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."
Bringing Brenda into her own Murder Room without her being in charge of the investigation felt odd, Sharon thought. This wasn't how things normally worked. Usually she was the visitor here, often whilst under the scrutiny of Brenda herself, but right now, she was in charge and every fiber of her being objected to taking that away from Brenda. But Chief Pope had been clear. Brenda was to only be minimally involved in the investigation. Sharon didn't know exactly how she'd make that happened but she could, for the time being at least, try.
It was six o'clock in the morning. Nobody had slept, not even for ten minutes, since the previous night. Sharon's bones ached but she had to carry on. The team had only gone home two hours before being called to the crime scene. Sanchez had arrived with his hair still wet from a much needed shower and was the only one to have changed clothes. The rest of the team still wore the clothes they'd put on the day before.
As they entered the Murder Room, Sharon observed the dark rings around everyone's eyes, least of all Brenda's. The younger woman caught her eyes and seemed to understand what Sharon was thinking.
"Y'all should go home," she instructed her team.
"What?! Chief, no!" Gabriel objected. "After what happened tonight we should..."
"Make sure our minds are sharp," Sharon finished his sentence. "Chief Johnson is right. You all need a few hours' sleep, a shower and a change of clothes." Her green eyes darted back to Brenda. "That includes you, Chief."
Brenda nodded but Sharon knew just as well as the younger woman herself that she wasn't about to go home.
"Go home," Brenda instructed. "Come back at noon. Y'all can't function without sleep. Like Cap'n Raydor said, if we want to find this guy, our minds need to be clear."
She watched as her team reluctantly gathered themselves and headed towards the elevators. Once they were out of earshot she turned to Sharon. "Where do we start?"
"With sleep," Sharon reminder her. "Brenda, you've been up for over 24 hours. You can't do this."
"I can and I will."
The southern twang in her voice became sharper. It was a sign of anger and frustration.
Sharon sighed. She knew better than to argue with Brenda in moments like this. She was headstrong, stubborn and had a certain disregard for the rules. It made her a pain in Sharon's ass but it also made her a damn good cop, even if people like Chief Pope were left feeling uneasy about that.
Brenda walked up to the white board on the other side of the room, picked up the black marker and started writing. From where she stood, Sharon watched the details of their crime scene emerge in Brenda's neat block capital handwriting. In a few hours they'd have the crime scene photos to go up on the board too but Sharon was impressed to see just how many details Brenda remembered. The one thing that they did have, the evidence bag containing Brenda's old business card, sat in Sharon's pocket and when Brenda turned around, Sharon knew it was what she wanted.
She handed the bag over and Brenda took it. She stuck it in the middle of the board with a magnet, drew a large arrow pointing at it and then stepped back to admire her handiwork. She cocked her head as if to let the details soak into her brain again.
"Do you have any idea what this is about?"
Sharon's question came out of the blue and Brenda's head snapped up, sending blonde curls dancing around her face.
"I've requested all your case files from Atlanta PD to be sent over here."
Brenda's eyes widened and she said, "There's gotta be hundreds!"
"Probably," Sharon answered. "But we've got to start somewhere." Her green eyes searched Brenda's face. "And you're sure that you've never met Loretta Margolis before?"
Brenda ran her fingers through her hair. "Her name don't ring any bells."
"Ok. That's ok." A pause. "Do you… do you want me to call someone?" Another pause. "Your husband, maybe?"
Brenda's hands flew up to her chest and in a flash, Sharon spotted the absence of Brenda's wedding ring before the younger woman turned around, away from her. Suddenly Sharon felt like a fool for not having seen it at the crime scene. How long had it been? Days, weeks? Had she overlooked this all this time? Had Brenda kept this to herself, in the hope no one would notice or ask questions? Sharon's heart sank. On top of everything else…
She slowly walked towards the blonde. "Brenda…"
"I don't wanna talk about it." Brenda's jaw was set, her lips forming a thin line. A hint of anger mixed with hurt flickered behind her brown eyes. She couldn't look at Sharon for more than a second, focusing her gaze on the floor instead.
"I wasn't going to make you," Sharon quickly replied, aware she had overstepped. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry." She didn't know why she hesitated but then she added, "If you want to talk about it…."
"It's over. There's nothin' else to be said."
"Ok," Sharon offered, resulting in Brenda peering up at her through her eyelashes.
The fair haired woman gave a quick nod in thanks. "Ok."
Sharon circled around one of the desks and slipped behind one of the computers. This was not where she usually sat. Whenever she worked alongside Major Crimes, she would often be banished to the desk furthest away from everyone. The desk belonged to Lieutenant Tao and was neat and organised, compared to the mess that Andy Flynn called a desk.
She logged into the computer system and opened up one of the programmes. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she typed in her victim's name. It instantly pulled up every bit of information that was available. Financial records and other details that provided her with an insight in Loretta Margolis's life. The second she pulled up her birth certificate, Sharon's eyebrows shot up. Brenda, looking on from behind her and leaning over the brunette's chair, gasped.
"She was born in Atlanta."
"And moved to Los Angeles six years ago." Sharon looked over her shoulder and up at Brenda. "Around the same time you did. Looks like we've found a possible connection."
Brenda turned on her heel, grabbed the nearest phone and dialed a number of the top of her head. She waited until someone answered on the other side of the line.
"Jeff? Jeff, it's Brenda." She paused briefly, suddenly aware of Sharon's eyes piercing into her back. "How are things? It's been a long time. How's your Momma, your kids?" She listened as the man named Jeff on the other side answered. "Good." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Listen, I need you to do me a favour. Are you at your desk?" Another moment of silence. "I need you to check somethin' for me."
Sharon realised that the person Brenda was talking to was another police officer. She assumed he was in Atlanta.
"I need you to look up someone by the name of Loretta Margolis." Brenda spelled out the woman's name and then turned around to look at Sharon.
It was when their eyes met that Sharon noticed the colour draining from Brenda's face. She already looked pale and tired but now she looked…. Scared. Sharon saw the slight tremor in Brenda's hand when she hung up after whispering a soft "thank you."
"Brenda?" Sharon inquired. "What's going on?"
"That woman," Brenda said and pointed at the board. "I think I do know her."
"Well, not really but our paths have crossed. Years ago, in Atlanta." Brenda's eyes fluttered shut as she relived a time in her life that she wished she could leave behind. Until now, she thought she had. Her brown eyes searched for Sharon's. "Cap'n, are you familiar with a serial killer called the Huntsman?"
Sharon furrowed her brow. "No, I don't think I am. Why?"
"The Huntsman was a serial killer back in Atlanta. Terrorised the city for weeks. He got his name because he cut out his victim's hearts. Like the Huntsman in the story of Snow White. I worked the case."
"Did you…" Sharon was almost afraid to ask. "Did you find him?"
Brenda shook her head and said, "One day, it all just stopped. He was gone. Vanished from the surface of the Earth. Any leads we had went cold. I assumed that he'd moved on or had been incarcerated. But the file remained on my desk until I left."
"So how does Loretta Margolis fit into this?" Sharon wanted to know.
"The first victim was her sister," Brenda whispered. "I didn't recognise her name because her sister was married and had a different last name. It wasn't until Jeff reminded me…"
Sharon narrowed her eyes. "Did you say she's related to the first victim?"
"Yes…" Brenda began and then she realised what Sharon was trying to say. "The number one!" She reached for the phone again.
"Who are you calling?"
"I wanna know if the body's reached the morgue yet." Brenda impatiently tapped her foot and, to her delight, a familiar voice answered. "Yes, doctor, it's me."
"Chief. What can I do for you?"
"Last night's murder victim. She at the morgue yet?"
"I'm about to unwrap her now."
Sharon stepped closer to Brenda and pointed at the speaker button on the phone. Brenda pressed it and then put the phone back dock. "Doctor, you have me and Cap'n Raydor. Tell us what you see."
"A big mess."
"Something that isn't immediately obvious, doctor," Sharon interjected but smiled anyway.
They heard the rustling of the body bag being moved followed by footsteps as Doctor Morales walked around his autopsy table. Sharon imagined him leaning in, inspecting at first glance the injuries to their victim. It was when he spoke again that her trail of thoughts was interrupted.
"Did anyone move the body after it was discovered?"
Sharon and Brenda shared a look. The blonde answered, "No. Why?"
"Because the tears in her blouse do not add up to the stab wounds on her chest."
Brenda took a deep breath. "Lift up her shirt."
"Just do it!"
A few seconds of silence followed but then Morales' voice said; "Holy crap!"
For Brenda this confirmed what she'd been thinking when she first picked up the phone and she covered her face with her hands. "Doctor, is the victim's heart missin', by any chance?"
"How did you know?"
"Because I've seen it before." Brenda heaved a sigh. "Thank you, Doctor." She hung up and turned to Sharon. The brunette looked back at her with questioning eyes. "I was right."
"Yes, you were," Sharon admitted. "But you're also tired. Brenda, you need to get some sleep."
Brenda wasn't sure if the revelation that the Huntsman was back had suddenly made her realise just how tired she was or whether she just didn't have it in her to fight right now, but she nodded. "Yes," she said quietly.
"Want me to drive you home?" Sharon asked but when Brenda briskly shook her head, another thought came into Sharon's mind. "Brenda, did Fritz move out or did you?"
"You did, didn't you?" Sharon's voice was soft and gentle, without a hint of judgement. How could she, after having lived separate from her husband for more than twenty years? If anyone knew how difficult it could be to be separated, even if she loathed the man she had once married, it was Sharon.
"I'm still lookin' for my own place. I've been stayin' at a hotel."
Sharon could see the embarrassment and instantly felt guilty for even having asked the question in the first place.
"The way I see it, you've got two choices. You can go back to the hotel and be on your own and probably lie awake or you can come home with me. I have a spare bedroom. You can stay as long as you like. At least that way I know you'll get something to eat and a few hours of sleep."
"Sharon," Sharon reminded her. "Please."
"Come," Sharon said as she picked up Brenda's bag and gave it to her. "You can make your mind up in the car."
"I can drive," Brenda offered.
Sharon shook her head. "You are not driving. If I wanted to end up in a ditch, I would've jumped into one on the way here this morning." She fished her car keys out of her own bag and shot a final glance at the white board before gently ushering Brenda out of the Murder Room.
"Time to go."
Brenda nervously looked around as she followed Sharon into the apartment. The second she stepped into the hallway she silently cursed herself for having chosen to stop here instead of the hotel. Granted, they'd swung by the place but when Brenda was confronted with the suitcase she'd never bothered to properly unpack still standing in the corner of the room and the realisation that she would be alone with her thoughts, Brenda had turned to Sharon and asked if the offer to go back home with her still stood. Sharon had merely nodded and had watched silently from the door as Brenda gathered whatever belongings lay scattered around the room.
But now that she was here, Brenda felt like she was trespassing, like she didn't belong here.
"Spare room's just down the hall, second door on your right. Bathroom's right next door," Sharon said as she shrugged herself out of her blazer and draped it over the back of the couch. When her eyes fixed on Brenda she noticed the younger woman looked forlorn. She sighed. "Listen, Brenda, I know we've had our differences but if I really hated you as much as you think I do, would you be here?"
Brenda smiled. "Thank you." When Sharon merely arched an eyebrow in question, she added, "For not judging me. And not asking questions."
"Second door on your right," Sharon said once again. "There are clean towels in the bathroom. Help yourself."
Brenda wheeled her suitcase down the hallway that led towards the spare bedroom. The walls were painted in a warm, inviting shade of bronze and decorated with black and white photos. The door to the room at the end of the hall was open and Brenda assumed that it was the master bedroom. The spare room was next door to it and she took a deep breath before opening the door and stepping inside.
The queen sized bed was neatly made with light blue sheets, a white comforter and some decorative cushions. The window overlooked the street at the front of the building. The room was bright and airy; the walls were painted beige and a single large picture of a sunset over the ocean had been placed over the headboard. A wardrobe stood against the opposite wall, a mirror covering one of the doors completely.
Brenda opened her suitcase and took out a bright pink flora skirt, a simple back tank top and a white blazer as well as some underwear. She carried the clothing with her to the bathroom next door, locked the door behind her and turned towards the rectangle shaped mirror over the sink. It was the first time in over twenty-four hours that she saw her own reflection and Brenda saw what Sharon had seen. The dark rings under her eyes that betrayed a lack of sleep dating back to well before today. Her skin was pale. She couldn't remember when she last had a decent meal. It had to have been yesterday. Breakfast, probably. Since then she'd lived on Ding-Dongs and Reeses Peanutbutter Cups.
Benda tore her eyes away from the mirror and her fingers trembled a little as she began to undress. First her skirt and then her shirt pooled at her feet. In just her underwear she padded to the shower and switched it on, took in the sight of the selection of shampoos and soaps standing on the side. All looked new. It had clearly been a while since Sharon Raydor had had a guest.
She slipped out of her underwear and stepped under the hot spray. The water rained down on her and Brenda's eyes fluttered shut. The water rinsed away the ache in her muscles and she reached for her shampoo. Brenda washed her hair, rinsed it out, and applied conditioner before picking up one of the bottles of shower gels. It smelt of lilies and Brenda's eyes snapped open when she realised that this was how Sharon smelt.
Ten minutes later she stepped out of the shower, dried her hair and body and then got dressed. She left the wet towels in the hamper in the corner of the bathroom, exited and made her way back to the living room where she had last seen Sharon. She was greeted by the scent of toast and found the brunette in the kitchen. Two plates stood on the table and Sharon had just put two glasses of orange juice down.
"Eat up," Sharon said and put two pieces of French toast on Brenda's plate. "My gut tells me you haven't had anything decent to eat for a while."
Brenda averted her eyes, suddenly aware of the red blush that crept across her cheeks. "Thank you," she answered and slipped into her seat. Her stomach growled, rather loudly, and she didn't dare look at Sharon, just in case the brunette would give her one of her famous 'I-told-you-so' looks.
"I thought you wanted me to sleep?" Brenda asked, in between two mouthfuls of the most delicious French toast she'd eaten in a long while.
"Can't sleep on an empty stomach," Sharon smiled and slid into the seat opposite seat. Her green eyes rested on Brenda. Seeing the blonde eat a decent meal was promising.
Brenda put down her knife and fork and suddenly became increasingly aware of how odd this situation was. She and Sharon were not what she would consider friends, though they weren't exactly enemies either, and sitting at the table with her, sharing a meal after Sharon had invited her to come home with her, wasn't something Brenda had ever imagined would happen.
She knew Sharon was trying to be kind without making Brenda feel sorry for herself and although she had been reluctant to accept it at first, sitting here beat the somewhat lonely atmosphere of her hotel room.
Sharon eyed up the other woman sitting at the opposite end of the table. Brenda still looked tired.
"You should get some sleep," Sharon said and stood up after having finished her breakfast. She collected the empty plates and left them in the sink, breaking her own rule of putting everything in the dishwasher straight away. She turned back around to find Brenda standing behind her. She swallowed hard. She hadn't heard the other woman approach.
"Thank you, Sharon," Brenda said softly. "I appreciate it."
Sharon didn't answer. Instead she left the kitchen, this time listening out to see if Brenda followed her. She heard the soft sound of bare feet on her wooden floor. When they reached the door to the guest bedroom, Sharon looked at Brenda.
"Sleep tight," she offered.
"Don't let me sleep too long," Brenda answered before realising she sounded almost ridiculous.
"Believe me," Sharon replied. She smiled a little. "I won't."
Brenda watched as Sharon disappeared into the master bedroom, closing the door behind her. She heaved a sigh and stepped into the guest bedroom. The bed looked inviting and she sank down on the soft mattress and fresh sheets. She shrugged herself out of her jacket, fell back into the cushions, her body finally giving in to the tiredness, and her eyes fell shut almost instantly.
Sharon hovered outside the spare bedroom. She'd promised Brenda she wouldn't let her sleep too long but it was almost noon and she hadn't heard a sound coming from the other room yet. Sharon herself had been up for almost an hour, had a shower and had gotten dressed. She wasn't sure whether to just wait and see if Brenda would emerge of her own accord or if she should check to see if everything was all right.
