Sharon Raydor was sitting, quite uncomfortably, at her new desk in Major Crimes. Three weeks she'd been there but it still didn't feel like hers. All of Brenda Leigh Johnson's things were gone and replaced with current case files.
She hadn't moved any personal things in there yet. But she really didn't have any. So that was a mute point.
As she was lost in a file, the door to her office swung open causing her to nearly jump out of her skin. In the doorway stood Chief Pope with his hands on his hips. A stern looks chiseled on his face.
What did he want now? Sharon wondered as she clicked her pen closed and slowly laid it on top of the papers she had just been perusing.
"Chief Pope." She leaned back in the supple black leather chair. She hadn't brought her own from FID. This one was more comfortable and – and it had history. A legacy of sorts.
He entered completely then and closed the door behind him.
Sharon watched him closely all the while noticing her team eyeing the closed-door encounter curiously through the open blinds.
"Captain, you know FID is still investigating Chief…" he corrected himself. "Brenda for the Stroh assault."
Sharon narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Chief," she put emphasis on the word, "Johnson retired from the LAPD and admitted guilt of the accused assault charges. That investigation was closed when her retirement was granted."
Will Pope shifted and looked around the practically empty office.
He cleared his throat. "Stroh is suing LAPD indicating that perhaps Chief Johnson's squad knew of her plans and precipitated such."
Sharon Raydor twisted her lips then spoke slowly and deliberately. "Sooo a convicted rapist and murderer is suing the LAPD? And why are we wasting time and, I can only assume, a tremendous amount of money on this?"
Pope ran a hand over his bald head. He knew this wouldn't be easy. "The level of media attention this case drew has…"
"The LAPD lets the media dictate what it does now?"
Pope sighed. "Anyway, the trial starts…"
"Yes, Captain, trial." He was getting more and more frustrated. "Former Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson goes on trial in one month." Sharon opened her mouth to speak but he cut her off with a raised hand so she clamped her lips together again. "I'm telling you this because you are a ranking officer and your team will most likely be questioned…if not more."
She nodded curtly. Nothing else she could say would matter. The wheels were already in motion. And soon Brenda Leigh Johnson would return to the fold even if just for a short time.
A week later, Sharon Raydor was sitting at the same empty desk, working on another pile of paperwork. But for a full week her mind had been inexplicably wandering in their direction of none other than the woman who, for so long, was the bane of her working existence.
One time her shrink tried to tell her that people who were so very similar often butted heads more than anyone else. And sometimes unrequited feelings caused the level of stress and hardheadedness to stand in the way of a successful working relationship.
With that thought, Sharon removed her dark rimmed glasses and rubbed her eyes careful not to smear any mascara that may be left after a long day.
A light knock on her door caused her to sigh out loud. With any more interruptions and errant thoughts about Brenda Leigh she'd never finish the work that had to be done before she went home. When she looked up Special Agent Fritz Howard had his head poked in the door.
"Agent Howard, come in." They had worked several cases together since Brenda left but they didn't speak of her. Sharon had to uphold the professionalism of her team and herself.
"I'm sorry to disturb you so late, Captain." He closed the door gently behind him.
"It's no trouble at all. What can I do for you?" Sharon smiled tightly.
"I'm sure you've heard that they're going to make Brenda Leigh go to trial because of that asshole Stroh." He waved his hand. "Sorry. Well…"
Fritz paced the room. "Brenda is in Georgia. And she won't return my calls."
"I'm sorry. I don't know what this has to do with me or Major Crimes." She was thoroughly confused now.
"She has to come back for the trial or they'll put a warrant out for her arrest." He gave a strangled laugh. "Brenda Leigh is being her normal stubborn self. She won't come back for me. I thought maybe…you could talk to her."
Sharon raised her eyebrows. "Chief Johnson and I aren't exactly friends, Agent Howard." She would admit that they had grown tolerable of each other the past year they worked together. But friends? No.
"No, but as odd as it may be…you were the closest thing to a friend she had."
