Soundtrack: K Flay "Blood in the Cut"
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay and wait for you?" Andy asked.
"No, I'm sure. Really, I'm fine," I replied with a small smile that caused me to wince with pain.
"I can go to a meeting tomorrow," he said hesitantly.
"Andy, I think it would be good for you to go tonight, after everything…" I paused not sure I wanted to say anymore out loud. Thankfully, he seemed to understand, as he always did, and nodded.
"Ok, I'll see you at home. Please don't stay too late." He squeezed my hand in reassurance. We were still at work, and while everyone but Buzz had left for the written exam the last thing I needed was for Davis to see her boyfriend giving her a kiss goodbye.
Sighing, I squeezed his hand back, "until this evening."
Back in the privacy of my office I picked up the ice packet and gingerly placed it against my cheek. The cold stung as did the pressure, it was going to look nasty come morning. It hurt worse than I remembered. It had been years since I thought about that awful night, and after it happened I thought I would never forget the feeling. I guess time does heal more than we think.
Stacks of paperwork filled my inbox. It seemed that with the team out doing active shooter training and Davis hovering around the murder room things were piling up. Taking a deep breath I sat down at my desk and with my free hand brought over the first file folder. One at a time, that was the only way to wade out of all of this, just keep my head down and stay focused.
As I reached for the next file I heard a knock at my door, surprising me as I thought everyone had left already. Seeing Fritz standing there was a pleasant relief, I couldn't take anymore attacks today, I didn't really have anything left to give the day.
"Chief, what can I do for you?" I asked, gesturing for him to come in and take a seat. Unlike Taylor, Howard seemed disinclined to maintain the typical power structures. He wasn't a very hands on boss. Not to say he didn't like being kept informed and involved when necessary, but he was content to flow in and out of the team without an overwhelming ego. Needless to say it was a welcome change, it was one of the reasons I was really hoping that Chief Pope would keep him in the position, as much as I knew he wanted to go back to S.O.B. Anyone else taking over spelled disaster as Davis had made so overwhelming clear.
"I just wanted to check in and see how you're doing," he asked casually his tone making it seem more as a friend than a boss, pointing to the reddening mark on my left cheek.
Our conversation passed pleasantly as I caught him up on our case, it was nice feeling like I had an ally in management for a change. He closed the laptop I handed him containing the video of my assault,
"It's a shame you had to get sucker punched, but uh, great work Captain. The Tesla is coming through for us, and apparently, Mr. Dey really doesn't want any of his exes revealing what's in those NDA's."
"Of course not, there could be a pattern of mitigating claims that his attack on Ellie King was uh, a one-time only crime of passion."
"Hobbs says they'll settle on Murder Two, with a parole date in 20 years."
"And also, thank you for getting your team out of here for the written part of the active shooter test. Calms down you know who."
"I've been thinking about this a lot Chief, when it comes to Winnie Davis, watch-your-back."
"You may need to watch yours a little too. I hate to bring it up, but there is evidence that Phillip Stroh may have returned to the country. Report from Pennsylvania. It's thin, but I didn't feel right holding it back."
My heart drop as I heard him say those two words Phillip Stroh. This was bad, very bad. I schooled my expression, before replying, "the past is never really over is it?"
Howard nodded, "I haven't decided whether to tell Brenda or not. The last thing any of us needs is her getting involved again."
I nodded in agreement, Brenda had faced the man head-on, but she had also spent the better part of two years stalking him trying to find evidence to put him away. I couldn't blame the man for wanting to withhold the information from his wife, what good would it do? It was the same question I was asking myself. Do I need to tell Rusty and Andy? Should I tell them?
"I understand Chief, when it comes to Stroh we are all vulnerable. Thank you for telling me I appreciate the head's up. Like you said, the reports are thin as they were when he was spotted in Cyprus. I for one never really thought he left the country, he's been somewhere in our own backyard all along in my opinion. I guess I just hoped he'd stay in whatever hole he had crawled into."
"Agreed." He stood up making his way out of his office, "Not sure if I should say this, but that interrogation reminded me a little of Brenda. Maybe don't make it a habit." He said with a smirk, "Have a nice evening Captain."