The felt her phone vibrate in her pocket and she dug it out and answered it. "Captain Raydor."
"Captain, it's Lieutenant Provenza. The files from Atlanta have arrived. I tried calling the Chief but she's not answering her phone. What do you want us to do?"
"Look for a file about the Huntsman," Sharon answered. When Provenza asked what it was about she continued, "I'll explain when I get there." She glanced back at the door. "Once I've found out what's keeping Chief Johnson."
She hung up and her fingers rapped against the door. The decision on what to do had been made for her the moment Provenza called. She waited, listened for a sound or a reply. None came and she knocked again.
"Chief?" she called. Still no answer. "Brenda?" Sharon closed her eyes, took a deep breath, aware her heart was pounding, and her fingers closed around the door handle. "You'd better be decent in there, Chief. I'm coming in."
The door opened and Sharon stepped into the guest room. Almost immediately her gaze fell on the bed and she froze in the doorway, her hand still on the door handle.
Brenda lay on the bed, on her side. One hand was tucked underneath her hand, the other lay alongside her. Her floral skirt fanned out around her legs. Her feet were still bare. Her blazer lay on the floor and blonde curls framed Brenda's face. There was an innocence about her that Sharon had never really seen before and for just a few seconds, she couldn't move. Her eyes lingered on Brenda's sleeping form.
Sharon's stomach tightened but then she crossed the room. "Brenda?" she asked softly. The blonde woman stirred lightly but didn't wake. Sharon closed her eyes, held her breath and then put her hand on Brenda's arm. Immediately Brenda's eyes snapped open and she sat up with a jolt.
"Sorry," Sharon quickly apologised, her cheeks slightly flushed. "I knocked but you didn't answer."
"It's ok," Brenda stammered as she brushed her curls out of her eyes. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and picked up her blaze from the floor. Sharon averted her eyes when she was confronted with a rather spectacular cleavage.
"What err… what time is it?" Brenda asked as she circled the bed looking for her shoes.
"Almost noon," Sharon answered, still not looking at the other woman, and Brenda's head whipped up in shock. "I just got off the phone with Lieutenant Provenza. The files from Atlanta have arrived."
"Ok. I'm ready." Brenda buttoned up her blazer and started for the door, brushing past Sharon as she did.
Sharon took a deep breath but then turned on her heel and followed Brenda out of the bedroom. She found the blonde standing by the front door, rummaging from her bag and fishing out her phone. By the time they'd left the apartment and were standing in the elevator, Brenda had called Provenza to let them know she was on her way back. She was as bright and airy as always and Sharon shot her a sideways glance. The few hours' sleep had done Brenda good, it appeared.
They walked through the parking garage to Sharon's car and the brunette got behind the wheel while Brenda slipped into the passenger seat.
Brenda fumbled with her hands. "Thank you," she said softly, without looking at Sharon. "Thank you, Sharon."
The two women walked into the Murder Room to find it in full swing. Brenda's eyes darted to the whiteboard and she saw that the empty spaces had bene filled up with crime scene photos. More notes appeared and judging from the sloppy scribble, Provenza had been the one to do the writing. Her eyes then fixed on the boxes that had been stacked up between the desks and she was hit by a sense of sadness. Right here, all boxed up, was a part of her life, albeit from several years ago.
"Afternoon, Chief," Sanchez said as he put down a file with the Atlanta PD logo on the front. He then looked at Sharon. "Captain."
"Good work, guys," Brenda said and circled around the desks to look at the whiteboard. "Did y'all find the file on the Huntsman like Cap'n Raydor asked?"
"Right here," Sanchez said and waved the file he'd been reading. "I made copies. We've all got one."
Flynn stood up. "You work this case, Chief?"
"I did," Brenda replied. Her gaze lingered on the whiteboard. The photos from last night's crime scene painted a gruesome picture. "It was my last case before I left Atlanta." She pointed at the picture of their victim. Loretta Margolis'' face, lit up by the flash of the camera. "Our victim was from Atlanta too. Just like the Huntsman. Just like me."
Provenza leant back in his chair, his hands folded behind his head, and asked, "What can you tell us about him?"
"The Huntsman killed six women over a six week period. He terrorised the city, everyone lived in fear. He chose his victims at random. All were female but from different backgrounds and ethnic pools. Most serial killers stick to their own ethnic pool but the Huntsman didn't." Brenda turned her back on the whiteboard and looked around the Murder Room. Her past had followed her here.
"He would strike at night and always inside the victims' home. We suspected he would use the week leading up to the killin' to get to know them, follow them. He would lie in wait. He would cut them, stab them and cut out their hearts. The missing hearts were never found. And neither was he."
"We spoke to Doctor Morales this morning and confirmed that Loretta Margolis' heart was also removed," Sharon added, resulting in several sets of eyes snapping in her direction. "We also discovered a possible connection between our LA victim and the victims back in Atlanta." She looked at Brenda. "Chief?"
"Loretta Margolis was the sister of the first victim to be killed in Atlanta," Brenda explained. In her mind she was back at that first crime scene. She still remembered the smell of blood mixed with vomit, the latter due to the uniformed rookie who had been first on the scene spilling his lunch just outside the front door. Brenda didn't think she'd ever be able to forget the look on the faces of the people who were there that night. She remembered the chill, even during the warm Atlanta summer, which had crept into her bones and didn't leave her for as long as she worked this case. It was true what they said about some cases never leaving you.
"We think the number one refers back to the Atlanta."
Brenda picked up one of the copies of the Atlanta file and scanned the first page. "Victim's name there was Shannon Jensen, maiden name Margolis. I didn't make the connection this morning because of the different last names. Loretta Margolis was married back then too, had her husband's last name. She took her maiden name after the divorce, when she came to LA. I only ever spoke to Loretta over the phone."
"So is this guy picking up where he left off?" Tao mused.
"Or is he startin' over?" Brenda added as she pointed at the blood number one. "Either way, he knows I'm here. He wouldn't have painted my name on that damn wall if he didn't."
"Have you…" Sharon tried to pick the right words before she finished her sentence. "Have you considered the possibility that he followed you here? Looked you up somehow?"
Brenda's eyes darkened. "It crossed my mind."
"Did you have a profile on this guy back then?" Flynn wanted to know.
"We worked alongside a profiler from the Behavioural Unit; we determined the killer was male, white, and in his late twenties to early thirties. Above average intelligence. He has some medical knowledge so he could be a doctor or a nurse or even a vet."
"How do you mean?" It was Flynn again.
"Coroner concluded that the heart had been skilfully removed, the same way as it would be for an autopsy. This guy didn't butcher the heart the way he butchered his victims."
"Could be he's a butcher," Provenza suggested and the irony didn't escape anyone in the room.
"Any signs of sexual assault?" Sanchez asked and Brenda shook her head.
"None. No DNA was present on any of the bodies apart from one single hair that we found on the second victim. We never found a match which brings me to the conclusion that I don't think this guy was incarcerated. His DNA would've come up in the system eventually."
Sharon perched herself on the edge of Tao's desk and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her brain was trying to fit the pieces together but nothing fell in place. "So with everything we know, where does that leave us?"
Brenda turned away from the whiteboard and from across the room, her brown eyes met with Sharon's green ones. "In the same damn place where it left me in Atlanta." Her face betrayed her anger before her words did. "Nowhere."
Brenda lifted her head up from the paperwork she'd been reading and massaged the back of her neck. Her muscles were tight and sore. She looked through the open blinds into the Murder Room and eventually her eyes came to a rest on Sharon. The brunette sat at the desk closest to Brenda's office, allowing the younger woman a sideways view. Strands of hair obscured Sharon's face and she supported her head with her hand as she flicked through pages and pages of the Atlanta file on the Huntsman.
In a way Brenda was glad she had this case to distract her. Things had gone from bad to worse away from this place and she didn't know if she was ready to face them yet.
Brenda couldn't explain to herself, or indeed to anyone else, why she hadn't told anyone that her marriage to Fritz was over. At first she'd thought that she hadn't seen it coming but then, after a few days and as many restless nights in an unfamiliar hotel bed, she had realised that it had been on the cards for some time. She had just chosen not to see it and now that she had…
Fritz wasn't a bad man and in difficult circumstances Brenda thought they'd have worked out for the long run. But things changed, and people change too, and sometimes those changes drive a wedge. That was the only way she could describe it. Him asking if she still loved him and the silence that followed as she had realised she didn't was a moment she wouldn't be able to forget. What had led up to that moment, the smell of booze on his breath and her realising that what she thought she had now lay shattered at her feet, had brought the world crashing down on her and Brenda had decided she couldn't do this anymore. She couldn't lie to Fritz like that, and she couldn't lie to herself like that. It was over and the more she thought about it, the more she understood that it had been over for some time.
She watched Sharon Raydor as she worked. The woman had a reputation of being fierce, obnoxious and a pain in the ass. All were descriptions Brenda had heard one time or another to describe herself, too. They hadn't gotten along when they first met each other, mainly due to Sharon's incessant need to stick to the rules and Brenda's disregard for those very same rules, but now, Brenda viewed her differently. Very differently. She wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to tell the older woman how grateful she was for what she had done earlier that morning. Walking into Sharon's apartment had felt like freedom, as if she could finally breathe without the feeling of being crushed.
Brenda looked back down at the file in front of her, tearing her eyes reluctantly away from Sharon. She didn't know what she was hoping to find in the file but right now, she wasn't getting anywhere.
The knock on the door startled her and she didn't look up when she called, "Come in."
The door opened and the sound of high heels approaching made her look up. Sharon sat down in one of the chairs across from Brenda's desk and folded her hands in her lap. From behind her glazes her green eyes, filled with concern, scanned Brenda's face. "Are you ok?"
Brenda wondered briefly if Sharon had been watching her too but then she shook the curls out of her face and straightened her spine. "I'm fine." Those damn green eyes didn't let go of Brenda's and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Really." She wasn't sure if that last statement added anything.
"What happened?" Sharon's warm alto voice cut through Brenda like glass.
"You know what happened. Our killer cut out the victim's heart. He's lookin'..."
Sharon watched as Brenda's face fell. She hadn't planned on doing this, not here at least. Perhaps back at her apartment, tonight, but not here, in Brenda's office. But when she'd looked iip a few moments ago she'd found Brenda staring into the Murder Room, her eyes hollow and blank. It was then that she decided that sometimes it was best just to get the difficult part over with.
"I errr... I don' wanna talk about it, Sharon."
"Something happened, didn't it? What was it?" Sharon pressed on.
Alcohol, Brenda thought. Damn booze. Through her eyelashes she looked at Sharon. And you.
Fritz had asked her flat out if something was going on between them. She had laughed at him at first, said he was being ridiculous. Her defences had kicked in. She didn't know where he got that notion but when he then softly said "I see the way you look at her," she'd realised. He'd then added, "you used to look at me that way."
Brenda didn't know exactly when, where or even how she'd fallen in love with Captain Sharon Raydor, but she had. Her Captain Raydor, as she'd once called her in front of her parents. Looking back, it could've been when their paths crossed for the first time because as damn annoying as Sharon had been, Brenda had been drawn to her like a moth to a flame. The fierce devotion that flickered behind her eyes, the way they darkened when she got angry... Brenda had occasionally deliberately pissed the other woman off just to see how her eyes would darken, wondering if they darkened the same way in lust. Soon spending time with Sharon became synonymous to something forbidden; it was intoxicating.
Brenda swallowed hard. Her heart thudded in her chest and underneath her desk, she dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. The pain was sharp enough to thrust her back into the present moment.
"Listen, Brenda, I know something happened and, in case you're worried, I am not judging you. My husband and I have been separated for more than twenty years. I couldn't even tell you the last time I saw him." Sharon smiled. "What I meant to say was, sometimes things just don't work out the way we expect them to."
Brenda tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I found a bottle of whiskey in his car".
Sharon's eyes briefly fluttered shut. She knew Fritz was in AA. He wasn't the only one. Sharon knew dozens of cops and other law enforcement people who struggled with addiction. It seemed to come with the job. A lot of men, and women, sought refuge at the bottom of a bottle. Others found it in the thrill of gambling.
"Brenda, I'm sorry."
Brenda shrugged. "He made a choice. He didn't choose me." Because I didn't give him that choice, she mentally added.
It was what had started the argument that night. She'd noticed he'd been acting differently for a while now and her cop instinct took over when she grabbed his car keys, ignoring his protests, and found the bottle tucked under the passenger seat. He'd even tried to hide it. After that, the dam had been broken.
"You know, I coulda lived with it if he'd been honest. But he chose to lie to me. He chose to hide it. We all make mistakes but lyin' ain't a mistake. Lyin' is a choice."
Sharon was about to speak when the door to Brenda's office flew open. Provenza stood in the doorway, his face ashen. Neither woman had to ask what was going on. The look in his eyes said enough,
"We've got another one."
The two women held still outside the house's front door. A crime scene unit entered before they did and they followed, catching up with Gabriel and Flynn in the living room. The moment she stepped into the room, Brenda felt like she was being thrown several years back into the past. A familiar scent prickled her nose and she looked over her shoulder.
"Incense?" she inquired and Sanchez held up a bag. The little stick was burnt halfway down.
"Found it in the window sill. Strange. She doesn't strike me as the type."
"She isn't," Brenda said slowly. "The killer is."
"What do you mean?"
"We found incense at the second crime scene in Atlanta. It belonged there, the victim burnt it a lot," Brenda explained. She looked around. Another prestigious home, worth probably more than a million dollars. That was the only difference between Atlanta and Los Angeles. Back in Atlanta the victims had been found in apartments or houses that were not expensive. So far the killer had chosen more affluent areas here in Los Angeles. Probably to draw her attention. Brenda thought. A murder in a less affluent area would most likely be passed to Homicide, as awful as it was. This guy was adamant that her wanted her involved.
"Time of death?"
Brenda looked to her right and found Sharon standing over the body.
"No more than three or four hours ago."
"Two bodies in less than a day," Tao mused. "He's desperate to get his message across."
"He's makin' sure I'm listenin'," Brenda answered, her voice flat.
Her eyes scanned the room and came to a stop on a large mirror that hung over the fireplace. The number 2 had been written on it in blood. Brenda stepped closer to the mirror and watched her own reflection blend with the bloody number. She then slowly turned away and focused on the victim on the living room floor. Dark red blood had poured into the once plush white carpet.
The woman was blonde with blue eyes. She was barely 5'5 and wore yoga pants and a simple peach coloured sweater. Her feet were bare, toenails unpainted. The sweater was torn but Brenda suspected they'd find that the tears didn't match the stab wounds across the woman's upper body. She was about to turn away when Sharon used a gloved index finger to peel the fabric away from the victim's body enough to reveal the gaping hole in her chest. Brenda's stomach twisted. The heart was gone.
"What's that?" Tao asked when Sharon lowered the sweater again and pushed herself up. He pointed at something that appeared to be lying underneath the woman's body.
Sharon carefully pulled the item from underneath the body and held it in her hand. It was stained with blood and she slowly turned it over. She then gasped and dropped it. It landed in another pool of blood.
"A photo," she said quietly.
Brenda approached and furrowed her brow. "A photo of what?"
Sharon picked the photo back up, holding it between her thumb and index finger. "A photo of you."
"What?!" Anger flickered behind Brenda's eyes.
She took the photo from Sharon and studied it. She was right. It was a photo of her, taken with a long distance lens. It was covered in the victim's blood but it was unmistakable. She was looking at an image of herself.
"Chief?" Tao said as he studied the photo from over Brenda's shoulder. She jumped, not having realised he was that close. He noticed as he took a step back. "I think I know when this was taken."
She turned to look at him. "What do you mean, Lieutenant?"
Tao pointed at the clothes she wore. "Weren't you wearing this this morning?"
"This changes everything."
"Don't play smart with me, Brenda."
Sharon almost said 'Brenda Leigh' but she swallowed the blonde's middle name just in time. She had never spoken it out loud and she didn't know why she had been about to slip up now. Perhaps it was because she was irritated or perhaps it was just because Brenda insisted on being so incessantly stubborn.
