Briscoe and Curtis practice at the police shooting range. Curtis teases Briscoe about his ancient pistol, and Briscoe jokes that Curtis's semi-automatic pistol is more likely to jam. Curtis argues that Briscoe's pistol only has six bullets, but Briscoe says that accuracy matters more than bullets. Nevertheless, when they reel in the targets to see how they did, Briscoe concedes defeat upon seeing Curtis's target.
"Ah, these goggles. The lenses are all distorted."
Curtis gets a phone call, saying they have a case.
Briscoe and Curtis enter a stable. Briscoe asks the on-duty officers where CSU is and why the area wasn't secured. The cops are surprised that the homicide detectives showed up. They say that someone else called it in, and they only responded. Curtis says that the two officers confirmed it and wants to know the corpse's first name — the officers only reported a 'Mister Wickets' dead. The witness says that the body's first name is Mister — the dead body is a horse. Curtis is unhappy about the trick, and the beat cops say that they thought dispatch would get the joke — they'd said that the victim had four legs and weighed half a ton. As Briscoe and Curtis leave, the witness — Susan Bauer — demands that they do something.
"Miss, we're not the horse police."
She says that she saw a suspicious man in a green oilskin jacket leaving the stable, hiding his face. Briscoe wants to know how she's so certain the horse was killed and didn't die of natural causes. Bauer says that the only possible natural cause is colic — a blocked colon — but the horse had just execrated, so its colon clearly wasn't blocked. The only only possibility, she says, is that someone killed the horse. Bauer is distraught, but can't stop the police from leaving until she says that the horse was worth half a million dollars — he was a show horse who was only in town because his truck broke down.
"New York really is a rough town for tourists."
At the precinct, Briscoe tells Van Buren that Bauer was a trainer who worked for Wickets' owner, Richard Brandson. Curtis complains that the case is beneath him and that he doesn't want to investigate dead animals. When Van Buren won't change his assignment, he complains again that it's a nothing case. Van Buren, angry, dares him to say that again. Briscoe intervenes, saying that he knows that valuable horses are sometimes killed for the insurance money. Van Buren says that they should look into Brandson's background.
The cops go to a horse association, where a manager says that all their members are wealthy, including Brandson — it costs a lot of money to feed, train, and transport a professional horse. Brandson, though, had those resources. The manager explains that Wickets had a great build, so great that Brandson spotted him across a field at a Putnam County farm. Wickets was for Brandson's daughter, who is a jockey. Unfortunately, Wickets was no good at jumping, which ruined Brandson's hopes of Wickets and his daughter competing at the Junior Nationals.
The detectives next go talk to Brandson, who blames Bauer for going to dinner instead of watching the horse all night. Brandson says that Wickets died of natural causes. When Curtis wonders why he doesn't seem upset, Brandson says that he is, but doesn't cry in public but his daughter is distraught. A secretary tells Brandson that he needs to get ready for a big board meeting the next day, and Brandson asks if there's anything else he can help the detectives with. They bring up Wickets' problems in jumping, but Brandson downplays them. When they ask if the horse was insured, he says yes, then leaves.
An agent at Hudson Casualty, Brandson's horse insurance company, says that horse killers used to use barbituates and then insulin, but insurance agents became able to test for those things. Now horse killers use ping pong balls to asyphixiate the horse, or electrocute the horse — the latter death in particular looks like colic. The agent says that Wickets is going to get a necropsy so they can see if the horse really did die of colic.
Miss Brandson, Richard's daughter, talks to the police in a library. She is upset, and says that she and her father were to fly to Boston for the horse meets the next day. She thinks that the horse died of colic, and blames herself for not noticing any signs of illness.
"Mister Wickets and I, we communicated through our bones."
She rode Wickets only the day before he died, and he seemed fine. She leaves for class. Briscoe is certain that Brandson had the horse killed — his daughter loved the horse, but the horse was inept, so Brandson wanted to kill Wickets and get his daughter a better horse. Curtis castigates Brandson for taking away his daughter's favorite pet. Briscoe adds that Brandson was supposed to be with his daughter at the meet in Boston, but also had a board meeting that same day. He clearly knew that he wouldn't need to be in Boston, meaning he knew Wickets would die that night. They confront Brandson, who throws them out of his office when they highlight the contradiction. Briscoe says that they'll charge him with insurance fraud, but Brandson says that he's withdrawn his insurance claim.
