Lt. Anita Van Buren has been on Law & Order since Season Four, but we still don't know all that much about her. Blizzard gives us a glimpse into the Van Buren household, and into Lt. Van Buren's head as well. This is a stand-alone companion version to Heartbeat, published in the last issue of apocrypha. The standalone story which comes after this one is Officer Down.
The door slammed and Anita winced. Sometimes she found it harder to deal with Ric, her teenage son, than she did with men accused of heinous crimes.
She saw her husband staring at her across the breakfast table. She could tell he wanted to say something, but was debating the wisdom of doing so. She asked resignedly, "What?"
"Give the boy a break Anita," he said.
"He knew the rules, Don."
"He's still young, Anita."
"Age doesn't have anything to do with it and you know it. I see fifteen year old with guns and knives killing other fifteen year olds every time I look up from cases of eight year olds doing the same."
"We've got good boys, Anita. Don't make this about being a cop."
Anita put down her fork. "This has nothing to do with me being a cop."
Don stood up, holding his empty plate. "Doesn't it?"
He rinsed the plate while Anita stared at his broad back wondering if the table beneath her fingers was slipping away.
She said tightly, "I'm a good mother."
He sighed. Wiping his hands on the tea towel, he came over and gave her a quick peck on the top of her head. "No one's ever denied that."
He picked up his jacket. "It's getting late, I have to go. Jeff Ryerson taken an off this morning because his mother's in the hospital so I have to open the store."
"Don't walk away from this, Don."
"We'll talk about it tonight. You have a nice day, Kid."
Anita slumped back into the chair. She wondered if he was even aware that he still called her Kid. It had been what all her older brother's friends had called her when she had tagged along behind them at the age of five. Now all of them, except Don, called her Anita. She wondered too if she was making a big deal about a childhood nickname. It had never bothered her before. But it was just one more thing in a long line of things that seemed to undermine what she had worked so hard to achieve. She had worked single-mindedly to overcome the obstacles of color and gender to reach where she was today, a Lieutenant amongst New York' s finest. Yet, often, she felt that her struggle went unappreciated -- by her family, by the men and women under her command, and by the city officials who tom-tommed her as a trophy for equitable rights, but didn't do anything to ensure that she didn't remain one of a few.
Anita let out a deep breath, and got up. She had better get ready for another day of murder and mayhem.
She had barely stepped into the squad room, when Molina told her that there were two FBI Agents waiting to discuss the John Doe homicide reported the previous night. Anita's mood plummeted further. It never boded well to have Feds around when her lot was so sensitive about jurisdiction. It looked like it was going to be a long morning.
And, as she had prophesized, it was. But all the while that it took her to sort out the paperwork for the John Doe who turned out to be an informer in a drug ring that the FBI was investigating, and the time it took her to prepare the budget documents for the next Department meeting, and to keep abreast of the open cases under her supervision, the sound of the kitchen door slamming kept reverberating in her mind. By the time she returned from lunch, Anita's head was throbbing.
She looked up as Lennie Briscoe walked into the room. He looked as if he had aged ten years in as many minutes. "Mike Logan's been shot. They've taken him to St. Catherine's."
Anita stood up in shock. "How serious is it?"
"Didn't say. OK if I take the day off? For some reason he's named me next of kin."
"Sure," said Anita. "Give me a call when you know more."
Anita sat down abruptly after Lennie left. It had been three years since she'd had to discipline Mike Logan for punching a high-powered city official. He'd been transferred to Staten Island after that, but that didn't stop her from feeling that he was still one of her "boys". Their relationship had always been a little strained; his reputation as Mr. Hothead was well deserved. But she respected his ability as a cop, and had been deeply touched by his unshakeable belief in her innocence when she had been accused of shooting an unarmed teen in the back.
She unexpectedly recalled a night many years ago when she and Liz Olivet had been waiting at the Precinct for Mike Logan and Lennie Briscoe to return from the hospital with a delusional suspect. She also recalled what she and Liz had talked about that night. Anita picked up the phone, but a computerized recording told her the number she was dialing was no longer in use.
Anita frowned as she opened the front door to her house, an unusually silent house. It was past ten, but even for a weekday it wasn't so late that there would be no sound of the television or stereo. There was a note from Don on the hall table saying that his assistant' s mother had died that afternoon and that he was over at their house helping with the arrangements. There was a PS that their younger son Stefan was with him while Ric had choir practice.
Anita's frown deepened. Choir practice never went on so late. Where was Ric?
She turned around as she heard a key in the front door and Don and Stefan walked in. Anita realized that they showed neither surprise nor interest at her being late.