Brenda rolled her eyes at the sight of Sharon's frustration. "We don't even know what this is about."
"Don't we?" Sharon snapped back. "The serial killer you hunted in Atlanta shows up in Los Angeles. We find your initials n blood at the first crime scene and your picture at the second." She folded her arms across her chest in an attempt to stop the desire to shake Brenda to get through to her. Her emerald eyes fixed on Brenda's face. The younger woman was sat being her desk, a half unwrapped Ding Dong lying in front of her. She'd been about to eat it when Sharon burst into her office. "And you're telling me you don't know what this is about?"
"OK," Brenda relented. "So maybe we do know what it's about."
Sharon heaved a sigh. "All I'm saying is that I want you to get a protection detail."
Brenda's brown eyes snapped, blazing. "I'm not havin' some bodyguard follow me 'round."
Sharon sank down in one of the two leather chairs, crossed her legs and then pointed through the window at the Murder Room where Sanchez and Gabriel were updating the whiteboard with the information from their latest crime scene.
Brenda followed Sharon's gaze and noticed how the men on the other side of the glass looked up and shot a concerned look her away. She averted her eyes, reluctantly, and fixed them on Sharon instead. She saw the same concern in the brunette's eyes, perhaps even more obvious. Sharon didn't speak. She didn't need to. Brenda already knew what she was going to say.
"You spoke to Pope?" she inquired, dreading the answer that would come.
"What'd he say?"
"You either accept the protection detail or you get placed in a safe house."
Brenda arched an eyebrow. "That's it? That's the only choice I'm gettin'?"
"Did you expect anything else?" Sharon asked. "You're at risk here, Brenda. This is potentially your life we're talking about. All of this…" She paused as they both remembered the crime scenes. "…It all comes back to you. You know what serial killers like these are like. What would you say to anyone else in the same situation?"
Confronted by that last question, Brenda looked down at her hands. "I'd tell them to accept the facts." She ran a hand through her hair. "Talk to me about the protection detail."
"You're looking at it."
"What?!" Brenda's eyes snapped up. "You?!" It just came out without her realising she said it.
Sharon's face remained blank. "I'll try not to take that as an insult, Chief Johnson."
Brenda realised what she had said and how it had sounded and she sighed. "I'm sorry, Sharon. I guess I was just…expectin' somethin' a little different, is all." She hesitated. Come to think of it, Brenda had no idea what it was she'd expected. She just knew it wasn't Sharon. "If you don't mind me askin', why you?"
"Chief Pope thinks it's best to keep things the same. Obviously the killer is watching you. He'd know if we changed your routine or the people around you. If he's been watching then he knows your team. Adding a new face to that would not work. He'd know immediately. We want him to think that nothing has changed."
"Still, why you?"
Sharon cocked a fine shaped eyebrow and Brenda didn't miss the sudden glint of amusement in her eyes. "You're telling me you'd rather live with Lieutenants Flynn or Provenza?"
"You'll do just fine," Brenda hastily replied, resulting in the hint of a smile spreading across Sharon's face. She'd been to Provenza's house. She wouldn't do that to anyone. "So no more hotel?"
Sharon shook her head and for the first time since the start of this discussion, Brenda caught a glimpse of the concern flickering behind Sharon's eyes. A warm feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as Sharon spoke again.
"Too many risks. If he's been watching you, he'll have seen you came home with me and hopefully won't think anything of it so I hope you liked my guest room, Chief, because you'll be there for as long as this thing lasts."
Brenda heaved a sigh and chewed her lip. "So this is how it's gonna be," she lamented. "I'm gonna be a prisoner."
"You're hardly a prisoner," Sharon objected. "You'll be going to work every day and at the end of the day you come home with me." She realised that the statement seemed to have a double meaning and she left it hanging in the air, a single look at Brenda confirming that the blonde had indeed noticed it. She cocked her head a little. "I would hardly call that the life of a prisoner, wouldn't you?"
Before Brenda could answer there was a knock on the door and ot opened after she quietly called, "enter."
Tao poked his head around. "I think we've got something, Chief."
Brenda and Sharon stood up and followed the Lieutenant out of Brenda's office and into the Murder Room. As they entered, Brenda sensed the emotion in the room. Concern mixed with excitement. She could almost taste the adrenaline that was pumping through people's veins and her eyes snapped towards the white board.
"What have we got?" she wanted to know.
"Morales just called," Flynn said and Brenda didn't miss the smirk across his face. "You know what they say about haste?"
"Now is not the time for riddles, Lieutenant," she snapped. "Get on with it."
"Haste makes waste, Chief," Provenza clarified. "And that is exactly what happened here."
Sharon stepped forward and her breath hitched as she spoke. "The killer made a mistake?"
"Morales found a hair on the victim's body. Well, on her shirt, actually," Tao replied.
Brenda's throat suddenly became dry. "A hair?"
"Lab's running it now."
Brenda shook her head in despair. "It's not a mistake."
Tao furrowed his brow. "Chief?"
"I reckon it's the same as the one we found on the victim in Atlanta. He's leaving exact copies of the crime scenes. He is deliberately leaving evidence because he knows we can't catch him with it."
A warmth spread through her body when she became aware of Sharon standing closely behind her and a shiver crept down her spine when she felt the older woman's hand at the bottom of her back. It was a touch of comfort, gentle and totally non-invasive and meant only to steady her, caused Brenda to realise just how tense she was. She leaned back into the touch a little and felt how Sharon's fingers spread across her spine. Brenda's eyes fluttered shut for just a second.
"Anything in the files from Atlanta?"
Sharon's voice was deep and soft, causing Brenda eyes to open and to refocus on the room.
"We've compared all the medical evidence from the victims here in Los Angeles to the victims in Atlanta. The killer is still using the same weapon, most likely something like a scalpel. The incisions on the bodies are all identical. The incense used at the second crime scene is the same brand and scent as the one in Atlanta. Generic, no way to trace it. Apparently it's called Divine Blessings," Tao said. "We're still trying to find out how he got your photo and where it was developed or printed but my guess is that he's done it himself in a homemade dark room. What I do know is that he used a long distance lens, like the one the paparazzi use. He was a fair distance away when he took this photo."
"Damn, this guy is good," Brenda groaned. "He ties up his loose ends!"
"You're better," Sharon reminded her, her hand still on Brenda's back. The touch was comforting. "And he left a hair. He left a loose end. And you'll tie it up."
"The first victim was connected to Atlanta. To me." Brenda swallowed. "What about victim number two?"
"Her name is Sasha Adkins, age twenty-nine. Married, no children. Los Angeles native." Flynn looked up from his notebook. "No connection to Atlanta as of…"
"Hang on," Gabriel interrupted him and he turned away from the computer screen he had been studying until now. "Sasha Adkins is married to Michael Adkins. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Moved to LA ten years ago."
"Before the killings started," Brenda pointed out. "She is not connected to the Atlanta victims and neither is he. The only connection is Atlanta itself."
"Which points back to you," Sharon reminded her. "With the first victim he chose an obvious connection, hoping that it would get your attention. With the second one, he knew he had it and the connection was far more subtle. We may well find that any future victims, as much as it pains me to say this, probably will no longer have a connection to you or Atlanta because he knows you're looking for him. He got what he wanted; your attention."
"Oh he's got my attention all right."
Brenda's voice was dangerously low. The tone, the echo of anger, was a precursor for danger. She looked down at her hands, temporarily struck by the absence of her wedding ring. She knew that by now the rest of her team would've noticed too but, unlike Sharon, no one had asked. She was grateful for that. These were her friend and she knew that that cared for her but right now she didn't need their sympathy, she needed their help.
"Chief?!" Tao said and he waved his hand, much like a slightly over excited child in class. He'd been on the phone moments earlier and had now hung up.
"Lieutenant," Brenda said. "What is it?"
"That was Robbery. A couple of months ago there was a string of burglaries in the street where Sasha and Michael Adkins lived," he said. "Smashed windows, stolen TV's, that kind of thing. One of the neighbours installed a security camera after her house was broken into. One of the Robbery detectives suggested she'd get it." A pause. "The house is right across the street from the Adkins home."
Brenda turned on the tip of her toes. "Lieutenants Provenza and Flynn, please visit the house and get the security footage got us. It's a long shot but who knows, we may be able to catch a glimpse of our killer." Her gaze then fixed on Sanchez. "Detective, trace back Sasha Adkins' day to day activities for the last few days." Her eyes found Gabriel. "Please do the same for Loretta Margolis. I want to know if their paths could have crossed and even if they didn't, the killer must have followed them for a little while. And when I mean, track their steps, I mean everything. Grocery shopping, journeys to and from work…"
Just as she was about to turn around, the phone on Provenza's desk rang and he answered. He only spoke to say his name and after a couple of seconds he hung up, clearly disappointed. "DNA didn't provide any hits in the system, just like before. But the hair matches the one found in Atlanta."
"We're goin' to find him. We have to. If we don't…"
She didn't have to finish that sentence for everyone else to understand. Instead she watched as the team went on their way, with Provenza and Flynn leaving the Murder Room to collect the security footage and Gabriel and Sanchez starting their respective assignments. Brenda then turned to Sharon and found the brunette looking back at her, her emerald eyes soft and kind.
"Brenda?" Sharon asked softly.
"I wanna go home."
She couldn't think in this place. Not right now. She needed a chance to clear her head. Too much was happening. Images from the crime scene laced with the haunting words of her last conversation with Fritz. It all felt like a betrayal. What she had so carefully built had all fallen apart.
"Ok." Sharon didn't ask any further. "Let's just go get your things and we'll go."
But Sharon didn't speak. Not yet. She continued to watch Brenda. She watched how her shoulders slumped now that she no longer had to keep up the façade in front of her team, how the determined look in her eyes became a little less secure. And she also saw that Brenda didn't want Sharon to see this. There was this internal struggle going on; a battle between the ability to let go and the desire to hold on tight,
"How long has it been?" Sharon eventually asked. The silence between them had lasted long enough and she couldn't let it continue to grow any heavier.
"How long has what been?"
There it was, Sharon thought. That typical Brenda defensiveness. She knew it was Brenda's coping mechanism and she knew the younger woman did it because she knew Sharon had seen through her.
"Since you spoke to Fritz."
"I don't know. Weeks." She couldn't look at Sharon. Six weeks and three days. "But we stopped talkin' to each other long before that. He wasn't the person I married anymore." And I wasn't the person he married anymore either.
Brenda took a deep breath. She knew she couldn't just blame the lies for the reason her marriage had fallen apart. It was everything else, too. The job, the long days and even longer nights. But when she had found the whiskey in Fritz's car, she knew. Life as it was had driven him back to the bottle, back towards the destruction caused by alcohol, and she wasn't prepared to stand by and watch him tear everything they had apart. It was only now that she realised she had torn most of it apart herself. By falling in love with Sharon.
She still remembered how she had laughed at him when he asked her. But him asking her had made it true, had made it real. He could see it and so could she but until that moment, she hadn't given it a name because she knew that if she did, it became unavoidable. It had become this shadow that stood between them, a shadow in the shape of Sharon Raydor. But it wasn't Sharon's fault. It wasn't Brenda's either. It was just…. Something that happened and she would have to deal with it.
Brenda looked out of the window. Sharon's apartment provided a rather stunning view over the city. City of Angels, city of dreams. How many people had come here looking for a brand new start, for a career, for something other than what they already had? Brenda herself had come here doing just that.
"You know it's not your fault, right?"
Brenda turned her eyes in Sharon's direction. "What do you mean?"
"Him drinking again."
Brenda felt a sharp pang of guilt. Thing was, she wasn't so sure if it wasn't her fault. Well, not just hers anyway, but she had to carry some of the blame. She had detached herself from him without even realising it but he had seen it. Had seen how her eyes wandered to another woman even when he was in the room. She blamed him for drinking but she blamed herself more for having made him feel that the bottle was the only thing he had left to live for.
He'd emailed her a week or so ago, telling her he was sober and was going back to his meetings. He also mentioned that he had been offered a job back in Washington and that he was considering taking it. It would give them both a fresh start, avoiding the awkward moment that would inevitably come where their paths would cross. The last line of the email had ended with him giving her the phone number of the lawyer he had hired to write up their divorce papers.
Sharon set her eyes on Brenda. "He made a choice, Brenda. You didn't put a gun to his head and force him to drink."
"I might as well have." Brenda's voice was filled with frustration and anger aimed at herself. "The last thing you want to do to an addict is make 'em stressed and I did just that." She picked at her fingernails.
Sharon circled the couch and, after waiting for a couple of seconds to see if Brenda showed any signs of not wanting her to come closer, she sat down next to her on the couch. Their knees touched, causing Brenda to look up. Their eyes locked and Sharon insisted on holding Brenda's gaze.
"It is a lot to take in at once," she said. "The loss of a relationship, finding an old nemesis is back on the scene…."
Falling in love with you, Brenda mentally added.
Sharon reached out to put a hand on Brenda's knee and was surprised to find the blonde jumping to her feet. Suddenly Hurricane Brenda was back.
"I errr… I could really use a shower. You mind?" Brenda asked. There was an urgency to her voice, like she couldn't wait to get out of the room.
"No need to ask. You know the way."
Sharon watched as Brenda walked out of the living room and disappeared down the hall. Once she heard the bathroom door close, she leaned back on the couch and her mind drifted back to her meeting with Chief Pope earlier that morning. He had seemed surprised at her insisting that Brenda was better off with her, safer, than she was with anyone else. He only agreed to Brenda staying with her because she asked him if he really believed she would stay in a hotel with an assigned protection detail.
Sharon stood up from the couch and walked into the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of orange juice and took a large sip. The drink tasted slightly sour, just the way she liked it. She heard the shower being switched on and the hint of a smile spread over Sharon's face, unaware that across the street, a pair of binoculars were fixed on her, watching her every move.
Progress was slow. Hell, slow was probably the wrong word. Progress was non-existent, much to Brenda's frustration.
Sharon watched on helplessly as Brenda hung up the phone, having phoned her squad for the third time since coming home to see if they'd found anything or to relay shreds of information that had somehow found their way to the front of her brain. As she looked on how the blonde, her hair still a tiny little bit damp from the shower, set the phone down on the coffee table, Sharon couldn't help but feel a sense of…. Something. Something she couldn't place.
She had known Brenda for a few years now and until recent events unfolded, she'd always perceived herself to be a mere bystander in the Chief's life. Someone who just happened to be there, a pawn in this game called life, but somehow things felt different now. Brenda had turned to her for comfort and for shelter and, more than that, Brenda had accepted her help when Sharon offered it. Right here, in her living room, stood Brenda Leigh Johnson, wearing light blue flannel pyjama pants and a black tank top, her face bare of make-up. She was showing Sharon who she really was and Sharon wasn't even sure that Brenda was aware of it.
"You got any food in here?"
Sharon snapped out of her thoughts and realised that she was still looking at the spot where Brenda had stood mere moments ago. But it was now empty and Brenda's voice had come from the kitchen. She recognised the unmistakable signs of cupboards being opened and Sharon rose to her feet, because even though the blonde would be living here for the foreseeable future, Sharon wasn't quite prepared to let Brenda trash her kitchen just yet.
"I haven't had a chance to go grocery shopping yet. I normally go after work on a Wednesday. Today," Sharon answered when she walked into the kitchen and found Brenda had opened the cupboard where she kept her wine. A smile tugged at her cheeks. She wasn't surprised the blonde had found her way to the alcohol.
Brenda arched an eyebrow. "Somehow you don't strike me as the type to have four day old left over Chinese take-out sittin' in the fridge." She turned towards the refrigerator, clearly with the intention of opening it and seeing what it was that Sharon had in there.
"I'm not as bad as you, Brenda," Sharon replied. She leaned past the blonde to open the cupboard where she kept her wineglasses and took two down. She could have sworn she felt Brenda tense up when their arms brushed past each other, even heard the soft intake of breath, but when Sharon turned around all she saw was Brenda's approving look. "Since you found the booze."
