The blue and red flashing lights illuminated the dark Los Angeles night. She heard voices but none of the words quite registered. Lieutenant Provenza had just given her the walk through of their crime scene before she walked onto the scene and now that he had finished talking, the severity of the situation had hit her. She was used to walking through situations others would label a minefield but right now, all Brenda could see were the remnants of one of those mines having exploded. She had to admit, albeit reluctantly, that they had just walked into a big, steaming pile of….
Sanchez's voice snapped her out of her musings and she blinked a couple of times before the male detective standing in front of her came into focus.
Brown eyes fixed on the man's face. "Yes?" Over his shoulder she saw the rest of her team huddled together. Not even Flynn seemed to be able to find his usual hint of sarcasm. The seriousness of the situation was etched across all of their faces.
"How do you want us to proceed?"
She sucked in a breath, holding it for a moment too long. "Carefully," she answered, knowing full well that she didn't have to tell her team that. "We all know what we are about to get in to." She tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. "Canvas the scene like y'all always do. I'll deal with whatever is about to be dumped on our heads."
She knew what was coming. The media frenzy, the questions, the made up stories full of crazy fantasies in the press. The second a journalist caught as much as a waft of what had happened inside that house, all hell would break loose. She anticipated the pressure coming from above and the fear that would slowly squeeze the city's throat, leaving everyone fighting for their next breath.
Sanchez nodded and Brenda watched as he joined the others. They spoke briefly, she noticed, and Provenza shot her a short but meaningful look. She knew he understood. This was on her. She would have to deal with this and she would do whatever it took to shield the rest of her team from what was about to hit them.
Brenda took a deep breath and tore her eyes away from her team as they made their way up the three steps leading to the house's front door. She had yet to see what lay behind the front door. Instead she took in her surroundings. The street was crammed full with people. Uniformed police officers, an endless score of reporters who were all too eager to get the first shred of news and, no doubt, already preparing their stories for the morning news, the coroner's van and two ambulances.
"Good evening, Chief Johnson."
Brenda slowly turned around, instantly recognising the voice of the Police Commissioner. "Good evening, Commissioner," she said, producing her most charming smile. Inside her jacket pocket, her fingernails dug into the fabric but her face did not betray her frustration. She bit back the question about why he was here. She knew why. Bad news travelled fast. News like this travelled even faster. It had already begun.
The Commissioner looked at the house. Yellow police tape cordoned off the crime scene and the front yard was riddled with uniformed officers and crime scene investigators. "What have we got?"
"At 10.47 this evenin', Richard Adler, who was walkin' his dog, noticed his neighbour's front door was wide open. All lights had been switched off." Brenda paused, mentally going over the briefing she had received from Lieutenant Provenza over the phone an hour earlier. "He entered the house and found the owner of the house, Loretta Margolis, in her kitchen. He called 911 and the first officers arrived on the scene at eleven pm exactly." She glanced at her watch. It was now half past midnight. She would be here until the sun climbed out over the hills.
"Is Major Crimes handling this?"
"Good." His eyes found hers. "I'm sure I do not need to remind you to play nicely?"
Brenda hesitated to answer, not entirely sure what the Commissioner's statement was referring to. "Sir?"
"You know just as well as I do, Chief Johnson, that other organisations and agencies will most likely be entering the scene within the next few hours." There was a pause and Brenda could feel her blood beginning to boil. What she hated more than anything was someone trying to steal her crime scene and her evidence. She wasn't about to let some pompous ass in an expensive suit take away her case. "
The Commissioner looked at her, giving her the once over. "This is a mess and I expect you to clean it up."
Brenda clenched her jaw but gave a curd nod. "I understand."
She watched him walk away from the crime scene, probably towards one of the many cars parked along the street. Within the hour he would be home, tucked up in bed, while she stood over the lifeless body of the woman inside her house, her blood spilled all over the kitchen floor. Brenda would be the one standing in the morgue tomorrow, surrounded by the putrid smell of both bleach and death, as she started her search for answers.
She found Sergeant Gabriel standing in the house's doorway and Brenda climbed the few steps leading to the door before following the young man into the house. Her gaze lingered for a few moments on the freshly mown lawn and the well maintained flowerbeds. The crime scene was in the middle of one of Los Angeles' nicer neighbourhoods. Moments later she walked into the kitchen and was confronted with the reason of her being here.
"You know what this means, don't you?" Provenza asked when he laid eyes on Brenda. "The FBI, the media…."
"I know, Lieutenant," she interjected. "And for that reason we need to think about how we are handlin' this case."
Brenda's eyes drifted around the kitchen. The space was spotless. The units were made out of white wood, the surface made out of the same marble as the floor. The devices, ranging from a toaster to a coffee machine, were all expensive brands. Some cost more than Brenda's monthly pay check. It all looked exactly as she would have expected to find in a house in this neighbourhood.