"Hi," said Don.
"Probably up in his room. Why?"
Anita shrugged. She felt uncomfortable explaining that coming home to a silent house after the disturbing day at work had thrown her off balance.
She followed Don into the kitchen where Stefan was warming dinner in a well-practiced routine. Don took out the plates from the dishwasher and as father and son talked about the next day's chores and basketball schedules, Anita felt strangely alone...like a stranger in a blizzard looking through the window into a warm kitchen.
Turning away from an unordinary sense of loss, and oddly close to tears, she made her way upstairs to Ric's room. Tapping lightly, she pushed open the door. The lights were out and from the glow of the street lamp she made out a vague shape in bed.
Feeling a strange fear grip her heart, she walked to the bedside. Shame rose in her throat making her almost physically ill when she saw her son lying asleep, breathing soft and low. Had she become so used to deceit and lies that she had automatically assumed her son had shoved a pillow under the covers and gone out just because it was unusual for him to turn in so early?
Anita stared down at the face hidden partially by an arm thrown over his eyes. She remembered that first moment in the hospital when he had curled his tiny hand around her finger and looked up at her so trustingly. She recalled the time when he had come home with bruises after another boy had beaten him for sharing his lunch with Melissa Hubert, the blue-eyed golden-haired kindergarten princess. It had been his first encounter with prejudice, and after she had cleaned the scrapes on his elbows, he had buried his head in her lap and cried as if his heart would break. She had rocked him against her, helpless in the face of the knowledge that she could not protect her sons from hurting. All she could do was teach them to stand up for themselves against cruelty, bigotry and injustice.
She remembered the way Ric had sat in court, torn between a testimony that would send his mother to prison, and the integrity that she and Don had instilled in him. She had been so proud at that moment. And, she could still feel the strength of his arms around her waist as he had hugged her after the charges against her had been dropped.
Anita felt tears fill her eyes. Where had the distances between them come from, taking her so unaware?
She softly closed the bedroom door behind her. She felt tired and dispirited. It had been a long, unhappy day. The thought of Mike Logan resurfaced. She had been unable to reach Liz Olivet in spite of trying throughout the day. Was she doing the right thing in wanting to let her know about Mike being in the hospital? After all, it was really none of her business. It had been several years since that night at the Precinct when, in a momentary lapse of protocol brought on by end-of-the-day fatigue, endless waiting and lukewarm coffee, Liz had confided in her about her tempestuous relationship with Mike. Subsequently, the younger woman had reinstated a professional distance between them and had never made a reference to it again. Still, Anita had kept her ears open for squad room rumors, but hadn't heard anything out of the ordinary about Mike and Liz. Either they had been extremely discreet or the relationship had petered out before becoming public knowledge.
She heard Don coming up the stairs. He seemed surprised to see her standing outside Ric's room, still in her office clothes. His quick glance took in her wet eyes and dejected droop of shoulders. Raising a hand to cup her neck, he asked softly, "This thing with Ric getting you down?"
"A little," she admitted, leaning against him. "And it didn't help that Mike got shot this afternoon. They were still in the OR when I left."
"Mike Logan. He used to be with the Two-Seven."
"Isn't he the one that punched that S.O.B?"
Anita sighed. "The same. Funny how all one remembers of Mike is his temper. He was a good cop."
"Is a good cop," reminded Don.
"Is a good cop," repeated Anita.
"And I remember more about him than his temper. He's a good man, loyal and straight playing. I liked him."
"I did too, but I wonder if he ever knew it."
"Well, you can always tell him when you go to see him."
Anita pulled away. "That's just it. When do you bring all this up? It's not as if he's a friend or anything."
She pressed her fingers to her throbbing temples. "And yet I probably spent more time with him than I did with my own sons. What does that say about my life?"
She walked into their bedroom, unbuttoning her blouse while looking through the drawer for a clean nightdress. Finding it, she turned to see Don standing against the door, a familiar patient look on his face.
"What?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Just waiting for you to answer your own question?"
"What does it say about your life that you spend more time with people whose dreams, needs, fears you know nothing about while missing out on finding those things about your own sons?"
Anita was as taken aback as she would have been if he slapped her. "You think I'm neglecting Ric and Stefan?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter what I think, it's what you think that counts."
Anita walked towards the bathroom. "I'm too tired for this discussion."
She hardly felt him move before he was standing in front of her. "Don't shut me out Kid." His voice was so gentle Anita felt a lump in her throat. It would be so nice to just lean against him and cry out all the hurt and the heartbreak, like Ric had done one afternoon such a long time ago.