"Wanna order in?" Brenda suggested as she peered into the cupboard to see what kind of wine Sharon stocked. She was surprised to find her favourite Merlot towards the back. "We could order pizza."
"Brenda, at least when you order take-out, order something that actually resembles food." Sharon shuddered at the thought of the greasy pizza, the awful cardboard box it was delivered in and the copious amounts of cheese and Lord knows what else Brenda preferred on it. Probably lots of pepperoni or, worse, anchovies.
"Fine. No pizza then." Brenda leaned against the kitchen counter, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Her were eyes fixed on the brunette and she watched Sharon pour each of them a glass of wine. "How 'bout Chinese? Korean? Jamaican?"
Sharon wondered just how many take out places Brenda knew by heart and how many were under the speed dial numbers on her phone but she didn't say anything. Instead she took a small sip of the wine, allowing the soft burn of alcohol to trickle down her throat.
"Cuban's nice," Brenda rattled on, unware that Sharon hadn't responded or in any way engaged in the conversation. "There's this lovely little place a couple of blocks from…" She fell silent, startled by the realisation that hit her like a ton of bricks. She had been about to say 'my apartment' but the chill in her chest reminded her that it wasn't her apartment anymore.
Brenda looked up, her eyes suddenly weary, Sharon noticed. She suspected that what Brenda had been about to say was probably connected to her life with Fritz. A life that she no longer lived. "We'll order Chinese. I've got a menu here somewhere." She put the wineglass down and turned around to open the drawer where she kept her small selection of takeout menus.
Away from the older woman's eyes, Brenda used this moment to study Sharon more closely. She'd looked at Sharon countless of times before. Every detail about the older woman was engraved into her mind. If someone gave her a pen, she could probably draw a perfect picture.
She noticed Sharon's feet were bare, like her own. She hadn't bothered to change out of her work clothes and Brenda's eyes tentatively trailed up from Sharon's ankles to her calves and then followed the line of her black pencil skirt that clung to her frame. The fabric looked as smooth and clean as it had done when Sharon had first put it on that morning. The blazer she'd worn was draped over one of the kitchen chairs and Brenda noticed Sharon had undone the first button of her light pink satin blouse. The hint of pale coloured skin made the back of Brenda's throat go dry and just as Sharon turned around, triumphantly waving the Chinese menu in her hand, Brenda took such a large gulp of her wine that it almost made her splutter.
"You know, if you'd rather just get wasted, all you had to do was say so," Sharon smiled as she observed the now half empty wine glass. "Be careful with that, it'll go straight to your head."
"Nothin' I can't handle," Brenda grinned.
Sharon walked towards the landline phone and without looking back she said, "It's not you I'm worried about."
Brenda went through her entire vocabulary of swear words in her head, and there were many, before following Sharon into the living room. She found the brunette sitting on the couch with one leg tucked underneath herself and the other dangling over the edge, her toes caressing the rug that lay at her feet. She was flipping through the menu and seemed unable to decide what she wanted. She then looked up at Brenda.
"Why don't you choose?"
"You're lettin' me choose?" Brenda knitted her brows, her fingers closing a little tighter around her wineglass. "What's goin' on here?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Sharon Raydor isn't the type of woman who lets someone else decide what she has for dinner."
"No?" There was a hint of amusement in her voice. "Then what kind of woman am I, Chief Johnson?"
Shit, Brenda thought to herself but somehow she maintained her composure and carelessly shrugged. Avoiding to answer Sharon's question, she fixed her eyes on the menu Sharon was holding instead. "Well, if you're happy to eat whatever it is I fancy then…" She snatched the menu out of Sharon's hand and for a split second contemplated ordering the hottest dish available but then decided against it and went with a more conventional choice.
She let Sharon make the call and sank down next to the brunette on the sofa, careful to make sure their bodies didn't touch.
How had it come to this? How had it come to her having moved into Sharon's apartment because some whackjob out there was killing people and had his sights somehow set on her? How had her past followed her all the way back to Los Angeles? Hadn't she atoned for some of her mistakes already? Whatever had she done for this to happen? Was she being punished? Was this some kind of sick, twisted retribution for having not one but two failed marriages under her belt before the age of fifty?
Or was this exactly the opposite and she was supposed to see this as some kind of blessing? She'd tried telling herself that the main reason she and Fritz had fallen apart was him drinking again but deep down she'd known things were over long before that and he'd known it too. It all came back down to Sharon.
Brenda hadn't exactly chosen to fall in love with Sharon Raydor. It had just… happened. Did these things just happen? Well, this time at least, it had just happened. Slowly. It had caught her unaware and by the time she'd realised just how much she enjoyed the other woman's company, it was already too late. At that point, Fritz had already asked that question. So he had seen it in her eyes long before she had even recognised it in her heart.
And now it was something that just was. She loved Sharon. She just did. But she wasn't going to tell her. Hell no, Brenda thought. Sharon would never have to know. No one would ever know. Not that she was particularly surprised by the fact she'd fallen for another woman. There had been that girl at the Academy after all. What was her name again? Brenda tried to remember. It had been Karen Fitzgerald. And that teacher, when she was in High School. The one with the brown hair and blue eyes and the husky voice. Mrs Gerard.
"What?" Brenda almost dropped her wineglass and she felt her cheeks redden. Only now did she realise that she had indeed been staring at Sharon. She averted her eyes, unsure of just what it was Sharon had seen. "Sorry."
"You seemed pretty far gone there. Anything you wanna share?"
Sharon was taken aback by the blunt reply and could only mutter a surprised, "Ok."
Brenda didn't miss the flash of hurt behind those green eyes and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Sharon, I'm sorry. I'm bein' an awful guest. Stompin' round your house, drinkin' your wine, bein' rude…" She paused. "For heaven's sake, why did you even take me in?"
"Take you in? Brenda, you're making yourself sound like some stray ally cat. You're here because there is a serial killer out there who painted your name on a wall in blood. You're here because you were living in a hotel room with all your belongings packed in a suitcase." Sharon remembered the sight of the neatly made hotel bed and the fresh new towels left behind by the hotel maids. Somehow the sight had made her feel incredibly sad. "You're here because… Well, I hope because you want to be."
Brenda's toes curled up into the rug at her feet. "I'm here because I need to be here."
Sharon's eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "So you don't want to be here?"
"I do," Brenda answered quickly. Too quickly. "I don't mean that…" She rolled her eyes in frustration and tried to smile, hoping it would somehow ease the unexplainable tension that appeared to have settled between them. "I do want to be here but I mean that I probably wouldn't have been if it weren't for that murderin' lunatic out there."
Sharon had to agree with Brenda's statement but she couldn't deny the slight pang of hurt. It had been a very long time since someone else had walked through her living room, the sound of their footsteps an unexpected comfort, and it wasn't until she'd sat at the table with Brenda that morning that she'd realised just how quiet this place really was. Another person sharing the space between these walls brought something… Brenda brought life. And not just because she'd carelessly abandoned her shoes on the living room floor and had dumped that ridiculous purse next to the coffee table. Just Brenda being here changed the way the apartment felt.
They'd abandoned their strained relationship quite some time ago. It seemed that as the days faded into weeks and months that Brenda had become more accepting of Sharon being around and at the same time Sharon had learnt that Brenda was incredibly protective of the things she cared about, mainly her work, and Sharon had found a way to handle situations without ruffling the other woman's feathers. That wasn't to say that she no longer pissed the Chief off because, as startling as the realisation had been, a seething Brenda Leigh Johnson was incredibly…. Desirable.
The first time Sharon laid eyes on Brenda she'd been impressed by two things; her incredible stubbornness and the depth of her brown eyes. After that she'd noticed more things. Brenda's impatience and the way her lips curled when she smiled. Her petulance and the way her hips swayed when she walked. The way her accent became sharper whenever she was angry or tired, the way those blonde curls would frame the side of her face, the way her lips always seemed fullest when she was angry and how those amazing eyes darkened several shades whenever she was about to close her case; it was as if a predator woke inside Brenda and Sharon had often wondered if those eyes darkened the same way in lust or desire.
Sharon had made better choices in her life when it came to people she was attracted to but, and she reminded herself of this often when she once again questioned herself why of all people it had to be Brenda, she'd also made far worse ones. The worst one of all was the one she married and although he had given her two beautiful children, she had eventually divorced him. She prided herself on generally possessing great people skills, a trait that came in useful working at FID, but the only thing she experienced when in the presence of Brenda was a clouding of her senses.
"Maybe I should check in and see if they've found…" Brenda went to reach for her phone but her hand stilled in mid-air when Sharon's fingers closed around her wrist.
"Brenda." Sharon's voice was soft but demanding. "Brenda, no."
"It's almost eight pm. Your squad is running on a couple of hours' sleep, at best and you're not doing much better yourself. You've spoken to them three times. If there had been a development they would've called. They'd probably be fighting over who gets to be the one to tell you. Please, at least for tonight, try to relax."
Brenda had to admit that Sharon was right. It was her own helplessness that made her want to pick up the phone. She felt like an outsider and she didn't like not knowing what was happening. She came to the frightening realisation that this had to be how some of the families she dealt with felt. Her gaze dropped down at Sharon's fingers around her wrist. The touch was warm and soft, but it set her skin on fire and the burning sensation was slowly creeping further up her forearm and she couldn't shake herself free without drawing Sharon's attention. Instead she slammed her jaws together and fought back the sudden desire to move closer.
Sharon could feel Brenda's skin glow underneath her touch and when she slid her fingers across Brenda's wrist she felt the younger woman's rapid heartbeat thud against her fingertips. The sensation intrigued her and she circled the pulse point with the tip of her index finger. It wasn't until she heard the ragged intake of breath from Brenda that she quickly pulled her hand away.
Brenda tried to clear her throat but nothing happened. Instead she drained the remainder of her wine and jumped up after quickly asking, "Refill?" and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Fritz has spoken to a lawyer and he's got him draftin' up the divorce papers."
Brenda's voice was chirpy and Sharon looked up from studying the stain the wine had left at the bottom of the glass. A quick glance at the blonde's face told her that the quick escape to the kitchen had allowed Brenda to gather her composure and Sharon recognised the familiar Chief Johnson mask and she sighed to herself.
"Did you two talk about it at all?" Sharon asked as Brenda circled the couch and sat back down. Brenda leaned in and poured Sharon another glass of wine. Sharon didn't miss that the quantity of wine Brenda poured into the glass was substantially larger than Sharon had done the first time.
"He emailed last week. Said he was sober and sortin' through some stuff. Apparently he's been offered a new job in Washington so he's thinkin' about goin' back." Brenda pulled one of her knees up to her chest, wrapping an arm around it. "Papers should be on my desk sometime next week. I'll sign them and send them right back off."
"Will he take it?" Sharon inquired.
"The job you mean? Yeah, I think he might. It would do us both some good. Last thing I wanna do is run into him every other day. To be honest, I'd be glad if I didn't have to see his face ever again." Brenda chewed the inside of her cheek. "Sometimes I wish I could just…."
"Smack him?" Sharon finished the sentence for him and when Brenda nodded she added, "Listen to you, Chief Johnson. Such a perfect example of moral fibre, saying you want to beat up your ex..."
"Moral fibre?" Brenda sipped from her wine and arched a questioning eyebrow at Sharon's choice of words. "What, is that some kind of new breakfast cereal?" It was followed by a snort and her brown eyes met Sharon's. "I'm not exactly known for my outstandin' moral character now, am I?" She knew Sharon understood what she was talking about. No one at the LAPD would forget the federal lawsuit against Brenda anytime soon.
Sharon pursed her lips a little but her emerald eyes sparkled with joy behind her glasses. "I guess not."
They sat in silence for a few moments before Brenda reached for the remote on the coffee table and shot Sharon a sideways glance. "You mind if I put the TV on?"
"Just stay away from the evening news," Sharon answered and settled a little more comfortably on the couch and she watched as Brenda flipped through the channels, eventually settling on one of the Harry Potter movies. Brenda then dropped the remote in her lap, curled herself up on the other side of the couch and rested her head in her hand.
Sharon didn't know how long it had been but the knock on the door that announced the arrival of their Chinese takeout threw her back into the real world rather unceremoniously. She'd been watching Brenda from the corner of her eye, observing how the fair haired women wound one of her curls around her finger while her teeth worried her bottom lip, for a lot longer than she'd realised. Her gaze had been first drawn towards the other woman when she noticed Brenda chewing on her fingernails. It wasn't exactly a flattering trait but there was something about seeing the blonde's fingers pressed to her lips….
The knocking repeated and this time Brenda looked up, oblivious to the fact Sharon had been watching her. "Want me to get that?"
"I'll get it," Sharon hastily said and stood up. She walked to the door, paid the delivery guy and carried the bag full of delicious smelling food into the kitchen. She turned to one of the cupboards and went pick up a couple of plates as she called, "Brenda! Come and get your food."
"Right here," she heard behind her and the hairs in the back of her neck rose up as she turned around and found Brenda standing right behind her. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments and Sharon felt her face flush. When Brenda stepped away and peered into the bag containing boxes of food, Sharon slowly released her breath.
Maybe Brenda stopping here would be more complicated than she had thought after all.
The incessant vibrating noise of her cell phone pulled Brenda from a deep but restless sleep. As she sat up her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room and for a few moments she didn't quite remember where she was.
Sharon's apartment. Sharon's guest room. Brenda's mind was fuzzy, still clouded by sleep. How had she ended up here? Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. Oh yeah, some idiot was targeting her and thanks to him she was now a prisoner inside Sharon Raydor's house.
Then Brenda's eyes fixed on the lit up screen of her iPhone and saw Lt Provenza flash across her screen. Her heart sank as her index finger slid across the screen to answer. By the time she brought the device up to hear and spoke, any remnants of sleep had disappeared. Instead adrenaline pumped through her veins and she grew instantly aware of the heavy thudding of her heart.
"Sorry to wake you but..." There was a pause, a hesitation. Brenda knew what this meant. "I think you need to see this." Another pause and in the background Brenda heard voices. "And you may want to bring Captain Raydor, too. Want me to call her?"
Brenda sighed heavily and swung her legs over the side of the bed. There was no need. Sharon was asleep in the next room and this was something Brenda felt she had to tell the Captain herself. "I'll wake her, lieutenant. Text me the address." She hung up and switched on the lamp on the bedside table. Golden light fell across the bed and part of the room, just enough for her to be able to see. Brenda padded around the room towards her suitcase and opened it.
She grabbed the first items of clothing she found and effortlessly slipped into her favourite pair of jeans, a black tank top and a grey zip up sweater. She bound her riot of curls back into a loose ponytail and realised she'd left her shoes in the living room. Bare foot she walked out of the guest room and down the hall towards Sharon's bedroom. The door was locked and Brenda's breath hitched as she knocked.
She heard the soft creaking sound of the bed on the other side of the door followed by Sharon's voice. "Brenda? Are you alright?"
Brenda's fingers brushed against the door handle but she waited, briefly wondering if Sharon thought she'd had a nightmare. May I come in?"
The reply was a soft 'hmmmm' and Brenda opened the door, entering the only room in the apartment she hadn't yet seen. This was Sharon's private space and Brenda felt like she was intruding in the other woman's world. She didn't belong here.
"Brenda, is everything alright?" Sharon repeated her earlier question.
Brenda's gaze was drawn to the bed. Sharon sat up. The sheets had pooled at her feet and her glasses were perched on the edge of her nose. Brenda suspected she kept them on her bedside table. Thick strands of brown hair fell into Sharon's face and Brenda was surprised to see the older woman's choice of sleeping outfit seemed to be an old and faded LAPD t-shirt. In the dim light of the bedside lamp Sharon looked... Brenda couldn't immediately think of the word but then it came to her: Sharon looked mesmerizing.
Curious, she let her gaze drift around the room. From what she could see the walls of Sharon's bedroom were painted in a warm sandy colour and the carpet underneath Brenda's bare feet felt soft and plush. The window overlooked the street below whilst also providing a stunning view over Los Angeles. An arm chair stood in the corner of the room but whereas a similar chair in Brenda's room would be home to several items of discarded clothing, this one merely contained a plumped up cushion. The sheets on the bed were dark red, like a fine wine, with a pattern of white flowers, Brenda thought they were cherry blossoms, down the middle. The pattern repeated itself along the edges of the pillow cases.
