when she was at SVU. 


She walked back to her office and sat down at her desk.  If Jim had wanted to take on the case, then he should’ve weighed all possible factors and been prepared for a worst case scenario, which included settling for a lesser sentence and breaking the news to the parents.  He had been playing the game long enough to know that prosecution wasn’t always about getting the justice you wanted; it was about getting the justice that you could.  He was letting emotion get in the way of logic because he should’ve known that the decision to plead out was the only way they would be sure that he served time.  It was very possible that terrified jurors would acquit to protect themselves and their families because they knew how merciless Escobar was. 


The situation reminded her of a case she’d had her first year at SVU.  Jill Foster, a police officer’s daughter, had run away and become involved with rave owner Lance Kanick, who forced her into child pornography.  Kanick had murdered an informant, so like Jim, the only deal she’d wanted to offer was life without parole.  Kanick had refused to cooperate, just like Escobar would have.  Cragen and the squad had pressured Alex to cut him a deal of 20 years because it was the only way he’d tell them where Jill was.  She had recognized that Cragen and the others were right, so she didn’t understand why he, a deputy DA, couldn’t be level-headed enough to see this instead of throwing temper tantrums.  He had currently been working in the DA’s office much longer than she had been when she was on the Kanick case.


However, even though she had rationalized her actions, deep down she knew there was another reason—shame.  She made him tell the parents because she knew she’d look like the biggest hypocrite and coward of all if she had done it.  Jane Ritchie’s parents could look at her and question why she would be willing to plead out someone like Escobar when she testified at trial and did everything in her power to make sure that the man who tried to assassinate her would be found guilty and receive the maximum sentence. 


She looked at her watch and wondered what Olivia was doing.  Probably out on a case, she decided.  She picked up her cell phone to see if she had any messages; Robert had called twice.  Rolling her eyes, she listened to her voicemail and decided she’d call him back later.  He wanted to meet for a quick lunch but she didn’t have time for that, and even if she did, she didn’t want to see him.  In fact, the only person she really wanted to see was Olivia.  She hoped the evening would allow her the chance. 




Jim stood in the bathroom, his jaw clenched.  He was not only hurt, he was irate.  How could Alex be so cruel to him, especially when she knew Mike’s funeral was in a few hours?  He was tired of her power plays and wondered what the hell he’d ever seen in her.  It wasn’t enough that she’d told him that he was going to make the deal, but the meeting was in his office.  Then to add insult to injury, she had been perfectly content to let him take the blame for it all instead of admitting that she had authorized the deal.  She had made it seem as if the decision to plead him out was his and that she was just backing his play. 


The thing that hurt the most was hearing Mr. Ritchie call him a coward.  He couldn’t believe Alex didn’t even speak up to defend him but sat by idly and let him be eviscerated.  If he had his way, Escobar would never see the light of day again.  He would do anything to avenge Mike’s death and he felt so completely powerless in the situation.  He hoped the Ritchies could forgive him, but he didn’t know when he’d be able to forgive himself.


After splashing some water on his face, he took a deep breath to embark on the trip to Rikers.   But the worst was yet to come.  From there he would carry the shame and guilt to his best friend’s funeral.  How could he explain to Joanne that her husband’s murderer would be free someday—free to do all the things he never would anymore?  Being in Mike’s presence and feeling as if he had done such a disservice to him would be the hardest task of all, and he’d like nothing more than to see the close of such a horrid day.




Alex shivered as another freezing gust of wind blew across the cemetery.  Much of the ground was still covered with a blanket of snow.  She noticed that although Jim was standing beside her, he had put as much distance between them as he could.  Given the circumstances, she wasn’t surprised. 


As the bagpiper played his somber melody, she thought back to what Olivia had described about her funeral and burial.  She imagined all her friends, family, and colleagues standing at her graveside to mourn her just like all of Mike’s were doing at the moment.  She thought about how heartbreaking it was for Olivia to stand there with the knowledge that she was alive and put on the charade as if her body was really lying in the casket. 


The scent of the flowers on and around Mike’s casket drifted to her nose.  It was odd how a fragrance so sweet could carry a sentiment so bitter.  The tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums surrounding them each offered a unique thanatopsis while simultaneously offering the same one.  Regardless of the differing artistry or personalization, the harsh reality was that death had conquered life and reduced every individual to the same level of physical disintegration.  Alex found it grimly ironic that a feeling of unrest had settled in her bones in a place that was supposed to denote eternal rest. 


The sky was overcast, but a bit of sunlight shone through the clouds as if nature was showing some mercy and providing its own explanation for their grief.  As she looked at the few golden rays, she was reminded of the final lines to one of Frost’s most legendary poems: “So dawn goes down to day.  Nothing gold can stay.