Instead she said, "I really am tired. I think I'll just have a shower and turn in."
He looked down at her and she could feel his concern bathing her in a warm light. He gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head. "Go, get comfortable. I'll bring up some hot chocolate for you."
Anita smiled in spite of herself. In Don's mother's house, hot chocolate had been a remedy for all ills, from bad grades to bankruptcy, and Don had kept up the tradition with Ric and Stefan.
"Okay," she said, feeling upbeat for the first time that day.
He stopped at the door, to turn around. "And Anita..."
She looked up expectantly. "Hmm?"
"If you love him, tell him so."
Anita stood staring at her husband's retreating back.
Were they still talking about Mike?
Dr. Elizabeth Olivet. The nameplate on the door was still in place even if the phone had been disconnected. All of yesterday, as Anita had tried to contact Liz Olivet, she had debated whether she was doing the right thing, and even now she hesitated. Light spilled out from under the door so Anita knew Liz was home. She knocked. The door opened almost immediately.
"Anita?" questioned Liz, obvious surprise in her voice. "Come on in."
She waved at all the cartons and boxes on the floor. "Don't mind the mess but I wasn't expecting company."
She smiled, "What brings you here? Is everything all right?"
"I don't know," said Anita, still hesitant. "Mike Logan was shot yesterday afternoon."
The next moment she wished she had padded the announcement because the woman in front of her looked as if she had been the one at the receiving end of the bullet.
"Here, sit down," she said, pushing Liz down on the nearest carton.
She went across the hall to the kitchen and got a glass of water. "I should have been more tactful. It's been so many years since you mentioned that you and Mike were ... I mean, I didn't know whether what I had to say still counted."
Liz pushed back her hair from her forehead, and took a deep breath. She managed a smile. "Actually, it's been over between us for years now. The news just took me by surprise, that's all."
She stood up jerkily. "So, is he going to be all right?"
"The doctors seem to think so. He took a bullet in his shoulder, a clean shot."
"Do you know how...how it happened?"
"Not the details, but it seems he pushed his partner out of the way and took the bullet. Lennie said the partner was just a rookie, very shook up."
Anita noticed that the young woman's poise was returning.
"Probably the best thing that could have happened to Mike," said Liz. "It'll redeem his sense of guilt about his previous partners."
She perched the glass on a nearby carton and turned to Anita, a detached smile on her face. "I'm sorry I can't offer you a drink or anything but I'm leaving for Frankfurt tomorrow and everything' s packed and ready for the movers."
Anita looked at her steadily for a long moment, and then she said, "Mike's partner told Lennie that the last thing Mike said before he lost consciousness was to ask for you."
A stab of sympathy hit her as she saw the younger woman's face crumple. "Go get your coat. If I drive I think we'll make it before the end of visiting hours."
When they reached the hospital, Anita saw Lennie waiting by the nurse's station. Why was it she hadn't noticed Lennie's age before? His partner Rey Curtis often made digs about it but she had always ignored them as idle banter.
"How is he?" asked Anita.
"Asleep. I wish I could have whatever they've given him."
"Maybe you should go home, Lennie," said Anita. "You've had a rough twenty-four hours."
He nodded. Anita continued, "I'll just have a quick look in at him, and I'll give you a ride."
Anita opened the door and walked in, automatically slowing her step to stifle the sound. She walked over to Mike's bedside. He lay motionless, attached to a beeping machine that monitored his heartbeat. As she looked down at him, so drawn and still, Anita was shocked to realize how much she had missed seeing that face across her desk -- mobile eyebrows raised as he challenged something she said, mouth quirked up in a lopsided smile as he sassed her.
Anita acknowledged to herself, for the first time in three years, that some of the baggage she carried regarding Mike was guilt. In some place deep down inside her heart, she had always felt as if she had let him down when he had been suspended for punching a politician, then transferred to Staten Island.
For an instant the face in front of her blurred and she saw Ric lying against the pale pillow and the sensation was so shattering she almost took a step back. She took a deep breath, and shakily held on to the bars on the side of the bed. Obviously her sleepless nights were catching up with her.
"It's no longer Lieutenant Anita to you," she whispered, remembering the time she had caustically pulled rank on him. "Come back soon, Mike."
She reached out and squeezed his hand, looking down at him for a flicker of response. But he remained deeply sedated; the monotonous beep from the machine above his head the only sign of life.
When she came out of the room, Anita saw Lennie and Liz talking in the corridor.
"He's out like a light, though I guess that's the best for him right now," she said.
She glanced at the younger woman and added gently, "Why don't you have a quick look at him, Liz, then I'll take you home as well."