"What's going on? Why are you dressed?" Sharon slipped out from under the covers, walked across the room to switch on the light and a couple of seconds later the room bathed in full light. She then turned to look at Brenda again, taking in the outfit the fair haired woman was wearing. She didn't think she'd ever seen the blonde in jeans before.
Brenda held up her phone. "I just had a call from Provenza."
Sharon glanced at the alarm clock on her bedside table. The red neon numbers showed 02.46 am and a heavy, nauseating feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. This wasn't going to be good. She looked back at Brenda and the blonde needn't say anything else. The look in her eyes said enough. Sharon recognised the flash of anger but most of all Sharon saw the fear.
"Give me five minutes to get dressed," she said as she walked over to her wardrobe, already pulling the grey shirt she wore away from her body. Brenda stared perhaps a little longer than she should have, especially considering the circumstances, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the cream coloured skin that appeared from underneath the garment. Sharon shot a quick glance over her shoulder. "I'll meet you in the living room."
Without speaking and whilst feeling like her cheeks were turning every shade of of red imaginable, Brenda bolted out of Sharon's bedroom and practically ran through the corridor towards the living room. There she found her shoes and just as she slipped her feet into them she heard the bedroom door open, followed by the sound of Sharon's footsteps approaching. When she turned around the brunette walked into the living room clad in dark blue jeans, fetching ankle high black boots and a simple black sweater. Somehow Sharon managed to look elegant and stylish even at this unholy hour and Brenda shot a helpless glance at her worn out jeans.
"Are you ready?" Sharon asked softly and together they headed for the door and out of the apartment.
Sharon drove and Brenda took in the sight of Los Angeles by night. Bright neon signs on buildings advertised alcohol and sex. In the distance the downtown skyline painted an impressive picture in the night. The streets were dark but not abandoned. She saw plenty of cars and, her cop instinct having kicked in to overdrive, she suspected a large percentage of them were breaking the law one way or another. The tail lights of a black SUV disappearing into a dark alley before all lights were switched off only confirmed her suspicions. She'd busting plenty of hookers and their johns to know what exactly was happening in that car right now.
Brenda looked at Sharon from the corner of her eye. The woman's hands rested loosely on the steering wheel, her green eyes focused on the road ahead. The built in GPS system in Sharon's car told them their destination was only a few more miles away. Brenda felt the knots in her stomach tighten and she cast another glance out of the window. They had turned into a cross street and were now driving through a block where the houses on either side of the street had to be worth at least half a million each. She ran her fingers through her hair whilst studying their new surroundings. Their killer seemed to prefer the more upscale neighbourhoods.
Brenda saw the blue and red flashing lights in the distance after they'd taken two more rights and another left turn and her heart sank. It was as if something heavy settled in her chest, slowly crushing her. When Sharon pulled up to the kerb and parked the car, Brenda spotted Provenza and Flynn on the front lawn. Buzz stood behind them, his camera resting on his shoulder. The three men looked up and into the direction of the car and inside the vehicle Brenda turned to look at Sharon. "I've got a bad feelin' 'bout this."
"You're not the only one," Sharon admitted. "I can't help but thinking there's something else going on with this whole case."
Brenda wrinkled her nose. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know exactly," Sharon admitted and opened the car door. Brenda followed and Sharon watched as the blonde circled the car. "But something tells me this isn't just about the killer taking up his work in a different town."
They walked up the front lawn towards Provenza and Flynn. The older of the two men opened his notebook. "In sorry to disturb your beauty sleep, Chief," he said before glancing at Sharon, "and yours, Captain." She gave a quick nod. "The victim's husband came home an hour ago, found his wife's body in the master bedroom. Her heart is missing. Oh and before you ask, the number three has been painted on the wall."
Brenda rubbed the bridge of her nose as she organised the details in her head. A particular detail leapt out of the information in her head and her gaze fixed on Provenza. "Lieutenant, did you say the victim's in the bedroom?"
"What is it?" Sharon asked when she noticed the dark look in Brenda's eyes.
"He's no longer copyin' the Atlanta scenes," Brenda answered. Her heart pounded in her head. This was it. This was the moment where the killer took a different turn. "Victim number three in Atlanta was found in the livin' room. This is different."
Provenza's voice was solemn when he said, "That's not all that's different," and when Brenda looked at him, bewildered, he added, "see for yourself."
Brenda walked into the house after covering her shoes with the blue shoe covers that stood in a box by the front door. She then ducked underneath the yellow crime scene tape and held it up for Sharon, who was right behind her. The grand entrance hall with polished wooden floors was brightly lit by a crystal chandelier. A large painting of a field full of flowers and a white farm house adorned the opposite wall. The wall that had Brenda had her back turned to was decorated with tasteful black and white family photos, all in the same black framers. Uniformed officers were taking notes, SID officers were walking around collecting evidence and Brenda recognised Gabriel's voice coming from the top of the stairs. "Up here, Chief."
Brenda slowly climbed the stairs, aware of Sharon following right behind her. Her steps were hesitant and her heart filled with dread. When she felt Sharon's hand unexpectedly at the base of her back she froze for a moment and looked over her shoulder. Sharon's eyes were dark and, Brenda realised, instantly soothing. She wondered if actually taking Sharon's hand in her own would settle the painful thundering of her heart the way that the brushing of Sharon's fingers against her spine helped ease the tension in her body.
Gabriel appeared at the top of the stairs and looked down at the two women. Sharon's hand shot back to fall down beside her body and Brenda instantly missed that warm touch but she turned to look at Gabriel, took a deep breath and said, "Yes, sergeant?"
"In here, Chief."
The crime scene was the master bedroom at the end of the hall. The door was wide open, its frame already covered in black fingerprint powder. Brenda entered the bedroom cautiously and the first thing she noticed was the penetrant smell of iron; the smell of blood. She took a deep breath and slowly focused on the scene in front of her.
A woman's body lay on the floor in the middle of the room. She lay oh her stomach and the body was naked. Brenda tentatively stepped closer. The whole scene was different from the ones they had seen so far. Slowly she kneeled down beside the body, her eyes raking over the dead woman's naked frame. She was white with brown, short cropped hair. Her skin had a golden glow, courtesy of the Los Angeles sun, and her shoulders were covered in a light dusting of freckles. A tattoo of flowers, the same as the ones on Sharon's bedsheets she thought, covered the victim's spine. The flowers looked so delicate that it was easy to forget they had been painted onto her skin with ink. It was then that Brenda noticed what was missing. She had smelt the blood but…
"Where's the blood?"
Gabriel nodded to the Medical Examiner and Brenda only now realised Morales himself had come out to the crime scene. This was highly unusual as he preferred the safety of his morgue. She stepped aside to make room for him, expecting him to roll the body over, but instead he quietly beckoned her to follow him.
He led her to the bathroom and Brenda felt her breath choke in the back of her throat. Her hand flew to her mouth and for the first time in many years, Brenda Leigh Johnson felt like she was going to be sick at a crime scene.
"Oh my God." It was barely a whimper.
The bathroom walls were coloured red but not with paint. Blood had wiped over the walls and floor, covering every single inch of every tile. It was what caused the iron smell and Brenda felt her stomach turn. Her head began to spin and the room became a bluw in front of her eyes. Suddenly her legs felt wobbly and Brenda could feel herself swaying.
And then Sharon was there. At her side, her arm protectively wrapping itself around Brenda's waist to steady her. Her voice was soft and warm in Brenda's air, her breath tickling the blonde's ear. "I'm right here," she whispered. "Brenda, I'm right here."
"What… what happened?" Brenda heard herself speak and desperate brown eyes found Morales. "What happened?"
"She was killed in here," Morales answered. His face was void of his usual smile, his voice lacked the usual sarcasm. He turned towards the bath. The plug had been put in the hole. Blood filled the tub like sticky warm water; it was dark and burgundy.
"I think he got her in the bath. Not sure if it was pre or post mortem. He cut her." Morales' voice was soft, quiet. "He drained her body of all the blood and…" He didn't have to finish the rest of that sentence and merely turned to look at Brenda. His eyes reflected her emptiness.
Brenda took a ragged breath. Then a second and a third. "And her heart?"
"Gone. Just like the others."
Brenda turned away from the blood sprayed bathroom. She couldn't bear the sight any longer. "He used his hands," she said as she looked at Sharon. The older woman's eyes were as soft and kind as they had been when they first climbed the stairs. "He dipped his hands in her blood, over and over again, and he painted the walls with it." The echo of bitterness in Brenda's voice was unmistakable. From where she stood Brenda had a clear view of the victim lying naked on the bedroom floor. Has the killer stood like this too, after he had finished? Had he looked at her one last time before leaving?
She shook her head, forcing the thought away. "Provenza said the number three had been painted on the wall. I didn't see it. Where is it?"
Gabriel stepped towards the bathroom door and began to close it. It creaked slightly, sending a chill down Brenda's spine. Once the other side of the door came into view, Brenda saw the bloody three in the middle. "The door was closed when we got here, ma'am," he said when he noticed the way Brenda's eyes narrowed. "To make sure we'd see the number before we saw what he did inside."
"Thank you, Sargent," Brenda said. She straightened her spine, regained her composure. "Time of death?"
Morales piped up behind her, "No more than five hours ago."
Brenda checked her watch. It was three thirty in the morning. "So between ten and ten thirty," she concluded. "Anyone see or hear anything? Where was the husband?"
"No witnesses. And the husband is a trauma surgeon. He was in the OR. Flynn already checked with the hospital and they're confirming his alibi."
Brenda chewed the inside of her cheek. "So he gets in and out without being seen. Just like all the other crime scenes. Even the one with the video camera pointing at the house." Just before she and Sharon had gone to bed, Provenza had informed her that the security footage from the house across from their second crime scene showed nothing. "So how does he…."
"Chief?" Sharon called when Brenda spun around and sprinted down the stairs. "Brenda!"
She ran after her, the sound of her feet thundering down the steps echoing through the house, and found the blonde in the kitchen, having dragged an unsuspecting SID officer along with her. Brenda pointed at the patio door and after briefly leaning in to study the lock and inspecting it closely with a flash light, the SID officer nodded in agreement.
"What is it?" Sharon breathed. She didn't miss the glint of excitement that glimmered in Brenda's eyes.
"The back door," Brenda said. "We need to check all evidence from all the back doors from our crime scenes. Scratches, prints, tool marks, anythin'. Because this…." Her gloved hand closed around the door handle and she wasn't surprised to find it opened. The cold evening air brushed her cheek and she closed it again, turning to face Sharon. "….is how he gets in. We should be lookin' at…"
"Brenda," Sharon interrupted her and the younger woman's eyes snapped up. She saw the concern etched across Sharon's face and knitted her brow. Sharon's voice was soft but demanding. "Brenda, there's something else you need to see." She paused. "Upstairs."
Brenda nodded and followed Sharon back up the stairs and back onto the crime scene in the master bedroom. She found that Morales had turned the body over, the gaping hole in her chest now clearly visible. But it something else that drew Brenda's attention. Morales was bending over the body and had wrapped the hands in plastic bags to preserve evidence. But right now he was focused on the victim's mouth and held a pair of tweezers in his one hand, the other hand parting the victim's lips.
"What is that?" Brenda breathed as she watched Morales pull something from the woman's mouth.
She extended a gloved hand and Morales carefully placed the item in her open palm. Brenda studied it and then took a large step back, the item falling through her now open fingers and landing on the carpet. She managed to smother the shriek with her other hand and spun around to look at Sharon. The brunette didn't speak but instead stepped aside, allowing Brenda to run from the bedroom once again. Slowly she turned around and followed Brenda down the stairs.
Brenda felt the sharp, unwelcome sensation of rain falling on her face when she walked out into the cool Los Angeles midnight air. She only realised she was shaking when she felt Sharon's arm slip around her waist, pulling her close. Without thinking, Brenda wrapped both her arms around the older woman's neck and rested her head on Sharon's shoulder. The demons that had followed her out of the house slowly backed off.
"What was it?" Sharon asked. She felt herself shiver as the rain continued to pour down on her and Brenda and she grew more and more aware of the other woman's body pressed against her own. "Brenda, what did Morales take from the victim's mouth?"
"A necklace," Brenda replied, her voice shaky and weak.
"A necklace? What kind of necklace?"
Slowly Brenda stepped away and her brown eyes connected with Sharon's green.
Brenda studied the plastic evidence bag she held in her hand. The item inside, a fine silver chain with a delicate pendant in the shape of the infinity symbol, lay pooled in the bottom of the bag. The longer she looked at it, the more lost and confused she felt. She dropped the bag down on her desk just as someone knocked her door and she looked up. Sharon had appeared in the doorway of her office, clutching two cups of coffee.
"Hey," she said as she stepped in to the office and placed one of the cups on the desk. "How're you feeling?"
"I don't know," Brenda admitted and eagerly picked up the coffee. She could feel the heat radiate through the cup and allowed it to warm her hands.
They had come back to the Parker Centre straight after leaving the crime scene. Sharon had suggested going home but Brenda had flat out refused. Instead she had made Sharon drive them back to the office and they'd arrived thirty minutes ago, with Brenda disappearing into her office and slamming the door behind her, leaving a bewildered Sharon in the middle of the Murder Room. Brenda hadn't seen Sharon until now and she was glad that the older woman was here.
Sharon saw the plastic bag with the red evidence seal and the evidence tag on Brenda's desk. "Is that it?"
Brenda nodded and pushed the bag towards Sharon. Sharon picked it up and studied it. "Are you sure this is yours?" she asked and Brenda sighed. "What makes you so convinced?"
"It's engraved at the back," Brenda answered and Sharon turned the pendant over in her hand and there it was. "Mama gave it to me when I graduated from the Academy. I wore it every day and then, one day, I took it off. I don't know why. But when I came to put it back on, I couldn't find it anywhere. I just assumed I'd lost it when I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles."
"You lost it in Atlanta?" Sharon asked and Brenda nodded. "Are you sure?"
"What do you mean?"
Sharon circled the desk and perched herself at the edge, close to Brenda. She folded her arms in front of her chest and from behind her glasses she studied the fair haired woman. There were dark circles around Brenda's eyes. She really shouldn't be here at six o'clock in the morning without having had a decent sleep. Brenda looked tired, almost ill. Sharon could see the weight resting on Brenda's shoulders and felt helpless that there wasn't anything she could do to help.
"I've been thinking," Sharon began and chose her words carefully. "The killer has been trying to get your attention. All these attacks were personal, aimed at you. I was just wondering…."
"What?" Brenda's voice was flat.
"I was just wondering if we're looking at this the wrong way and instead of focusing on our killer we should be focusing on you."
Brenda blinked. "Excuse me?"
Sharon heaved a sigh. The thought had been spinning round in her head since the discovery of the latest crime scene. The added element of Brenda's necklace only added to her suspicions. "Brenda, this killer is obsessed with you. He followed you here from Atlanta. Have you ever considered that he committed the murders in Atlanta to trigger your interest and that it was a deliberate act to get you to notice him, not some random event that brought you onto his path?"
"So you're saying he wanted me to follow him?" Brenda asked.
"All of these crimes don't just point at Atlanta, Brenda. They all point to you. Your name at the first crime scene. Your card on victim's body. Your picture at the second crime scene and your necklace at the third." Sharon's eyes focused on Brenda and she could see the horror, the fear, appear in those brown eyes. All she wanted was to take Brenda's hands into her own, to make that fear go away, but she didn't move. "This is about you, Brenda Leigh."
"Oh for heaven's sake." Brenda rolled her eyes and rose up from her chair. "Why?"
"If we knew that we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Brenda paced through her office, occasionally glancing at the Murder Room. The desks that belonged to her squad were still empty. She had ordered them all not to appear before nine and she knew, logically, that she too should go home and at least shower. She didn't exactly look a fetching sight in her jeans and zip up hoodie, even less so if she considered the fact that she would have to face Chief Pope.