Sharon Raydor sat in stunned silence. Because not until Fritz said the words did it hit her that the same was true for her. Brenda was the closest thing to a friend that she had as well.
"I'll see what I can do but I can't promise anything. You and I both know she's not going to do something unless she wants to do it."
Fritz nodded his hand and thanked her for her efforts. He knew it was a long shot asking Sharon to help and an even longer shot that she would be able to convince his wife to return. Hell, she wouldn't return for him. But it was his last hope. Stroh had destroyed Brenda from the inside out and now he was putting her freedom in jeopardy.
Later that night…or early the next morning…however you wanted to look at it…Sharon Raydor was standing in her obscenely large walk-in closet. With a glass of Riesling dangling between her fingers she scanned the hoards of clothes. Granted most of them were dark toned pencil skirts and dress suits but way in the back she had a few socially fitting outfits.
As she ran her empty hand along the suits and skirts and evening gowns, it hit her.
"What does one wear in Georgia?" She asked out loud to nobody. She'd never been to the south for more than a business workshop. Well there was only one thing to do: go shopping.
She smiled and downed the rest of the wine. There was nothing more therapeutic than a shopping trip.
It didn't take long to find the clothes she wanted or at least thought were more Georgia appropriate. And by noon she was on a flight to Atlanta. She tried to come up with a plan of how to convince the former Deputy Chief to come back with her. But each scenario ended unsuccessfully. Hopefully she would figure something out once she got there.
In the meantime she completed a few emails that she would send to her team once she landed. Commander, she rolled her eyes, Assistant Chief Taylor would keep Major Crimes in line while she was away and she was fairly sure Lieutenant Provenza would be none too happy to lead the team in her absence.
Three hours and three time zones later, Sharon Raydor arrived in the great state of Georgia. The first thing she noticed when she walked out of the airport doors was the heat and humidity. She literally felt her breath being sucked out of her and a bead of sweat break out across her forehead.
She was immediately glad that she had worn a knee-length skirt and short-sleeved silk shell underneath her suit jacket. True, she had shopped before leaving but Sharon Raydor was Sharon Raydor and she didn't venture far from the form-fitting, perfectly tailored suits.
And the purple blazer was her favorite.
One thing she remembered about the south was that it was not unlike LA in that everyone had a car. Public transportation was not an option so she rented a car. The rental company clerk handed her the keys to a non-descript peanut of a car. Her knees bent and pressed into the steering column until she finally figured out how to adjust the seat. It certainly wasn't like her German-made sports coup. But it would do. She didn't anticipate having to use it that long anyway.
She'd already saved the address of Brenda Leigh's parents in her phone before she left so she hit the driving directions icon and was on her way. The directions took her through an old, stately area of the city and finally into a neighborhood with antebellum homes. Each one with a welcoming and inviting front porch. She laughed to herself remembering they were called verandas down here or so Brenda Leigh told them many times.
Turning onto a tree-lined street she found the house she was looking for. The red brick house was gorgeous. It was probably built in the 1800s and still oozed the same charm.
She rang the doorbell and waited nervously for Brenda Leigh to answer. It would be the first time she had seen her since Brenda retired. Butterflies flitted in her stomach. Nerves? Certainly not.
Finally, the door slowly opened and a warm smile formed on her face.
"Well if it isn't Brenda's friend Sharon." Brenda's father, Clay, opened the door and pulled Sharon into a hug. The breath huffed out of her as he wrapped his big arms around her.
"Hello, Mr. Johnson." She started before he stopped her mid-sentence.
"A friend of Brenda Leigh's calls me Clay." Oh that big southern charm. No one would have known his beloved wife had just died not three months before. Sharon's heart broke for him but it also pleased her that he was doing so well.
"Clay." Her smile deepened. "I'm here to see Brenda Leigh."
He joined her on the porch and offered her a seat in one of the four large white rocking chairs. She sat facing him as best she could. From out here she could tell he was a little more frail than when she saw him last. But it was understandable.
"I'm sorry, darlin. But Brenda's off in the woods."