Briscoe tells Van Buren that Brandson withdrew his claim once the cops began investigating. Curtis adds that the necropsy was stopped since there was no claim anymore, and Briscoe finishes by saying they have no proof that Wickets didn't die of colic. He and van Buren joke about the low odds of the Police Department paying for the necropsy themselves. Curtis complains about Brandson buying his way out of jail. Van Buren calls this naive.
"Unbelievable. In the United States."
—Anita Van Buren
Briscoe says that conspiracy to commit insurance fraud is still a crime, even if Brandson doesn't go through with it. He says they can prove it if they find the actual horse killer. He continues by saying they looked up insurance company records on dead horses, and a lot of them came from the same farm where Brandson got Wickets. It's owned by a Lyle Christopher.
"Excellent work, detective. For a 'nothing case.'"
—Anita Van Buren
At his farm, Christopher says he was hoping to see Brandson that weekend — Brandson is a regular customer. He plays off all the horse deaths as being due to illness or poor care, and finishes by saying that Wickets' death was tragic, but horses do die. Chirstopher provides an alibi for the night of Wickets' death — he was at a bar — and then leaves.
The bartender confirms Christopher's alibi, and says that he was a with a lady. After the lady left, a man came in to see Christopher, but the maitre'd had to lend him a sports jacket. The man was wearing a green outdoors-y jacket, which matches the description that Bauer gave.
Briscoe and Curtis tell Van Buren about some cell phone records they looked up. Once the horse truck broke down, Brandson called Christopher. Christopher called a Mr. Brown at a hotel in Boston. Five hours later, the approximate transit time between New York and Boston, he called a local hotel to talk to a Mr. White. Then Bauer saw a man in a green jacket leave the stables, and then a man in a green jacket met Christopher for drinks. Briscoe says that Brandson set the killing up, Christopher was the middle man, and the man with the green jacket was the hit man. Briscoe wants to nail Brandson, but Van Buren says they need to focus on Christopher, who is linked to five horse deaths. She adds that she just got his records, and he's been charged with fraud in other states. The charges were dropped when Christopher paid back the money, but Van Buren thinks there are probably other victims out there who didn't settle.
A Mrs. Fairchild, who is raking leaves, says that her husband left her enough money to live on, but the bonds she invested in were not meeting the returns she wanted. Christopher sold her a horse to stud, but the identification tattoo was fraudulent — when she went to check the horse's identity, the tattoo led her to the records of a much better horse. Before she learned this, though, she took a trip to Christopher's farm, and while she was there a man approached Christopher and demanded $50,000 as payment for a debt. Christopher begged her for help, offering to make her a partner in his horse farm. She wrote him the check. The detectives try to console her, and she says that the district attorney wouldn't even charge Christopher, saying it was a civil case. Curtis tells her that she's the fourth victim they found so far. Fairchild guesses that all the victims are women, and says that Christopher had said he wanted to marry Fairchild, until he got all her money, at which point he said he loved someone else and had gotten engaged. The new woman, Ruth Thomas, is very wealthy.
Thomas's maid tells the cops that Thomas won't be around for three weeks; she left for a three month cruise two months prior. When the maid goes back inside, Briscoe wonders why Thomas went on a three month cruise when she was engaged to be married.
"With this fiance, she's better off in a long distance relationship."
Briscoe wonders if Thomas took the cruise because she learned that Christopher was a con man, and says they should get in touch with her.
Curtis tries to get ahold of Thomas over the phone, but runs into trouble — he's told that Thomas never got on board. A man claiming to be her nephew called the boat before it left and canceled on her behalf. Her cabin was given away. Briscoe calls the maid; it turns out that Thomas has no nephew.
At Thomas's house, the maid nervously wonders where Thomas is. She says that she hasn't heard from Thomas since the cruise ship left, nor was she expecting to. She directs the detectives to Thomas's lawyer, who handles her pay. She also says that Thomas took a limousine to the port the day the cruise ship left.