Her mind was spinning as she tried to line up tonight's events with the events of recent days and those from years ago in Atlanta. She didn't think back to Atlanta with particular fondness. Her ex-husband's false allegations and the fact that she had been subject of an ethics investigation had tainted her time in her hometown. Not even the comfort of her mama's kitchen could ease some of the bitterness she experienced every day and now that she was trying to figure out exactly how the killer had become fixated on her, it wasn't hard. Her name and picture had been all over the paper during the ethics investigation and although she was cleared, she still heard the whispers behind her back. She sae the way people, mostly men, looked at her whenever she walked into a room.
"What're you thinking?" Sharon could tell from the way Brenda absentmindedly stared into the Murder Room that her thoughts were a lot further away.
"I'm thinkin' about Atlanta."
Sharon was aware of the rumours. Not long after Brenda arrived, the story that she'd been investigated for an ethics violation began to circulate the building. Not long after it was followed by the revelation that she'd had an affair with Will Pope, though Sharon had since understood that the affair happened before Brenda returned to Atlanta. "That wasn't a good time for you, was it?"
"No. Not exactly." Brenda swallowed hard. The lump in her throat was bitter. "I always thought it was the worst time of my life." She didn't quite understand where the tears came from but she felt them burning behind her eyes. "Until now."
Atlanta had been the worst time of her life but right now, the life she was living here was even worse. Her second marriage had fallen apart. She and Fritz had gone their separate ways. Granted, it hadn't been as bad as her first marriage, but it was still broken. She didn't have a home to live in. Instead she was picking her clothes out of a suitcase every morning and she was forced to seek shelter in another woman's apartment because freaking nut job was out to get her. Oh, and she was in love with Sharon Raydor. Things were about as bad as they could get.
She looked over her shoulder at Sharon. The brunette stood in the middle of Brenda's office, her arms by her side, her right hand still clutching the evidence back containing the necklace. Brenda wanted nothing more than to seek shelter in Sharon's arms again, just like she had done at the crime scene. Her cheeks reddened at the thought and she averted her eyes, embarrassed. She had come undone in front of Sharon, had allowed the world to see that Brenda Leigh Johnson had a weaknesses. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
"Let's go," Sharon said unexpectedly and she walked across the office and took Brenda's arm.
Wide eyes met Sharon's. "Go where?"
"Home." Sharon looked at Brenda from head to toe. "I think you could use a shower and a change of clothes. Unless you intend on facing Chief Pope dressed like this?"
Brenda shook her head and although she wanted to resist, she couldn't. She was tired. She didn't have it in her to fight or argue. Yes, Brenda Leigh Johnson actually gave in to somebody else's request. So she picked up her purse and followed Sharon out of her office and through the quiet Murder Room to the elevator.
Sharon drove them home and when they reached the apartment she instructed Brenda to go and shower. Brenda obliged without objection and, after kicking off her shoes, she padded to the guest room and selected her outfit for the day. After she rummaged through the suitcase and pulled out a black dress and white blazer, she turned to the wardrobe. Struck by the thoughts that had hit her back in her office, she opened the wardrobe door and found it empty. Without thinking she began hanging her clothes on the empty coat hangers and when she was done she felt a sense of satisfaction. It wasn't much but it was better than living out of a suitcase.
Just as she walked out of the bedroom and into the bathroom, she heard the familiar sound of her cell phone ringing in the living room.
"Sharon?" she called. "Would you mind gettin' that for me? It's probably just Flynn or Provenza!"
With those words she locked the bathroom door behind her and switched on the shower.
Sharon found Brenda's phone at the bottom of her bag, hidden behind two empty KitKat wrappers, and turned it over to check the caller ID, expecting to see the name of one of members of Brenda's squad flash across the screen. Her finger had already slid over the 'answer' button when she realised it wasn't Flynn or Provenza calling. Her heart suddenly hammered n her chest as she brought the phone up to her ear. Her voice was hoarse.
"No, I'm sorry, Agent Howard, it's Sharon Raydor." Sharon mentally chastised herself for having answered the phone and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I err…How are you?" She wasn't entirely sure what to say and realising that it wasn't any of her business how Fritz was doing she added, "What can I do for you?"
"Captain Raydor." Fritz sounded surprised. "I thought I'd called Brenda's number."
"You have. She's in the shower and I thought it was Lieutenant Provenza calling so I answered her phone and…" Sharon took a deep breath. This would teach her to never answer Brenda's phone again. "Do you want to speak to her?"
"I only called because I checked with the hotel and they said she'd checked out. I was just trying to arrange with her where to send the papers to," Fritz said. Sharon could sense he was holding something back. "So she's at your house?" And there it was, she thought. It sounded like an accusation. "She been there long?"
"No," Sharon answered truthfully. "Agent Howard, would you like me to pass on a message to Brenda or ask her to call you?"
"It's all right. I'll just send the papers to your address then, since Brenda seems to be living with you now."
Sharon detected the bitterness in his voice and her eyes narrowed, even though Fritz couldn't see her. "Is there a problem, Agent Howard?" She couldn't call him by his first name.
"The ink on our divorce papers isn't even dry. Brenda certainly isn't wasting any time. I should've known that she'd come running straight to you." Fritz quipped. He sounded agitated. "Just tell her I called and let her know that the papers are on their way. And please, also tell her that I have accepted the job in DC so if she wants to move back into the house, she can. Though I doubt she will now."
"I will," Sharon said quietly. "Have a nice day, Agent Howard." She hung up and her eyes turned toward the hallway that led towards the bathroom where Brenda was taking a shower. She ran her hands through her hair. What the hell just happened? She vaguely registered that the sound of the shower running had stopped. A door opened and she heard Brenda walk from the bathroom to the bedroom. What had Fritz meant with his comment about Brenda not wasting any time and running to Sharon?
Sharon was in the kitchen when Brenda walked in wearing the black dress, her feet bare and with the blazer draped over her arm. She left it on the back of the chair and walked up to the counter. Sharon had made breakfast and fresh coffee and the blonde sniffed the air. "What smells so good?"
"Omelettes. I'm just doing yours. Help yourself to coffee." Sharon didn't turn around. She couldn't face her.
"What did Provenza say?" Brenda asked as she filled a cream coloured mug with red polka dots to the brim with steaming hot coffee. "Anythin' new?"
"It wasn't Provenza. Or Flynn."
Brenda sipped her coffee as she watched Sharon crack two more egg into the frying pan. "Gabriel?"
"Brenda, it was Fritz. I answered the phone to your ex-husband." Sharon slammed down the spatula so hard it made Brenda jump. The action filled the kitchen with a heavy, thick tension and Brenda stared at the older woman, stunned.
"Don't," Sharon bit back. Her voice was sharp and edgy. She didn't understand her own anger. She didn't understand why speaking to Fritz had infuriated her so much. He hadn't said or done anything wrong. "It was embarrassing."
Sharon briefly turned around. The expression on her face was unreadable, and so was the look in her eyes, but Brenda could tell Sharon was upset. She clutched the coffee mug a little tighter, afraid she might let it drop if she didn't, and her teeth worried her bottom lip. "Oh, Sharon, I'm so sorry. I thought it was someone from my squad. I didn't mean to drag you into this mess."
"Well, you did."
Brenda didn't understand. Was Sharon angry with her? It has been a genuine mistake!
"Listen, Brenda Leigh..." There it was again. She called her Brenda Leigh again, for the second time today. She had sworn to herself that she wasn't going to call her that but she'd broken her own word. Sharon heaved a sigh and Brenda cut her off.
"I said I was sorry!" Sharon realised the blonde looked panicked. Damp ringlets fell down the side of Brenda's face and it was bare of any make-up. Once again she was allowing Sharon to see her, truly see her. Sharon realised this. She also realised that this what Brenda looked like when someone she cared about what angry at her. The thought stunned her. Did Brenda actually care about her? Brenda's eyes reflected worry.
"Sharon, what did he say?"
"He was trying to find out where to send the divorce papers because he knows you're no longer at the hotel," Sharon answered. The anger she'd felt slowly subsided. She couldn't bear the panicked look in Brenda's eyes. Her lips curled up into a little smile. "I told him to send them here."
"Here?" Brenda's eyes widened and her nostrils flared. "What? Why?!"
Sharon swiped a strand of hair out of her face. Fritz's words echoed in her head. "Well, this is where you live, isn't it? At least right now."
Brenda sighed. "Yes, yes I do," she replied. She tried to smile and the two women just looked at each other. The tension in the room slowly subsided the longer their gazes held each other but then Brenda arched a questioning eyebrow when something triggered her senses. "Uhm, Sharon? The brunette was still looking at Brenda. "Sharon? Is the omelette supposed to smell like that?"
Sharon turned back to the stove and found that the omelette she'd been making for Brenda was burnt. She swore under her breath as she grabbed the spatula in an attempt to rescue what was left of the food but there was no saving her attempt at breakfast. Instead she picked up the frying pan, emptied the content into the trash and dumped the pan in the sink.
Sharon turned back around and shot the younger woman an apologetic look. "Sorry. If you can manage an extra fifteen minutes of waiting, we can grab a bagel on our way into the office." She gestured at her outfit. "Once I've had a shower."
Brenda smiled, her lips closed around the coffee mug. Brown eyes glistened. "Sure," she grinned. "I'll wait for you."
Sharon walked out of the kitchen and once she was out of sight, Brenda covered her face in her hands. Her heart thundered in her chest and she took a couple of deep breaths to try and slow it down. She couldn't believe what happened. Had Sharon really answered the phone to Fritz?! Of all the people in the world, it had to be him?!
When she looked up she found the phone still lying on the counter, a couple of inches from the stove. She picked it up and checked her recent calls. Fritz's name was at the top of the list and she pressed it before bringing the device to her ear. It rang once, then again and a third time before Fritz answered,
"Yeah, this time it's me," she said. Her voice was sharper than she'd intended but she found she didn't care. She brushed some damp curls out of her eyes. "Did you just talk to Sharon?"
"What did you say?"
"What does it matter?"
"What did you say?!" Brenda repeated, remembering the way Sharon had first looked at her when she walked into the kitchen. When Fritz didn't answer she heaved a sigh. She could hear the sound of the shower running coming from the other side of the apartment. The thought of Sharon in the shower…. Her skin started to tingle and she swallowed hard. Instead she focused on her ex-husband on the other side of the line.
"I think we need to talk."
"So, with the discovery of the necklace at last night's crime scene, Captain Raydor and I have come to the conclusion that this killer is focused on only one thing," Brenda said rather matter of fact. "Me."
"Why?" Gabriel wanted to know. "Why is he targeting you?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," Brenda answered.
"So where do we start in finding out who this guy is?" Sanchez asked and Sharon stepped forward, pushing her hands into the pocket of her dark blue blazer.
"We start by trying to identify anyone who may hold a personal grudge against Chief Johnson."
"I thought we were trying to narrow down the suspect pool, not add to it?" Flynn joked, resulting in a warning glare from Brenda followed by an even more chastising stare from Sharon.
"Gabriel and Sanchez, I want you to go through all my old case files and see if anyone has recently been released from prison or moved to LA. You can rule out any female suspects. If anyone stands out, compare them to the murders in Atlanta." Brenda's eyes drifted around the room. The longer she spoke, the more in control she felt. Here, in front of her squad, was where she felt at her best. "Lieutenant Tao, please go over the crime scene reports from all the murders and specifically look at point of entry at the back door of the houses. Lieutenant Provenza, please chase up the toxicology reports and see what is taking Morales so long." Brenda's eyes eventually settled on Flynn. "And Lieutenant Flynn..."
It seemed that from the look on his face, he knew Brenda was about to give him a job he wasn't going to like.
"Please bring in the victim's husband and babysit him until I talk to him."
He nodded and Brenda watched as everyone went about their business. "Thank you," she said as Gabriel and Sanchez filed past her to leave the Murder Room. "Thank y'all so much." Her eyes then fixed on Sharon and she pointed at her office.
"Can I talk to you?"
The blonde woman pleaded desperately, "Sharon, this is somethin' I need to do. Please can you just let me do this? Please?" Brenda's brown eyes searched the older woman's face.
Sharon removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Arguing with Brenda was exhausting. The reason of their argument perhaps even more so. She felt as if whatever she said just landed on deaf ears. Brenda wasn't exactly used to people saying 'no' to her and when they did, Brenda would usually not respond well. She took a deep breath and her green eyes found Brenda's. "Do you need me to spell it out for you? N-O."
Brenda watched the brunette. She felt frustrated, agitated. She raised her hands as if to surrender as Sharon put her glasses back on. "Sharon, I can hardly ask him to come to your apartment to talk. That wouldn't be right."
Sharon had to agree with that but she couldn't help but saying, "You could just ask him not to talk at all."
"Why are you so against me doin' this?" Brenda wanted to know. Her eyes had narrowed and Sharon recognised that look. It was the way Brenda looked at a suspect sitting in an interview room. She immediately understood the fair haired woman was trying to read her like she read all the people around her. Working for FID meant that Sharon was used to being scrutinized so Brenda's piercing stare didn't do anything to unnerve her.
"Do you really have to ask that question, Brenda? There is a serial killer out there looking for you and you're asking me to let you go out without any form of security detail just because you want to talk to your ex-husband." Sharon crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Does that sound in any way irresponsible to you?"
She knew part of her resentment towards Brenda having even suggested this whole thing was because Brenda had been the one to set up this meeting with Fritz. She wanted to talk to him and she'd refused to tell Sharon why. Why did it make her so angry Brenda wanted to see him? She'd been married to him after all and although the divorce was pretty much final, they had spent a large part of their lives together. But Fritz had been the one to throw it all away by reaching for the bottle. What if he promised Brenda he'd cleaned up his act and asked her for another chance? What if he asked her to come to DC with him? Would Brenda go with him? And would Sharon let her?
Sharon mentally kicked herself for even thinking like that. Brenda Leigh Johnson wasn't hers to control. And she wasn't hers to have either. Sharon's gaze fixed on Brenda once again. Or was she?
"Why do you want to talk to him now all of a sudden?" The words had rolled of Sharon's tongue before she'd even realised.
"Because…." Brenda's voice faltered. "Because there's stuff to talk about."
Sharon arched an eyebrow. "In the middle of an investigation? An investigation that just happens to centre around you, Brenda Leigh?" She could've kicked herself for calling her Brenda Leigh again. It was the second time today. She really had to stop slipping up like this.
"So you're sayin' I can't go out on my own?" Brenda questioned.
"That is kind of the point when you have a security detail," Sharon answered exasperated. "I seem to remember that you're quite familiar with what that means?" A few years ago Brenda had had the misfortune of being in the same car as a reporter who got shot and the first assumption had been that the shots had been meant for Brenda instead, resulting in her being placed under protection.
Brenda was now pacing through her office, clenching and relaxing her fists. Frustration bubbled in the pit of her stomach. "So why don't you come with me?"
"You just said that you didn't want to do this with me there."
"I said I didn't want to do it at your apartment. I didn't say anythin' about you not bein' able to come with me."
"Brenda, the answer is still no," Sharon said calmly and she observed how Brenda's eyes darted around the office, mentally trying to find a way out of this situation. Sharon had barricaded every potential exit by just plainly refusing to give into the blonde's demands. Brenda wasn't going to be able to get her way this time. Sharon would deal with the effects of that later.
There was a knock on the door and the two women looked up. Tao poked his head around the door and looked from Sharon to Brenda and then back. Ever the observant guy, he immediately sensed the tension in the room.
Brenda smiled but it was forced. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"I just compared the crime scene reports and there are tool marks on all the door. They're minimal and it's easy for them to be confused with general wear and tear but they're most definitely not caused by everyday use. Looks like the killer picked the lock. And he knows what he's doing. The scratching is minimal. Probably your standard burglar kit."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Brenda said but when Tao didn't close the door immediately she furrowed her brow. "Is there anythin' else?"
"I just had a call." He pulled a face that signalled an apology for what he was about to say. Brenda didn't miss it.
"Chief Pope's looking for you and I may have mentioned that you're in the building. He didn't sound too happy about that. Sorry, Chief."