Liz looked up and for a moment Anita thought she saw something like affection cross her face. Anita was surprised. Liz Olivet had always struck her as a detached, unemotional person and affection wasn't something she easily associated with Liz. But then life was full of surprises. Just look at her odd pairing with Mike.
Anita brought her attention back to the present to hear Liz saying. "I think I'll just stay a while. I'll see you both tomorrow."
Anita smiled at her, understanding Liz's need for time with Mike, and gestured to Lennie that they should leave.
As Anita steered the car out of the parking garage, she shot Lennie a quick look. He was unusually quiet. "Thinking of Claire?"
Lennie looked at her, surprised. "You mean because of the hospital?" He shook his head. "Actually I was thinking of Mike putting my name as next of kin. Makes you wonder about families."
He looked straight ahead as they stopped at a traffic light. "I never thought of him as a son, but when I was waiting for the doctor to come out of the operating room, he may as well have been."
Anita' s thoughts flew back to the moment she had seen Ric on the hospital bed instead of Mike, and in a flash of insight she understood that at some level she responded to Mike as >
Transfer interrupted!ansfer arose from the same sense of helplessness to protect him from hurting that she had felt the day Ric had cried over Melissa Hubert.
The notion shook her. She knew that if she wished to change her relationship with Mike to a less professional one she would some day need to examine the whys and wherefores of her discovery. But not now. Not today. Not even someday soon...
She brought herself back to hear Lennie say, "But I'm still not blood. So, where are they?" He grimaced. "And will someone ask the same question when I'm waiting for the angels."
Anita felt compassion for Lennie. She knew little of the personal lives of the men and women who worked with her because the job demanded that you left home at home. But she was not unaware of locker room gossip. She knew that often infidelity, alcoholism, estrangement were the unwelcome consequences of the job, and it took a toll on the cops' personal relationships. Being a cop could be a lonely business, and it was on occasions like this when you appreciated families. She thought of Don and his rocklike strength, and her thoughts turned towards her own two sons...one of whom would not even talk to her.
She asked, "Do you think Mike ever forgave his mother?"
"Can't say. His mother didn't feature as one of the top ten topics of casual conversation between us." Lennie gave her an astute glance. "What brought that up?"
"Just what you said about family," hedged Anita. "It couldn't have been easy for her, knowing that her son disliked her."
Lennie frowned, recalling his own rather remote relationship with his daughters. "There's nothing easy about being a parent," he said. "But in Mike' s case I think she hurt him more than he hurt her, probably more than even she ever realized."
They drove the next few blocks in silence and Anita' s mind drifted down another path. Mike and Liz. She wondered if she should bring that up with Lennie, then thought back to her conversation with Don the night before. She had taken the first irreversible step in becoming involved in their lives when, without thinking of things like official ranks and professional distances, she had picked up the phone to call Liz.
She asked, "How long have you known about Mike and Liz?"
Lennie smiled. "Almost as long as I've known him, but he didn't tell me himself if that's what you mean."
"You mean you guessed?" Anita couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice.
"Hey, part of being a cop is keeping your eyes open and reading the signs."
No other answer could have served to dishearten Anita more. Lennie looked at her questioningly. "This is one of those times when I get to play cop and read the signs. Something bothering you, Lieutenant?"
Anita gripped the steering wheel and opened her mouth to deny that anything was bothering her, but instead found herself saying, "The neighborhood patrol brought Ric home from a party on Friday...and you don' t need to be a Police Commissioner to know what was helping the party swing."
Lennie whistled under his breath.
"Tell me about it. Can you imagine what the newspapers would make of it if they got hold of the story?"
She sighed. "But that's not what bothers me, Lennie. He won't talk to me. He told his father that he didn't have anything to drink, and that he called home but...but..." Anita's voice tapered off.
"...but you weren't there," finished Lennie. "So now you're torn between guilt at not being there when he needed you and more guilt for not reading the signs. Bad mother and a bad cop."
"It was Don's bowling night and my night to be home, but I got delayed over the Samuel deposition. I know I haven't always been there for the boys Lennie, but I thought they understood why I was away, that they were proud of the fact that their mother was a cop." She tried to control the anguish in her voice. "But that night he wouldn't even look at me. It was as if I was a stranger."
Lennie turned in his seat. "Seems to me that you're giving yourself such a hard time, you aren't seeing the picture clearly."
"Meaning, take a young boy who thinks of his mother as Serpico and Supermom rolled into one and does his best to live up to her expectations of him. Throw in a situation that is less than Church on Sundays And Captain of the Basketball Team. How do you think he's going to feel?"