The detectives try talking to the limo driver; he remembers Thomas but doesn't know anything else useful. All he can confirm is that he dropped her off at the dock. The detectives then talk to Frank Miller, the lawyer, who also hasn't heard from Thomas. He says that it's disturbing that Thomas seems to have vanished. When asked if he was handling other business of Thomas's, he says that he was handling a civil case, but can't talk about it due to attorney-client privilege. Briscoe says that this could end up being a protracted legal argument, but Miller won't budge. When Curtis asks about Christopher, Miller tells them to talk to a Judith Grayson.
Grayson is stunned to hear of Thomas's absence.
"Oh God, he killed her!"
She says that she booked the cruise just to escape Christopher. Grayson explains that she had encouraged Thomas to meet people after her husband died, and she met Christopher at a horse show. He treated her to expensive dinners and swindled her out of a lot of money by selling her weak horses at inflated prices. Once Thomas figured out what was going on, she demanded her money back and threatened to sue. She gave him until her cruise returned. Christopher tried to explain away why all his horses performed so terribly, but failed. Still, he tried to sway her the night before she left by taking her to dinner.
Curtis tells Van Buren that the pre-cruise dinner was very expensive, and Briscoe says that it didn't go well.
"Hundred dollars a head."
"And they argued through at least ninety-eight bucks of it."
—Reynaldo Curtis and Lennie Briscoe
Briscoe points out that Christopher knew where Thomas would be the next morning. Christopher could have been at the pier and lured Thomas into his car, then killed her. Van Buren remarks that it was a brilliant crime; no one was expecting Thomas for three months. Van Buren says that the trail is cold, but Briscoe promises to get results.
Back at the farm, Christopher complains about being questioned. He admits to being engaged to Thomas, but when pressed, and told that Thomas isn't on the ship, says that they were having a separation. He acts surprised that Thomas is not on the ship. When asked, he says that he went sailing the day the cruise ship left — he was upset about the separation and wanted to think. He claims not to know where Thomas is. When the cops go to the dock, a worker confirms that Christopher went out that day, even though there was a bad storm. He drove his car into the dock so he could pull up right next to his boat, in order that he could put some luggage aboard. The worker asked if he could help, but Christopher said no.
McCoy complains that there's no evidence that Christopher actually killed Thomas. Briscoe cites their circumstancial case, and Curtis adds the motive, but Kincaid points out that Thomas has the resources to travel anywhere. They all argue, but McCoy eventually says they can go after Christopher for the horse fraud. When Curtis says that Fairchild was told it was a civil matter, McCoy says that, by combining all the cases, they can charge him with a scheme to defraud. The cops are upset about the relatively minor charges, but McCoy is adamant.
"Either we play it this way, gentlemen, or we don't play it at all."
At arrangement, Christopher's lawyer James Linde moves to suspend the procedings until the civil cases conclude. Linde argues that the fraud charges are business disputes and belong in civil court, but Judge Morris Torledsky disagrees. Christopher pleads not guilty, and Torledsky sets bail at $25,000.
Schiff complains that the case is time-consuming, a waste of money, and pointless — when McCoy says they have leverage, Schiff points out that no one will plead guilty to murder to get a fraud charge dropped. He adds that no one even knows that Thomas is dead. Kincaid says that they got warrants to search all of Christopher's things, but Schiff is still dismissive. McCoy says that Kincaid will find something in the files.
At a cafe, Kincaid says that something that might be Thomas's blood was found in Christopher's boat and car. His horse records are incomprehensibly complicated, but he was less protective of his flirtations with various women he was defrauding. Kincaid says that Christopher spent vast sums of money to impress a Susan Merriman, starting three months before Thomas vanished. The lawyers go to talk to Merriman, but she denies that Christopher could have done anything wrong. She thinks the horse buyers are blaming Christopher unfairly when their horses didn't work out. Merriman says that Christopher was with Thomas before he found her, and Kincaid corrects her that Thomas thought they were still engaged. Merriman insists on Christopher's honesty. Kincaid asks if Merriman invested with Christopher, and she says that she was up at his farm one time when a man approached Christopher. Kincaid finishes the story, saying that the man asked for money that Christopher didn't have — the same as Mrs. Fairchild and the other victims. Merriman still believes in Christopher. She says that he was devastated when one of the other horses died; she was there on the farm when it happened. She recalls a man that was there when the horse died.