Brenda nodded. She knew it was inevitable she'd have to speak to Pope sooner or later. "Thank you, Lieutenant." This time Tao closed the door and Brenda turned to Sharon. The brunette looked back at her, her arms still folded across her chest. What Brenda saw in Sharon's eyes left her feeling confused. Sharon looked almost sad and it wasn't until Brenda headed to the door of her office that the older woman spoke again.
She turned around and her breath hitched.
Sharon's voice was soft. Softer than Brenda had ever heard her speak and she realised that Sharon didn't just look sad, she sounded sad too. "Why won't you tell me what you and Fritz need to talk about?"
"Because if there's one thing I've learnt while doin' this job it's that everythin' changes when you say somethin' out loud," Brenda answered.
Her gaze held Sharon's and her fingers closed a little tither around the doorknob. She then tore her eyes away from the brunette and straightened her spine. She swallowed but the lump in her throat didn't disappear.
"Now if you'll excuse me, Sharon, I think it's time for me to cause a scene."
Brenda, however, had not. Although Sharon was leaning against the wall, having refused the seat she'd been offered, Brenda could feel the older woman's eyes burn into her back.
Finally Will spoke. "What's this I hear about a serial killer who has his eye on you and you're refusing your security detail?"
"Good news sure travels fast 'round here." Brenda rolled her eyes. "And I'm not refusin' my security detail." Living with Sharon had at least gotten her out of that godforsaken hotel room even if it didn't do anything for her nerves. "I'm just fed up with everybody's obsession that I'm about to get shot when I turn a corner. As much as I appreciate Sha-…" She had to correct herself. "… Cap'n Raydor's company, I can't do my job if I'm not allowed to do it!"
"So you're saying that everything's fine?"
"I'm sayin' that people need to keep their mouths shut if they don't have all the facts." Brenda could have sworn she heard Sharon take in a sharp breath behind her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and continued, "We have found three bodies, and all bear the markings of a serial killer I investigated back in Atlanta. It seems that he may have some kind of fascination with me."
"Fascination?" Pope questioned. "Is that how you describe your name written in blood and a picture of you being left at a crime scene? Do you have any idea who this guy is yet?"
"About as much as I did back in Atlanta." Brenda's big brown eyes met his. Her face was void of emotions and she deadpanned, "So none."
"But we're working on that," Sharon interjected just before Will was about to speak again. She had felt the tension rise in the room and decided to step in before everything went to hell in a handbasket. "Chief, I can assure you that Chief Johnson has adapted to her security detail." She paused, hoping it would force Brenda to think about their discussion earlier in Brenda's office and judging from the way Brenda seemed to uncomfortably balance on the back of her heels all of a sudden, Sharon concluded she had. "As good as can be expected from someone who is used to their own independence. But, and I have to agree with Chief Johnson here, we all function at our best if we are allowed to do the job for which we are trained."
"What are you suggesting, Captain Raydor?" Pope fixed his eyes on the brunette woman. She was now standing next to Brenda. In her heels she was maybe an inch or two taller. Piercing green eyes shimmered behind the black rimmed glasses.
"Let Chief Johnson do her job. Allow her to investigate, do interviews. She knows this case better than anyone and I know your natural instinct is to remove her from this case altogether."
Sharon hadn't told Brenda this but when they first started investigating this case and the connection to Brenda became clear, Pope had suggested taking Brenda off the case. Sharon had, somewhat bluntly, asked him if he was prepared to deal with what would follow that decision and he had thought about that for a moment. An angry Brenda Leigh Johnson didn't do anyone any favours so instead the idea of Sharon being Brenda's security detail for the duration of the case was born.
"You want me to let her in the same room as a killer who has his eyes on her?" Pope questioned.
Brenda crossed her arms in front of her chest. "You got a better idea?"
"No, I don't," he reluctantly admitted. "But I don't like it."
"You don't like it? Take a number and join the club," Brenda sneered. Her eyes were dark with anger and she fixed the man who was her superior with a piercing stare. Sharon watched. She found the dynamic between Brenda and Will Pope fascinating; mainly because Brenda had no qualms about challenging a superior officer but also because Sharon, like everyone else in the building, was aware of the past relationship between them, though she had never quite understood just how or why Brenda had ever fallen for this man.
"Now, are we done here? I've got a killer to find and if I spend any longer standin' here in this office listenin' to your bullshit, I might as well arrest myself for killin' you."
Brenda didn't wait to hear his reply and stomped out of his office instead, slamming the door behind her. She stood by the elevator, slamming her fist impatiently against the buttons because the damn thing is taking forever to arrive, when she heard Sharon approach. She didn't look up or turn around, didn't move until she felt the other woman's hand on the small of her back.
"That was not a good idea," Sharon reminded her.
"I know." Brenda shot her a sideways glance. "How mad is he?"
Sharon grinned. It was almost mischievous and it did something unexplainable to Brenda's stomach. It made it flip. "I didn't stick around to find out. Can't let you go out on your own, remember?"
Brenda's cell phone rang just as the elevator doors slid open and she answered.
"Detective Sanchez," she said just as the doors closed.
"We think we may have something, Chief."
"OK." Brenda glanced at Sharon. "We'll be right there."
They walked into the Murder Room ten minutes later to find it busy. The whole squad was in, including Andy.
"I put the victim's husband in interview one, Chief."
Brenda shot him a dark glare. "Why aren't you babysittin' him?"
"Just getting him a soda and something to eat. If we don't get any food into this guy, we can scrape him off the floor."
"Well, he did just find his wife with her heart cut out and the bathroom walls painted in her blood," Provenza remarked. "Whatever you do, don't give him any ketchup."
Flynn disappeared and Sanchez stepped forward. He held several pieces of paper in his hand and pinned them onto the white board. A single glance told Brenda that two of the papers belonged to the files from Atlanta, courtesy of the Atlanta PD logo in the top right corner. The other two remaining papers belonged to LAPD and she fished her reading glasses out of her bag and slammed them down on her nose. She squinted.
"You asked us to look for any connections between Atlanta and Los Angeles," Sanchez said. "We started with anyone paroled from prison in the last year, then narrowed it down to six months to allow for a smaller suspect pool. Too many scumbags are let out before they've served their time." His eyes darkened and at that point, Gabriel stepped in.
"We compared the list of names to anyone who gave notice of a change of address to their parole officers and tracked down seven guys who left Atlanta. Two went to New York and are both currently serving time on drug charges at Rikers. Some things never change. Three others went to Seattle, Phoenix and Saint Louis. One was found dead in Vegas just last week and one…" He slammed a photo on the whiteboard. "Moved to Los Angeles."
Brenda's eyes narrowed. The face that stared back at her from the Atlanta PD mugshot didn't look familiar. "Who is he?"
"Victor Saunders," Gabriel answered. "Released from prison five months ago. Moved to Los Angeles three months ago. I got in touch with his new parole officer and guess what? He hasn't seen or heard from this guy for over a month. When he checked at his last known address, he found the place empty Some rat invested building that houses mostly parolees."
"So he vanished off the surface of the Earth?" Sharon asked. "What was he in for?"
"Domestic violence," Sanchez answered. "Sentenced to fifteen years for trying to strangle his girlfriend to death with a cable wire. Their six year old daughter witnessed it." There was an echo of bitterness in his voice. "No idea why they let this guy back out on the streets."
"Can I see that file?" Brenda asked and Gabriel handed her the folder.
Holding it felt like a flashback. The sounds of the Murder Room faded into the distance and for just a moment, Brenda imagined herself back in the small squad room in Atlanta. Her desk faced the window and over her head, a fan spun rapidly, providing cool air and comfort from the burning Georgia sun. She could smell the stale coffee, made by some rookie who clearly didn't know what the hell he was doing.
"Brenda?" Sharon put a hand on the younger woman's; forearm and Brenda's chocolate eyes snapped up.
"I remember him," she said quietly. "His girlfriend… She was standing outside the precinct, bleedin'. I was about to go home. Her neck was bruised and her eyes swollen. He'd beat her." She looked back at the file in her hand. "She almost didn't come in but when I sat her down at my desk, there was no stoppin' her. She must've talked for two hours. By the time she was finished, uniformed officers had already picked Victor up."
"Do you think he would be capable of something like this?"
Sharon struggled to make a connection by the angry looking guy in the mugshot, with the black goatee and empty, emotionless brown eyes, and the calm and collected killer that had murdered several women. Somehow the handiwork didn't seem to match. She also doubted Victor Saunders lacked the finesse and skill to remove a human heart.
Brenda shook her head. "No. He's not the smartest kind. Him movin' to Los Angeles is probably just coincidence." She turned to look at her two detectives and could see they appeared defeated. "Good work, y'all. Pick him up. I wanna talk to him and see what he has to say."
Sanchez and Gabriel grabbed their jackets and walked out of the Murder Room, leaving behind Sharon and Brenda in the company of Provenza. Tao wasn't at his desk. Brenda suspected he was in the media room with Buzz so her eyes fixed on Provenza instead.
"Any news on the toxicology reports?"
"Morales says that all victims tested negative for any drugs. They hadn't even taken as much as an aspirin in the hours before their deaths. He's requested the files from Atlanta but asked me to tell you he expects the same results there. Looks like he overpowers them without drugging them."
"He lies in wait. Knows his victims, watches them. Where do their paths cross? How does he select them? What makes them stand out?" Brenda's eyes were fixed on the whiteboard as she studies the faces of the dead women. Each told their own story. A story of how their life had brutally been cut short. "Where are we on trackin' the victims' steps?"
"Still working on that but so far I've found no overlap anywhere between victims one, two and three, They didn't shop at the same supermarkets, went the different gyms, work at different places all iver Los Angeles. Other than being dead, they have nothing in common."
"We're missin' something." Brenda shook her curls and pulled her reading glasses from her nose. Behind her, Sharon felt the need to step closer, wrap an arm around Brenda's waist and comfort her, but she couldn't. Not now. Not here.
Brenda sighed in frustration. "It's right in front of us but we're not seein' it."
"You will," Sharon said. "Brenda, you will."
"I have to." Sharon realised just how vulnerable Brenda sounded. "Because if I don't, someone else's goin' to die and it'll be my fault."
I know there's a painful chance I must take
So sad that I ask you
Afraid it's a mistake
Beth Hart - Am I The One
Brenda's head whipped up when Provenza burst into her office without knocking. His arrival startled her, her senses were constantly working overtime and she felt tightly wound up, like a coil, about to explode. The paperwork that had been lying across her desk fell to the floor. She began to reach to pick it up but then changed her mind, focusing on the Lieutenant instead.
"What is it?" The agitation was easily detectable in her voice.
"I've completed the list of all the places our LA victims frequented," Provenza said. "It's on the board. Oh, and Gabriel and Sanchez are back with that Saunders guy. They've put him in interview one. And Flynn wants to know when you're going to talk to the husband. Apparently he's getting edgy. Flynn, that is. Not the husband."
"Let Cap'n Raydor do it," Brenda replied and ignored the surprised look on Provenza's face. "I just got the medical reports back from Atlanta and just like Morales thought, all victims tested negative for any drugs. At least he's consistent."
She stood up and followed Provenza back into the Murder Room. Sharon, who had until ten minutes ago been sharing the office with her, returned with two cups of coffee from the break room and handed one to Brenda before sidling alongside her to study the information Provenza had put on the board. Their hips briefly touched and Brenda nearly jumped half a feet before cursing under her breath. She had to do something about the tension in her body or she was going to lose her mind.
"Cap'n, would you mind talkin' to the third victims' husband?" Brenda asked without taking her eyes off the board. She wasn't sure she could look at Sharon. She felt so wound up, so frustrated, that she feared that merely looking at the other woman would either make her come undone completely resulting in her crying or kissing Sharon.
Sharon shot Brenda a sideways glance. The tension was palpable. She saw the way Brenda curled her hands into fists, the way her legs were rigid, and her back straight. Her lips formed a thin line and her eyes were focused on the board. She didn't blink. "I'll talk to him," she answered calmly.
"Thank you." Still no eye contact.
"So this is a list of all the places our victims went to in the days before their deaths. I tracked most of them by the use of their debit or credit card. Dry cleaners, grocery store, take out, gym, yoga studio, deli…" Provenza pointed at the bullet points on each list that corresponded with one of the victims. Brenda took a step closer after yanking the reading glasses she'd tucked into her sweater out and placed them on her nose. She studied the lists. Provenza was right. None of them overlapped and they all seemed miles away from each other. She was about to turn away when something on the last list caught her eye.
"What's this?" she asked, pointing at the name of the deli at the bottom of the list. "That name…"
"City Island Deli and Bistro," Provenza said. "According to this it's a classic little bistro that serves homemade sandwiches, cakes and coffee and, will you look at that, it's two blocks from here!"
"I know," Brenda answered and grabbed a yellow marker pen from Provenza's desk. Before he could protest she circled the name of the deli and then moved on to the first and second list. On the first list she circled the name of a dry cleaners and on the second the name of a doctor's clinic. She then turned around to Sharon. "The deli is two blocks from here. I stop there most mornings for coffee before comin' into work. The dry cleaners is three blocks from my old…"
Sharon realised Brenda been about to say apartment but Brenda didn't finish her sentence because Provenza didn't know that she and Fritz had separated. She merely nodded, indicating that she understood what the younger woman had been about to say. Their gazes locked for a moment and Sharon's cheeks suddenly felt warm. Her heart pounded in her chest. Another small piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.
"And this," Brenda said as she jammed her index finger to the name of the doctor's clinic, "i my doctor's clinic. I registered with them a while ago after changin' from my old one." The 'old one' being the doctor she had shared with Fritz, the one he had insisted she visited and registered with when they first got together. The moment she moved out she had changed clinics. She didn't really know why but it felt right. Like she was claiming back a little piece of herself. Fritz was no longer telling her what she could or couldn't do and she was free to make her own decisions.
Sharon took a step forward, her eyes narrowing as she studied the three places Brenda had circled. She realised that the strangling sensation she felt in her chest, the squeezing of her heart, was fear. "So you're saying…"
"This ain't about what connects these women to each other," Brenda finished Sharon's sentence. "It's about what connects them to me."
Sharon shared a look with Provenza. Although she and him didn't always seem to eye to eye, right at this moments he knew exactly what she was thinking. When he nodded it was barely perceptible but Sharon saw it. It wasn't meant for Brenda. It was meant for her.
"Brenda," she began before quickly correcting herself and saying, "Chief?"
Brenda didn't turn around. Her spine was straight but Sharon observed the slight hunch in her shoulders. The weight of their discovery and its meaning was pressing down on her. "Yes?"
"We need to talk."
Sharon recognised that familiar irritation bubbling up in her stomach. It had washed over her the very first time she laid eyes on Brenda Leigh Johnson three years ago in a hospital waiting area. This was Brenda through and through. Sticking her head in the sand, pretending she couldn't see what was happening, doing everything her way without thinking about the consequences. Selfish, stubborn, egocentric and petulant. As annoying as it was, Sharon felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips because whereas she had once hated the very sight of Brenda, at this moment all those qualities were as endearing as they were infuriating. She no longer hated Brenda. In fact, she had grown rather fond of the blonde southern belle in recent weeks.
Sharon pushed her hands into her pockets, her fingers digging deep into the fabric. She was aware of Provenza's quizzing look. That guy didn't miss a beat and Sharon suspected he was far more aware of the changes in Brenda's life than he led on. "I think this is a conversation best had in your office, Chief."
Brenda didn't look at Sharon but turned away from the whiteboard anyway and crossed the Murder Room to her office. She left the door open for Sharon to follow and by the time brunette entered, Brenda was sat behind her desk, her head in her hands. She didn't acknowledge Sharon and the older woman hovered in the doorway for a few moments before closing it behind her. She then sat down in one of the arm chairs across Brenda's desk and her green eyes rested on the blonde.
"Brenda," Sharon said softly. "Brenda, look at me."
Seconds passed before Brenda lifted her head up from her hands. She looked tired, Sharon noticed.