Brenda's gaze then dropped to the woman lying on the kitchen floor and her breath hitched in the back of her throat. Seeing the sight with her very own eyes was shocking; the description given by Provenza had been intense but it had done nothing to prepare her for what she saw. A sudden cold chill crept down Brenda's back as she took in the sight in front of her.
Loretta Margolis was slender and tall, probably around 5'9, with thick brown hair that fell in unruly ringlets down her shoulders and framed her face. She was forty-five years old according to her driver's licence but she didn't look a day over thirty. Her eyes were wide open and had already glazed over, erasing the warm shade of hazel that had once looked into this world, seeing both its wonders and its darkness. Brenda wondered for a moment what it had been that those eyes saw in the seconds before she died.
Loretta was dressed in an expensive baby blue blouse, probably designer, which was now stained with her blood, and elegant black slacks. Her feet were bare. There was no sign of her shoes. Clearly she, like Brenda herself, had preferred to walk around bare foot once she came home from work.
Brenda took in the brutal sight of the blood that covered Loretta's torso, the lack of defensive wounds on her hands and forearms, the absence of blood drops across her face. Almost immediately the wheels in Brenda's head started turning. No defensive wounds indicated that she either knew her attacker or had been incapable of fighting back. The attack had been vicious and yet Loretta had not fought for her life.
"Chief?" Lieutenant Tao said softly and Brenda managed to tear her eyes away from Loretta's woman to look at him. "Do you see it?"
Tao kneeled down beside the body and pointed at the right hand.
Brenda approached before dropping to her knees too. The smell of iron, caused by the large amount of blood that had spilt across the kitchen floor, filled her nose. "Show me."
Tao slowly picked up the hand. The first thing Brenda noticed were the finely manicured nails, painted in a deep shade of red. It was startling to see the colour was almost identical to the blood pooled around the body. But then she saw what Tao was showing her and her eyes briefly fluttered shut.
The number 1 had been drawn on the back of Loretta's hand in what Brenda suspected was her own blood.
"Thank you," Brenda said quietly.
"That's not all," Flynn added and her head whipped up to look at him.
Until this moment she hadn't noticed the kitchen wall but now that Flynn and Sanchez stepped aside, Brenda could see what had been obscured. Her stomach dropped and the cold chill that had crept down her spine earlier, now seeped into her chest.
Her hand shot up to her mouth, covering it. "Jesus Christ."
The number one had been painted on the wall too. Seeing it like this, close up and so big, made her shiver. But it was the message underneath the number one that made Brenda truly feel cold.
"Find who?" Brenda asked, her eyes scanning the faces of her team. No one answered. "Find who?"
Brenda sighed. She knew that voice.
"Hello, Chief Johnson."
Slowly Brenda turned around and let her eyes rise up from the unexpected visitor's feet to their face. Dark blue high heeled shoes matched the dark blue pantsuit with a light pink blouse underneath the blazer and was finished off with a simple silver necklace. Brown hair fell down the woman's shoulders and emerald eyes fixed on Brenda from behind black rimmed glasses.
"Cap'n Raydor." Brenda swallowed, her throat suddenly unexplainably dry. "Sharon."
Sharon Raydor folded her arms in front of her chest. She knew it came across as being distant and defensive but distance was what she needed right now. "I need to speak with you, Chief."
"Can it wait?" Brenda was about to turn back around when Sharon's spoke it again."
"No." Her voice was sharp, as it so often was. Sharon waited until Brenda looked at her. "It can't."
Brenda cocked her head as she studied the brunette's face. "What's goin' on?"
Sharon looked over Brenda's shoulder and nodded at Tao. The Lieutenant shot an apologetic look in Brenda's direction before walking around the body of Loretta Margolis on the floor, picking up a bottle with a spray nozzle attached to it and walked towards the bloody writing on the wall.
"Hit the lights," he told Gabriel and the Sergeant switched off the kitchen lights.
Suddenly the room was covered in darkness and Brenda grew increasingly aware of Sharon Raydor standing close to her. She could almost feel the other woman's breathe and when she felt her hand on her arm, guiding her to look in the direction of the wall, the hairs in the back of her neck stood up.
Tao sprayed some of the fluid from the bottle on the wall and when Brenda saw the first bits light up, she realised the bottle contained Luminol. It reacted with blood invisible to the naked eye because of a chemical reaction with the iron found in the haemoglobin. Brenda immediately realised there was more blood on the wall than they'd been able to see. She just didn't understand why.
Tao continued to spray and the more blood lit up, the tighter Sharon's grip on her arm became. Brenda was about to tell her to let go but the words died on the tip of her tongue. Instead a wave of nausea hit her and her stomach tightened up in a tense knot. Suddenly she was grateful for Sharon still holding her arm because she felt light headed, swaying a little on her feet.
Underneath the words Find Her, three more letters had appeared.
Brenda Leigh Johnson.
The lights came back on and Brenda blinked a couple of times, her eyes suddenly overwhelmed by the brightness. Her heart pounded in her chest and her blood rushed through her head. She couldn't focus, couldn't think straight. Her throat was dry, like she hadn't had a drink for days.