Kincaid tells McCoy that Christopher called a Mr. Black five times the weekend that the horse died. The motel took his license plate when he registered; Mr. Black's real name is Tibor Nichols. They conclude that he is also Mr. Brown, Mr. White, and the man in the green jacket. McCoy wonders if Christopher hired Nicols to kill Thomas, and Kincaid says that the two did talk on the phone twice the weekend that Thomas vanished. McCoy wants to find Nicols, but he's out of town and no one knows where to reach him. They do have Nicols' pager number, from Christopher's records, and McCoy decides to use Brandson to lure Nicols into a sting.
McCoy tells Brandson and his lawyer that they all know what happened. He says that Christopher has been indicted and is likely to deal; McCoy would rather convict a half-dozen members of the social elite than a single con-man. When Brandson's lawyer says that Christopher will have no credibility, Kincaid threatens to tell the Horse Association what happened. This would destroy the chances of his daughter competing professionally. Brandson folds, and McCoy offers him immunity in return for talking to Nicols. Brandson doesn't know who that is, but agrees to go along.
At a bar, Curtis waits for Nicols. Brandson is there too, drinking. Nicols comes in, and they talk. Briscoe and Kincaid are listening on a wiretap.
"Trust me, sir. The horses don't feel a thing."
"I'd like to shoot a hundred and twenty volts through his rectum and see what he says then."
—Tibor Nicols and Lennie Briscoe
Nicols admits to killing Wickets. Briscoe radios Curtis, who arrests Nicols.
Nicols jokes that the police must have a lot of free time to try to catch a horse killer. Briscoe responds that they caught him nevertheless. Nicols guesses that they want him to testify against someone else. McCoy says that Nicols will testify against Christopher or he'll be sent to jail for four years, and Nicols agrees. He begins to list horses that he's killed for Christopher, and Briscoe says that they want to talk about Ruth Thomas. Nicols admits that Christopher talked to him about killing Ruth so that she wouldn't derail his horse-fraud and his relationship with the rich Susan Merriman. Nicols, however, says that he wouldn't take the job.
"I told him I draw the line at animals with less than four legs."
His alibi is that he was killing another horse in California the weekend that Thomas vanished. Then Van Buren calls McCoy outside; Kincaid got a preliminary match on the blood in Christopher's car and boat — it's Thomas's. McCoy authorizes the arrest, and the detectives arrest Christopher in Merriman's home.
Schiff is unhappy about the arrest. He complains that there's no body and says that they'll have a tough case without one.
"Today's juries, you'd better be able to prove that she wasn't abducted by aliens."
In court, a Dr. Sefansky testifies that the blood found in Christopher's car and boat belongs to Thomas. Linde, though, makes the point that there's no way to determine when the blood was spilled. Later, Nicols testifies that Christopher wanted him to make Thomas 'disappear.' He says that he understood that to mean Christopher wanted him to kill her. Linde argues that Christopher's phrasing was ambiguous, and that all he said was that he'd be happier if Thomas disappeared. He argues that Christopher might have just been upset. He also points out that Nicols didn't kill Thomas, and Christopher never said that he killed her either. McCoy, on rebuttal, tries to bring up the horse killings, but Linde objects on the grounds that Christopher was never convicted of that, so it would be prejudicial to let the jury hear about it. Judge Henry Fillmore agrees, and McCoy stops questioning Nicols.
The next person to testify is the dock worker, who talks about Christopher parking on the dock and having luggage that he wouldn't let anyone see. On cross-examiniation, Linde has him admit that Christopher didn't seem agitated after the boat ride. He also has him talk about a time when Thomas became seasick after sailing when Christopher. She'd sworn never to get on a boat again.