His crack comparing his wife to me had the intended effect and caused me to chuckle. A few years ago I would have been downright offended at such a comparison, but lately, I've been feeling like I need to channel a little bit of Brenda to get through this political quagmire I'd found myself in. I'd still follow the rules of course, after all, that's the best way to get around them, but maybe a dose of her sass wouldn't hurt. I lifted the ice pack back to my cheek flinching again at the offensive touch and set it back down. We're past the ice stage.
Looking up from my desk I noticed that the office was now completely empty, the lights had dimmed. Finally having a quiet, private moment to myself I could feel the emotions bubbling up. The onslaught from Davis, the assault, Andy's continued medical issues, and now Stroh it was really beginning to feel like too much. How much more could a person pile on before they broke -I could feel the break coming. All of it had me feeling weak, helpless, and on the defensive. Three things I despised. Three things that on their own I could manage, but when grouped together left me feeling uncertain. I needed to get out of this office. I needed to get out of this room - it was too quiet. I needed the noise.
Grabbing my things I quickly exited my office and headed to the basement. I made a beeline for the lockers and placed my things in, pulling out my Glock. Checking in, I got my target and rounds. Neither the officer nor I spoke. He knew me and I knew him. This wasn't the first time I was making the late-night rounds on the range. I walked down to the last stall, my stall, and pinned up my target, pushing the button and sending it back downrange. I placed the ear protection over my ears and slid on my custom eyewear. Took a stance and began firing in rapid succession.
First the flash.
Then the sound.
Finally the smell of powder.
I could finally breathe again. I would need to fire several more rounds before I could feel any real relief, but it was a start. Picking up the box I opened the magazine and re-loaded. Locking the clip and advancing a round into the chamber I took my stance again and fired repeatedly at my target.
With each pull of the trigger, I was releasing a little more of that energy. The round expelled and then a breath.
Repeating the steps more slowly as the evening continued, I felt that calm begin to wash over me. The calm I had been craving for days. The calm I needed even more after hearing Stroh was rearing his ugly head in my life once again. The past was never gone, everything about this last case proved that to me.
This Davis/Raydor showdown was only rivaled by the one I had with Brenda nearly a decade ago - the irony wasn't lost on me. The shoe was finally on the other foot, who would have ever thought she would be the one defending Major Crimes and its existence to the rest of the LAPD, it made me laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. Things with Andy had fallen back into a similar pattern. He had another health crisis and I was hovering over him being overprotective again. Not to mention the uncoincidental pattern of boyfriends that infiltrated the Dey/King case. I couldn't help but think of my own pattern - the men in my life. I certainly have a type. Andy was nothing like Jack, and yet very much like Jack. Their histories were uncanny. What on earth attracted me to these men, I'll never understand why I keep going down the same path. Isn't that the definition of insanity - maybe that's it maybe I'm just losing it thinking that things will change even when I'm not making different decisions?
I took my stance again and fired at the target, already riddled with holes, remembering the first time I came to the range. The first time I realized the catharsis I could achieve by coming here.
It was twenty years ago. Things with Jack had begun to unravel. His drinking had worsened. The gambling habit was becoming more and more obvious as our bank account dwindled. But that was the final night, the night I kicked him out and filed for separation the following morning. I had just come off a 36-hour shift and was enjoying her day off. Naturally with two kids and a husband that house was in disrepair, piles of laundry to do, and a grocery shopping trip to fix the bare pantry. Standing in the laundry room singing along to the radio as I sorted the laundry, pulling out Jack's shirts from everything else, so I could drop them off at the cleaners on her way to the market. I almost missed it. Pulling the shirt collar up I saw the unmistakable smudges of makeup. I grabbed the other shirts from the pile and began inspecting them - spotting more tan smudges. As my suspicions mounted I pulled out his briefs and spotted the unmistakable stains of sex. Holding his clothes I fell to the floor in front of the washing machine. He was cheating on me. It wasn't just drinking and gambling - it was more, it was sex. The man I loved had another woman. He could be fucking her right now. My hands trembled. I thought we could overcome the booze, that he could manage the gambling - but an affair - I wasn't sure how to come back from that. If I even wanted him to come back from that.