"The woods?" She asked, drawing it out slowly. What did that mean? The woods.
"Brenda Leigh owns a little house in the country. In a town called Pheasant Hill. She'd been up there for the past week or so. I ain't worried. She's always used that place as a head-clearin' retreat, if you will." Clay went on to tell a funny story about Brenda and Pheasant Hill.
In ten minutes, Sharon learned more about Brenda Leigh than she'd learned the past three years. Clay gave her the address to Brenda's "head-clearin' retreat" and he afforded her with another bear hug.
Just as she opened the door to her compact car, she heard Clay calling from the porch. "Oh but she's probably not at home now. She goes to the Tail Feather."
"The what?" She asked.
"The Tail Feather. It's a local beer joint. Once you get to Pheasant Hill you can't miss it."
An hour later, Sharon was transported to another planet or so it seemed to her. The big city was long behind her and in front of her…the woods. Modern highway turned to roads and then eventually to a dirt road. Her skin prickled and started to itch at her discomfort.
Just as Clay had said, as she entered the town of Pheasant Hill, the Tail Feather was prominently situated front and center. It was the only establishment that appeared to be open. Although there weren't many others besides a diner and a drug store to choose from.
The dirt parking lot was full of trucks and motorcycles and even all-terrain vehicles. She sat at the stop sign across the street for a few minutes deciding if she should go there first. There wasn't any indication that Brenda was there but then Sharon didn't know what she was driving.
Taking a chance, Brenda turned left and followed the directions Clay had given her to Brenda's house. She watched the cloud of dust billow behind her car as she steered her car onto yet another tree-lined dirt road. But finally the trees broke away to a clearing and a small, quaint white clapboard house came into view. Like the older houses Sharon had seen in the city, this one too had an expansive front porch. But it was small and cozy and everything Brenda Leigh.
There weren't any cars in the driveway but Sharon parked and got out of her own car anyway. Pulling the brown Louis Vuitton roller bag behind her she made her way up the creaky steps and knocked on the screen door.
She knocked again when there was no answer. Through the windows she could see that the house was dark inside. But she decided to try a backdoor. There was no answer there either.
Sharon looked down at her suit. She couldn't go to a small town bar dressed like she was. The locals would laugh her right out of town. Well there was nothing else to do but break in. She turned the doorknob to get a better look at the keyhole so she could assess which of her lock picking devices she would need. Always be prepared, the Girl Scouts say.
But the knob turned easily in her hand and she pushed the door open. Leave it to Brenda Leigh to not lock her doors.
Thirty minutes later, Sharon laughed out loud as she stumbled in the yard leading to her car. Maybe she had over did it on her shopping trip. Oh well.
A few minutes later she pulled into the lot next to the Tail Feather. It looked like a few of the automobiles from earlier had left. Folding down the visor mirror, Sharon checked her makeup and tried to calm her nerves. Why was she nervous? Knowing that's what she was was pissing her off.
The clock on the instrument panel showed it was close to 10pm. Normally at 10pm she would be sitting in her office and trying to remember what leftovers she had in her refrigerator at home.
Her heels clacked on the concrete sidewalk leading up to the door. The building looked like it was straight out of the Wild West. The wooden siding was grey and weathered. The centuries old cyprus trunk posts holding up the roof overhang were worn smooth. It didn't take much to imagine horses tied to these posts before cars and trucks intruded on the small town.
Sharon Raydor took a deep breath before pulling the heavy wooden door open. The haze of the smoke filled bar briefly blinded her view of anything happening on the inside. But as she stepped in she was immediately hit with the staleness of the smoke and alcohol and the sharp country twang coming from the lit up jukebox in the back corner.
The concrete floor was covered in dirt that was probably tracked in during the decade before last. Her big green eyes widened as she scanned the "trophies" aligned along the walls. There was any kind of wild animal you could imagine mounted on those dark wood paneled walls. Her stomach twisted in a knot as she recalled that her husband was a hunter and the revelry he got during a kill. She shook that memory out of her head.