Grayson talks about how Thomas felt once she learned of Christopher's fraud. Linde quickly objects when McCoy asks what Thomas planned to do about it — it would be hearsay. McCoy argues that Thomas's statement would qualify as an excited utterance, so it's an exception to hearsay. Fillmore agrees.
"She said, unless he took his worthless nags back, she'd take every penny he had and send him to jail."
Grayson adds that she hasn't heard from Thomas since the cruise began, and she would have, if Christopher hadn't killed her. Linde has this comment stricken from the record. Linde then brings up a time when Thomas went to Bermuda for two weeks and didn't tell anyone; the police were called but it turned out that Thomas was fine. Linde then argues that Thomas may have been embarassed and gone into hiding over the debacle with Christopher; McCoy objects and Linde withdraws his statement. He ends by having Grayson admit that Thomas flew to Bermuda, instead of taking a boat.
Schiff is angry about the seasickness defense. McCoy says he'll get an expert to say that cruise ships have stabalizers, but Schiff points out that Thomas might not have known that. They argue, with McCoy saying that it's tough to prove a negative. Schiff points out that they have no body, no weapon, no witness, and essentially no evidence. McCoy says they're trying to find the cruise ship passengers to see if anyone saw Thomas get intercepted by Christopher. McCoy says that he'd be doing better if he had more time, and Schiff criticizes him for arresting Christopher so early.
"He might have flown the coup."
"Now, after he's acquitted, he'll just stroll."
—Jack McCoy and Claire Kincaid
Outside the courtroom, Kincaid gives McCoy a report. When she tells McCoy that she hasn't had a chance to give it to Linde yet, he gets mad at her. She thinks he's being unreasonable.
"Sorry. My transporter beam was down."
McCoy becomes offended, and enters the courtroom in a huff.
On the stand, Christopher testifies that Thomas was injured opening a bottle of wine on her boat. Blood got on the boat then, and when he drove her to the hospital, some got in his car too. He provides a hospital entry form corroborating his story. When asked about Nicols, he says that he knew Nicols for years but that he sees now that it was a mistake. He says that he was just expressing his unhappiness at Thomas leaving him; he didn't want anyone to hurt Thomas. When asked about the horse disputes, he says that people are blaming him unfairly when investments don't pan out; nevertheless, he refunded their money. McCoy says that Christopher couldn't have paid Thomas back in the time frame she gave him. He claims he still loved Thomas. McCoy asks why he began buying Merriman gifts before breaking up with Thomas, and Christopher says that he started sending Merriman gifts once it was clear that Thomas was leaving him. He admits that Merriman is rich. McCoy asks how he thinks Merriman would react to Thomas's charges, and even though Linde objects, Christopher asks to answer the question anyway. He says that Merriman is still with him even now that the allegations have come out.
"But you couldn't have known that she'd be that gullible."
Linde objects to McCoy's bringing up other women that Christopher 'swindled.' Linde's objection is sustained, and McCoy is warned to watch himself. McCoy then asks how his blood got into the car's trunk, and Christopher says that he put a towel her hand had been wrapped in into the trunk. McCoy says the blood was on the trunk's roof, so Christopher says that the towel landed on his golf bag. McCoy is incredulous. He asks if Thomas had any money left after Christopher had cheated him, but Linde objects and Fillmore sustains it. McCoy says that Thomas's threat was very dangerous to Christopher, and Christopher denies that any threat occured at all. McCoy says that, unlike Christopher's other victims, Thomas had enough money to make good on her threats. Linde asks to approach, then asks for a mistrial because McCoy keeps bringing up the fraud cases. Fillmore agrees and grants a mistrial.
One month later, McCoy is talking to Schiff about scheduling cases. He says that they found a witness on the cruise ship who thinks he saw people looking like Christopher and Thomas talking near the boat. Schiff gets a call — a fisherman just found Thomas's body. McCoy rips up papers that would have given Christopher a deal. Schiff says that Linde will try to show that McCoy deliberately provoked a mistrial to get more time, which would result in the case being dismissed with prejudice. McCoy says that he just got carried away, so it wasn't deliberate, and the case can stay.
"You know how emotional I get."