I jumped up and dropped the clothes onto the floor and ran to her bathroom. I felt dirty. We had made love a few hours earlier and the thought of him fucking someone else before coming home and having me was too much - I tore off my clothes and turned the shower on hot. Climbing in I reached for the body wash and began scrubbing my skin. The water was too hot and I was scrubbing so fiercely that the skin began to bleed from irritation. I collapsed onto the shower floor and sobbed until the water began to run cold. Not really knowing what to do next I got out of the shower and dried off. Leaving my hair dripping wet while I pulled on a baggy sweatshirt and track pants and made my way back to the laundry room. I spent the remainder of my day in a bit of a daze, unsure what to say to Jack when he got home - if he came home - tonight.
Hours later after dinner had been prepared, eaten, and cleaned the kids had gone to bed and I waited up for my husband. Sitting on the couch in the dark I could hear the clock ticking as the minutes passed. By 11, I almost gave up the waiting game assuming he intended to stay with whoever was leaving stains on his clothing when I heard the key turn in the lock.
I couldn't remember much from the confrontation. There was yelling and arguing. Then there was pain and then darkness. I woke up on the living room floor. My jaw was throbbing. The lights in the house were still off, but the sun was beginning to peek through the curtains. Knowing the kids would be up soon, I crawled onto her feet and went into the kitchen. I prepped their lunches and left them a note and went back to bed. I was initially surprised to see the room was empty. The bed untouched. Checking the closet I noticed a few of Jack's suits were missing. I locked the bedroom door and crawled under the blankets, trying to figure out what to do next.
Finally, when the afternoon light filled the room, I got up steeling myself for the difficult conversations I was going to have to have - with Gavin, with my parents, with the children. I felt my jaw and winced at the pain - this would not happen again - it was the final straw. We might have been able to work out everything else, but this wasn't something that I could forgive nor forget. In that moment I vowed to never forget this feeling - the physical and emotional pain - wanting to ensure I never allowed myself to feel like this again.
Covering my face with copious amounts of makeup I left the house with no destination in mind. Mostly I drove around for a while until I could feel the overwhelming weight of everything begin to come crashing down on me. I couldn't break, wouldn't break. My children needed me now to be strong. Minutes later I found myself parked out front of Parker Center, I wasn't really sure why, but grabbing her gym bag I went in. Hoping that perhaps an intense workout might help pull me together, regain control. As I stepped onto the elevator I found myself riding not down to the gym, but to the range. Locking my things away, grabbing my sidearm, target, rounds, and protection, and made my way to the last empty stall. Setting up, I took a deep breath and fired successive rounds. Each pull of the trigger releasing pent of emotions. Each round allowing her to feel stronger. I knew I could protect myself, I would never be this vulnerable again.
During the weeks that followed my separation, I spent many nights down at the range, by myself. Most of the LAPD had no idea what a marksman I was becoming through this emotional ritual that I went through when I needed it most. Never again would I be caught off-guard.
I shook my head at the memory, so much for never again. I pushed the button bringing my target back - the chest was shredded with holes. The spot between the eyes also had several holes. At least I still have it, I mused. I collected my things and headed back to the locker, finally feeling ready to go home. I wasn't really sure what I was going to say when I got there, but at least I wasn't about to fall apart anymore. Andy has his meetings and I had this, it didn't mean we didn't talk to each other but sometimes we both needed to process things apart before coming back together.
As I pushed the button for the elevator heading to the parking garage my mind returned to Stroh. My head was in a clearer place now, to think through the steps. It isn't in my nature to lie, but I'm not so sure I want to share this information with Andy. Certainly not with Rusty, there's no reason to freak him, or Gus, out when there's such a thin report of information. But Andy, I knew he deserved to know, but he doesn't need the added stress on his heart. It's still a lie, even if it is a lie of omission. As I climbed into my car and headed for the house, I pulled out my phone and sent Andy a quick text letting him know I was on my way home. He replied quickly with a 'see you soon,' and I decided then to keep Stroh to myself for the time being. I turned onto the road headed for the condo, this could all blow up in my face…