Anita's mind raced as she took in the scenario, and said slowly, "Ashamed."
Lennie nodded. "Maybe even scared that his mother will be so disappointed she won't love him anymore."
Anita was stunned. She had been wallowing so deep in self-pity that she had failed to see what this must have done to Ric. Undeniably, she had been a bad mother and a bad cop.
"If you love him, tell him so," she murmured.
"Sorry. Missed that."
"Just something Don said last night." She repeated the words aloud.
"Good advice," agreed Lennie. "But, like vitamins, how many people take it even though you knows it's good for you?"
Lennie asked gently, "Ready for some more good advice?"
Anita looked at him expectantly.
"Don't wait for the "right" moment...things tend to get left that way."
Anita tapped lightly on the door and went in. Her resolve weakened as she saw Ric face close.
"Hi," she said.
Ric remained silent.
"Mind if we talk?"
Ric shrugged. "I already told you what happened that night. Nothing more to say."
"Well, in that case will you listen?"
He didn't say anything, but cleared the books off his bed. Anita looked at her towering son and wondered afresh where the years had flown. "I wanted to apologize."
Ric's head went up at that and he looked at her with startled eyes.
"I'm sorry I overreacted." Anita sighed. "To be honest, I think it was partially out of defensiveness for not being home when you called."
Ric searched her face. "You mean that?"
Anita nodded. "Though I guess the fact that a patrol car brought you home didn't help much."
"I didn't ask for any favors Mom. The Officer knew you and decided by himself to bring me home instead of taking me down to the station with the rest of the kids."
Anita winced inwardly, praying that the press never got a wind of this or there would be hell to pay. But aloud, she said, "I know that. I know you Ric. And I also know that there are days when it doesn't seem like it, but I am proud of you." Her voice caught in her throat. "And I love you so very much."
Ric looked at her silently for a moment, and then Anita felt his arms go around her as he buried his face against her. Sometimes, because of his height, she forgot that he was still so young. Her baby.
She stroked his hair. "I missed you," she said. His arms tightened even more in response.
After a while, he looked up. "Am I still grounded?"
Anita smiled. "What do you think?"
He sat back. "Well, I think we should renegotiate. You said yourself that you overreacted."
"So what do you think would be reasonable? I can bet you had a fair idea that there would be alcohol at the party."
He had the grace to look shamefaced. "As it is everyone else drinks, Mom. If I don't even go I might as well become a monk."
"It's against the law, Ric."
"You don't think I know that?" Anita heard the bitterness lacing his voice. He turned to face her squarely. "Do you think it's easy being a cop's son?"
When Anita did not reply immediately, he continued, "Every breath we take is measured according to 'The Law'."
"Ric you're an intelligent boy. You know that without law there would be chaos."
"And there isn't any chaos right now? Come on Mom, get real." He stood up and moved to his desk.
Anita looked at him for a long moment. She said finally, "What do you expect me to say to that? I'm a cop. It is my duty to uphold the law to the best of my ability. If I turn a blind eye to something that I know is illegal I fail the oath that I took to serve and protect."
"Yeah, but you're also a mother. Why can't you just see it from our point of view once in a while?"
Anita thought of all the times she had sat across suspects in an interrogation room. She had never felt more at loss than she did at this moment. "All right," she said, trying to buy time. "You tell me what you would have me do in the situation like this?"
Ric remained silent, leaning against his desk, not looking at her.
Anita said quietly, "Let me ask you something and I want you to think about it before you answer me. I know you love me Ric, but if I were more...lenient... would you respect me?"
He kept looking at his hands while Anita waited silently, patiently. Finally, he looked up at her and Anita detected a faint smile. "So, I guess I'm still grounded, huh?"
"I guess you are."
He nodded slowly. "Want a sandwich?"
Anita was taken aback at the abrupt change of subject, but didn't miss a beat. "I guess I do."
Stefan was reaching into the fridge when Anita and Ric walked into the kitchen. Anita saw him tense involuntarily as he noticed who had entered. She sighed. It had been a long time since the Van Burens had been candidates for Happy Families. Nostalgia struck her.
She said, "Hey, I've got an idea. What about some hot chocolate and a round of Go Fish?"
Stefan's jaw dropped. "We haven't done that since grade school." He looked at his brother for an inkling of what was going on.
Ric rolled his eyes, but said, "I'll go get Dad."
She saw Stefan relax visibly. "Great," he said, reaching for four mugs.
Anita smiled contentedly. For a while at least, she was out of the blizzard and back inside the warm kitchen.