Scanning the booths to the left she didn't see who she was looking for. But she did see a bunch of cowboy hat wearing men eyeing her curiously. Most of them tipping the brims of their hats in her direction.
A few jaunty couples two-stepped across a faded dance floor over in the corner.
A long mirrored wall behind the solid mahogany bar needed a healthy dose of windex. The ledge in front of the mirror showcased a myriad of liquor bottles. But she still hadn't seen what she came in search of.
Brenda Leigh Johnson sat near the end of the Tail Feather's bar. The bar was busy but she didn't notice. Thankfully no one sat near her and she was able to drink without unwanted interruption. Most of the locals knew her and left her alone. Of course there was always that friend of a friend of a local who tried using the most annoying pick up lines that wouldn't work on the most seasoned LA hookers.
Wayne, the bartender for as long as she could remember, sat another drink in front of her and wiped the moisture from the bar before tossing the white bar towel over his shoulder and moving back to the other end. He knew she would talk if she wanted to.
Brenda looked up to thank him for her third, no fourth, drink when her eyes landed on the mirror in front of her. She blinked rapidly trying to get the figure she saw…the figure she knew wasn't really there…to disappear.
That same figure appeared in her mind and her dreams more than she wanted. She couldn't understand it. That was one reason she was holed up in Pheasant Hill. Her mind was playing weird games with her and she needed to regain control.
For days, both Fritz and Will had tried to get ahold of her but she didn't want to deal with them. Not yet anyway. She didn't return their calls or texts. Maybe she had had more than four drinks.
But the vision wasn't going away. It was getting closer. The bar was dark but that face was not to be mistaken. It was her. And in a few long strides it appeared behind her right shoulder. But she didn't dare turn around. She still wasn't convinced it was real.
It couldn't be. Sharon Raydor would never step foot in a place like this.
"Chief?" The deep, honey glazed voice she heard in her dreams sent shivers down her spine.
Slowly turning around she took in the whole sight of one LAPD Captain Sharon Raydor. As her alcohol heavy eyes traveled down the length of her, Brenda's eyes widened. And before she knew it she was giggling behind her hand.
But she didn't want to giggle. That was the alcohol.
When she finally pushed those away she pulled her bottom lip into her mouth and just stared at the woman in front of her.
Sharon Raydor, the stiff backed, by-the-book Sharon Raydor, had on a pair of tight fitting jeans that showed off her luscious hips. The deep rust colored blouse was cut low and the tops of her breasts kissed the hem. And gone were the black designer pumps—replaced by a pair of dark red pointed toe cowboy boots. It was a sight like none other than she had ever seen before.
Brenda Leigh knew buried deep inside her were feelings—feelings of something she had never felt for another woman. Feelings that confused her and made her question everything. She buried them deep and attributed them to a curiosity and long hours at work and not having a great deal of female companionship. She thought once she retired and started a new adventure those feelings would go away. But they hadn't. They were trying to bubble to the surface.
Sharon rested her hands on her hips. She was already a bit self-conscious about her new attire but then to be laughed at. She should have let Brenda rot down here.
"Captain. I…what are you doin here?"
"First: hello. Second: I'm here to escort you back to LA for your trial. And third: Laughing at someone is extremely rude."
Brenda Leigh's mouth fell open. "No…no, I wasn't laughin' at you." She hiccupped and Sharon narrowed her eyes. "I was just…just surprised to see you is all. I mean, you were like a figment of my imagination or a what's those things in the desert called…a?"
"Yes! A mirage. You were like a mirage. But here you are. Oh! Where are my manners? Please sit down." Brenda moved her big black bag from the bar stool next to her so Sharon could sit down.
Sharon was glad the bag still hadn't changed.
Brenda waved at Wayne who quickly set a brown bottle of beer in front of Sharon who wrinkled her nose.
"Beer? Really, Brenda Leigh? I didn't take you for the honky tonk type."
Brenda smiled as she took a long pull from her own bottle. Watching Sharon Raydor in the Tail Feather was like watching a fish out of water.
"Oh there are lots of things you don't know about me, Captain Raydor."