"We'll talk outside," Sharon said before anyone could speak. She hadn't let go of Brenda's arm the entire time. Her voice was soft and warm as she turned to look at Brenda. The look of horror and shock was still etched across her face. "Chief?" No reply. She tried again. "Brenda?"
"Yes," Brenda stammered and she followed Sharon out of the house.
"I'm sorry about this," Sharon apologised as soon as they stepped into the cooler evening air. She never took her eyes of Brenda, somewhat worried that the younger woman would lose her balance and keel over. "Brenda, I'm so sorry."
"What… what does this mean?" Brenda whispered, looking back over her shoulder at the house. She still felt cold.
"We don't know yet but I promise you, we'll find out," Sharon reassured her.
Brenda said, "I don't know her. I've never seen her before in my life. Why would the killer write my name on the wall?"
Sharon had seen Brenda upset before. She had seen the tears, the anger, and the frustration. She had been there, as a friend, encouraging Brenda to carry on. But right now, she saw a different side to Brenda; one that she had never seen before. She looked tired and broken. The shock of seeing he name written in blood had knocked her about. Sharon didn't know what she could do to make it better, or how to fix it.
Sharon had always had a thing about fixing people. It was just something she did, something she was drawn to. Sometimes it was simple, like kissing better a scraped knee on one of her children. Sometimes it went a little further than that, like standing up for someone who was being railroaded, fighting for them when no one else was. And sometimes… well sometimes, it just went too far. Sharon would be damned if she'd ever admit this out loud but Jackson was a damn clear example of just that until Sharon had, somehow, reached the point where she realised that some people couldn't be fixed. Not because she was incapable of fixing them but because they were incapable of allowing her to fix them.
And then…. then there was Brenda Leigh Johnson.
Sharon wasn't even sure where to start on that one.
From the first time Sharon had laid eyes on the blonde haired, brown eyed woman with the Southern drawl and obnoxious floral skirts, she knew. She knew Brenda was broken and Sharon couldn't help herself. She wanted to fix her. Fix whatever it was that had been so broken inside the other woman that Sharon couldn't help but be drawn to her, as much as she resented herself for it. And it appeared that Brenda resented her for it too because if there was ever one person who didn't want to be fixed, least of all by Captain Sharon Raydor, Brenda Leigh Johnson was that person.
Sharon ran her hands through her hair before slowly fixing her gaze on Brenda again. "This is how it's going to work. I spoke to the Chief and he is happy for you to work this case…" Brenda's eyes found hers. Sharon could see the surprise. "But, only if you accept that you can't do this on your own. You shouldn't. So you have a choice; you can be a pain in my ass, because Lord knows you're good at that, or we can work together and find out what the hell happened here."
Her comment was rewarded with a smile and she cocked her head. "So…"
"Thank you," Brenda said but her brow her furrowed. Sharon didn't miss it.
"Chief?" she inquired.
"Do we even know it's me?" Brenda asked. There was a hint of defiance in her voice. She wasn't prepared to accept this was happening. "For sure, I mean. Do we know it's me?"
There had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people living in LA who had the initials BLJ. There were probably millions in the whole of the United States. How could they be so certain that the killer meant her?
Sharon's hand slipped into her pocket. She had hoped not to have to do this here but now that Brenda has asked, she couldn't wait any longer. Her slender fingers encountered the plastic of the evidence bag and she slowly pulled it out. "Brenda?"
The fair haired woman looked at Sharon and noticed what she held in her hand. "What's that?"
Sharon handed the bag over and Brenda noticed a small business card inside. She turned it over in her hand and her heart sank when she saw the logo of the Police Department but then her brow creased. She'd seen what Sharon had noticed when she had first seen the card. The colour drained from Brenda's case and her brown eyes snapped back up to Sharon.
"Where did you find this?" Her voice was hollow.
"On the victim. It had been placed on her chest, clearly intended for us to find. It is yours, is it not?"
"Yes," Brenda whispered. "It's mine."
She looked down at the business card. It did belong to her but it had been handed out long before she had joined LAPD. The logo belonged to the Atlanta Police Department.
Sharon studied Brenda's face. The defeat, the loss, caused the brunette to hurt inside.
"Why?" Brenda sighed. She clenched and then relaxed her fists. "Why?"
"I don't know," Sharon replied as she briefly took Brenda's hand into her own. She knew that this was a line they had never crossed before but Brenda didn't pull back. "But I promise you, Brenda, I'm going to find out."
The features on Brenda's face hardened as she looked back at the house. The coroner's assistants were wheeling Loretta Margolis' body through the front door wrapped up in a black body bag which was strapped to a stretcher.
"He wanted to find me," Brenda hissed as she watched the body being wheeled to the coroner's van. Some monster had taken an innocent life to send her a message. She wasn't going to stand for that. Dark brown eyes found Sharon's green ones. Sharon recognised the anger. This was the obstinate, feisty Brenda Leigh Johnson she knew.
"Well, he found me. And now I'm gonna find him."