"Brenda, this has to stop. If we don't draw a line under this now, where will it end? You're going to have to accept that you can't work…"
"NO!" Brenda's voice was sharp and loaded with all kinds of emotions Sharon didn't immediately understand. What she saw in those brown eyes was something she hadn't seen before. The anguish, anxiety. Brenda's hands were pressed flat against the surface of her desk, her knuckles white. "Don't you dare do this to me, Sharon."
Brenda could feel herself coming undone. It was as if a dam had been broken inside her and every bottled up emotion, every locked away thought and feeling, suddenly came bursting out. The weeks of just pushing thing away, her failed marriage and pending divorce, her feelings for Sharon, the images of the crime scene and the taunting messages left for her, had just continued to pile up. There was only so much the human heart and soul could bear before slowly crumbling and falling apart. She could hear her heart thundering in her ears and she grew aware of the sickening feeling of the knot in her stomach tightening. Her nails scratched, involuntarily, against the polished wood of her desk. It was painful but she didn't care.
When she spoke again her voice was soft, like a whisper. It was a voice Brenda didn't recognise yet it was her own. Vulnerable and fragile. Broken. "Sharon, please."
Sharon pushed herself out of the chair and slowly circled Brenda's desk. Without hesitation she turned the other woman's chair towards her, then placed her hands on Brenda's forearms. Her fingers closed around Brenda's wrist and she pulled her to her feet. She was surprised Brenda actually let her. She had expected hesitation, rejection even. Brenda was light, Sharon noticed, now that she wasn't offering any resistance. For a split second Sharon hesitated, wondering if she had crossed the invisible line between them, but then she stepped forward and pulled Brenda into her arms.
Brenda didn't realise she was shivering until she was pressed against Sharon's slender frame, didn't register her hands were shaking until they came to rest on the other woman's back. She only felt the tears when she tasted the saltiness on her lips. Her breath hitched and her body, limp at first, suddenly moulded itself around Sharon's effortlessly. She tightened her grip, suddenly terrified that Sharon was going to change her mind and let go of her. Brenda didn't want her to let go. Ever.
Sharon breathed in the scent of Brenda's perfume. It smelt sweet and fruity but she couldn't quite identify the smell. Brenda's blonde hair tickled softly against her face and an unexpected heat bubbled up in the pit of her stomach when she felt Brenda's breasts press against her own chest, felt the younger woman's hands near her shoulder blades, arms tightly wound around her neck. Brenda's head settled on her shoulder and Sharon could feel her exhale. The sensation of Brenda Leigh Johnson relaxing in her arms was something Sharon realised she never wanted to forget.
Brenda's body settled against Sharon's easily. Her fingertips tangled briefly in the brown locks of hair, grazing against the warm skin of Sharon's neck. She felt the older woman shiver underneath her touch and Brenda breathed a sigh of happiness when she felt Sharon's arms snake around her waist, settling on her hips. Tears burnt behind her eyes and she squeezed them shut. She didn't want to cry, didn't want Sharon to see her weakness.
Sharon's lips brushed against Brenda's ear. Hot breath ghosted over her skin. "Brenda, you can't work this case anymore."
Brenda didn't respond.
Sharon resisted the urge to softly kiss Brenda's neck. She was so close and Brenda was so warm. "Brenda?"
"Don't," Brenda whispered, her voice almost lost in Sharon's brown hair. She didn't let go but she lifted up her head and turned it until she could look into Sharon's eyes. They were so close and Brenda let her breath escape as she rested her forehead against Sharon's. The older woman didn't step away. Both women took a deep breath simultaneously and somehow released it at the same time. Their bodies seemed to fall into the same rhythm. Sharon's fingers dug a little deeper into Brenda's hips. Her throat was dry and Brenda's breath brushed against her cheek.
Brenda's hand moved from the back of Sharon's neck along her shoulder and up to her cheek. Her fingers were so soft, Sharon thought, so delicate against her skin. She held back a soft moan when Brenda cupped her cheek. Her touch was so warm and it left her skin tingling. Brenda looked at Sharon through heavy lidded eyes. Sharon's emerald orbs looked back at her from behind her black rimmed glasses and Brenda saw something she hadn't expected to see; she saw her own desire mirrored in Sharon's eyes.
Sharon's lips tasted of her morning coffee and so many other things that Brenda couldn't put into words. She couldn't tell who had moved first but when she felt Sharon's soft, warm lips press against her own, Brenda didn't care. She lost herself in the sensation of Sharon kissing her, of her kissing Sharon. When she felt Sharon's fingers thread her hair, grazing over her scalp, a deep, low moan escaped from the back of her throat and the tip of her tongue pressed against Sharon's mouth. Meeting Sharon's tongue, feeling it twirl around her own, sent her head spinning and Brenda tightened her grip on Sharon's body as the same time as the brunette's fingers grabbed firmer hold of her hair. The heat that coursed through her body settled in the depths of her stomach, slowly sinking deeper and further south.
Sharon turned both of them slightly and then pushed Brenda against her desk. Brenda perched herself on the edge, her lips never moving away from Sharon's. Sharon's hands began to drift from Brenda's hair down to her shoulders, following the curve of her chest before coming to a rest on Brenda's thighs. She willingly moved when she felt Brenda's hands pull her closer and, overwhelmed by bravery and desire, she pressed her knee between Brenda's legs, pushing them apart. She sucked, then nibbled, on the blonde's lower lip, eliciting a moan so deep, Sharon could almost feel her heart skip.
Brenda wanted Sharon. She wanted her more than she had ever wanted any other goddamn thing in her life. She wanted her right here, right now. She didn't care anymore about any and all objections she'd had in the weeks leading up to this moment. All she could think about was Sharon's body pressed against her, Sharon's hands on her hips, fingering the hem of her shirt, fingertips grazing the burning hot skin of her waist. Brenda's hands dipped even lower and she followed the round shape of Sharon's ass.
"Oh God," Sharon whispered against Brenda's lips when the need for oxygen briefly forced them apart. She didn't quite pull away, just far enough to catch her breath. Brenda didn't open her eyes. Instead she leant back in, looking for Sharon's lips. When she didn't find them her eyes snapped open and her gaze was met by dark green eyes that glistened in a mixture of lust and confusion.
Brenda felt her chest tighten. "Sharon?"
"Brenda, what are we doing?" Sharon whispered. Her index finger followed the shape of Brenda's full lips. "What am I doing?"
"What…" Brenda couldn't bring herself to finish the rest of her sentence.
She swallowed hard and before Sharon had fully realised what was happening, Brenda had pushed her aside and bolted for the door of her office. She left it wide open in her wake and Sharon blinked a couple of times before spinning around and going after Brenda. The Murder Room was empty and she clenched her fists as she headed towards the elevators. As she walked through the corridor, her pace increasing with every step, panic kicked in.
What had she done? Why had she pushed Brenda away when all she had wanted was to hold her?
Sharon knew why. It was all wrong. The wrong time, the wrong moment, the wrong place. This was not how she had wanted this to happen; it hadn't happened the way she had meant for it go. Brenda was vulnerable and felt exposed and Sharon had acted on that weakness and overstepped a line. She had taken advantage of Brenda's emotional state of mind, abused the fact that Brenda had turned to Sharon for safety and comfort and now she had thrown everything away. It had fallen apart in her hands. With every step Sharon felt a sharp sting of guilt in her chest and when she rounded the corner and found the area by the elevators empty, her heart sank.
"Did you see Deputy Chief Johnson come by here just now?" she asked a uniformed officer that just stepped out but he shook his head. That as when her gaze drifted to the stairwell.
Sharon pushed against the door that led to the stairs and stepped out. In the distance she could hear the sound of clicking heels fading in the distance. She grabbed hold of the bannister and started her way down the stairs. Her pace was fast, urgent, and as she went down past the eight and then the seventh floor, the pounding of her heart in her chest increased. Her lungs pressed against her ribcage.
Her voice echoed through the hollow stairwell and she paused long enough to hear the sound of footsteps in the distance silencing for a moment. Brenda had heard her. Sharon didn't stop her own descend even if Brenda had. Her feet thundered against the steps as she continued to make her way down.
"Brenda, wait! Where are you going?"
No answer came and Sharon bit her lip when she heard the footsteps pick up again, followed a few seconds later by the sound of a door opening. Then there was only silence and Sharon assumed Brenda had reached the ground floor and had exited the stairwell into the lobby. She wondered if Brenda was actually irresponsible enough to be leaving the building without her protective detail but then she reminded herself she was dealing with Brenda Leigh Johnson. Nothing was impossible when it came to her.
When Sharon reached the lobby and stepped out into the brightly lit entrance of the Parker Centre, she found herself alone, other than the uniformed officer behind the reception desk. There was no one else here. Her eyes scanned the entire area but she didn't see Brenda. Not a glimpse of her hair, her skirt. She was gone. Sharon turned to the uniformed officer and asked him the same question she'd asked the officer she saw upstairs. If he'd seen Brenda. When he answered that he had and said she'd walked out of the building moments earlier, Sharon leant back against the wall, tears stinging behind her eyes. She'd screwed up. She'd lost Brenda.
Somewhere in the building a phone rang and Will Pope reached to answer it. The voice on the other side of the line was familiar and he sat back in his chair. "Brenda," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a favour. It's about Cap'n Raydor."
Sharon had experienced fear before. She'd felt it when her son almost chocked on a piece of bread when he was three. She'd felt it when she couldn't find her daughter in the shopping mall around Christmas time when just a second earlier, she'd been right there beside her, her little hand holding on to hers. She'd felt that all-consuming panic where her blood rushed to her head, clouding her judgment, before but somehow it was different this time. She felt the panic settling in her chest, creeping into her heart, strangling it slowly as the adrenaline pumped through her veins.
Brenda had walked away. Sharon didn't know where she was. All she knew was that Brenda had walked out back into the world that was so dangerous to her right now, even if she refused to admit it to herself. Someone out there was watching her every step, her every move, and it wouldn't be long before they'd notice that Brenda was on her own. Sharon couldn't even bear thinking about what that meant.
Her head was full and the back of her throat was dry. She desperately tried to organise her thoughts, find some kind of sense in the madness. She had to think clearly and somehow manage to function like a police officer; she couldn't let her own personal emotions rule her. She didn't even know how it happened but her subconscious mind was at least working because her feet had brought her back to the Murder Room without her even realising it.
Walking into the empty room didn't change anything. It certainly didn't make her feel better when the first thing Sharon saw was Brenda's empty office, the door still wide open. She felt her heart shatter in her chest. Everything she had, or what she thought she'd had, was gone and there was no one else to blame but her. After staring at the open door for a few more seconds, Sharon turned around on her heel and stomped out of the Murder Room. When she reached the elevator she slammed her fist against the button, frightening the life out of the unsuspecting woman with the VISITOR badged pinned to her jacket. Sharon didn't utter an apology as the door slid open and they both stepped in. She balled her hands into fists in her pocket.
Ten minutes later Sharon walked into Chief Will Pope's office after having ignored his secretary's comment that he wasn't available. She didn't care. She slammed the door behind her and watched as the tall, almost bald man nearly jumped out of his seat. The paperwork that had been neatly sorted on his desk fell off, landing in a messy pile on the floor. An expesive pen, probably some gift, also landed on the floor, coming to a stop two inches from Sharon's feet/
"Captain Raydor," he stammered and Sharon immediately sensed something was off. She had been in this office many times, had dealt with Pope far more times than she cared to remember, and she had developed a special sense for the man's evasive tactics. Sharon had always thought he'd regretted putting her in charge of the audit of Major Crimes, probably because he had expected her to discredit Brenda due to their history, when in fact Sharon had done exactly the opposite. Her only goal had always been to protect Brenda and she knew he knew.
Pope smoothed out some invisible creases in his shirt before making eye contact. Nerves, Sharon thought. He was nervous around her. "What can I do for you?"
"We have a problem." She fixed him with one of her piercing stares and she didn't miss the slight shift in his posture. "Chief Johnson."
He merely rolled his eyes. "What has she done this time?"
Pope blinked. "What do you mean, gone?"
"I mean that she stormed out of this building a few minutes ago and I have no idea where she is. Considering she should have a security detail with her at all times, that seems rather problematic to me."
Pope sank down into his chair. It seemed that a couple of things had fallen in to place. He pressed his fingertips together and looked at Sharon, clearly trying to find a comfortable way to tell her what he knew. Sharon already knew what he was about to say. "So she didn't tell you."
"Brenda called me a few minutes ago to tell me that she'd decided that she no longer…" There was a pause and Sharon felt herself becoming more and more agitated. "Chief Johnson decided she preferred to have another security detail in place. Something about not wanting to intrude on your life any more than she already has." He shot Sharon an apologetic look when he observed how the woman's face fell. "I thought you knew."
Sharon felt sick. Brenda had not just walked out of the building, she had walked away from Sharon. "She's done what?!"
"I'm having SWAT pick her up from your place and drive her to a safe house where she will stay for the duration of this investigation."
"And you honestly believe that Chief Johnson is just going to sit there and wait?" Sharon snapped. This had nothing to do with Brenda wanting another security detail. This was about her, about them, about what had happened in Brenda's office. This was Brenda running away, as far as she could, to a place where Sharon couldn't find her, at least for a little while. This was all Sharon's fault.
Pope didn't seem to doubt Brenda the way Sharon did. Sharon knew he had a weakness for the younger woman. It had been as clear as crystal from the first moment Sharon had seen them in the same room together. Obviously at that point she already knew about their affair years earlier. Even FID eventually got hold of the office gossip, although they were usually the last to know as nobody liked to talk to Internal Affairs.
"She said she would."
"And you believe her?" God, this man was an idiot. Sharon shook her head and dug her cell phone out of her pocket. "Where is she now?"
"Gone to collect her stuff from your place, I think."
Sharon was already halfway out of his office, her phone firmly pressed to her ear after having dialled Brenda's number, and she didn't bother saying goodbye. The phone rang but with every passing ring Sharon's heart sank deeper. Brenda wasn't answering. She was probably screening her calls, refusing to talk to Sharon. By the time the voicemail kicked in and Sharon heard Brenda's familiar, warm voice, she was already at the elevator, her heart pounding in her chest.
"You've reached Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, LAPD Major Crimes Division. I'm sorry I can't take your call right now but please leave a message and I'll call you back as soon as possible. Thank you."
She could still feel Sharon's lips on hers. Could still taste them. She could still feel Sharon's breath against her skin, her hands on her hips. But the fact that she was standing here, alone, was a painful reminder that she had misjudged the whole thing. How could she have been so stupid? How could she even have thought that Sharon, the impeccable and flawless Sharon Raydor, would feel the same way she did? Why would Sharon even want someone as broken, as fragile and as complicated as Brenda?
She'd let herself in the condo with the spare key she got from the concierge downstairs – after flashing her badge. The silence of the apartment, the familiar smell, Sharon's smell, had been crushing. Brenda had lingered in the doorway of Sharon's bedroom for a moment, it didn't feel off limits anymore after having walked in to wake Sharon up. She'd looked around almost longingly, wishing she could stay. She'd then gathered all her belongings from around the house, surprised at just how quickly she'd managed to spread her stuff around the apartment, and shoved them all in the suitcase.
The officer smiled back at her before leaning over to open the passenger door. "Chief Johnson?" She nodded and he got out of the car, circled around it and picked up her suitcase. Brenda's eyes lingered for a moment on the semi-automatic weapon on the man's waist and then looked up long enough to see his name on the small badge on his chest. Harvey. He shot her another smile, clearly trying to make her feel at ease.
"I'll take that, Chief. You just get in the car and we'll be on our way."
Brenda climbed into the front seat of the car and placed her bag on her lap. She saw Harvey in the car's side mirror as he walked around the vehicle and put her suitcase in the trunk. She fixed her seatbelt, smoothed out her clothes and pushed her sunglasses up into her hair. She ached inside. Every fibre of her being wanted to get back out of the car, to go back inside and wait for Sharon. But she had to go. This wasn't her home. So when Harvey got back in the car and turned the ignition, Brenda slammed her jaws together and forced herself to look away from the apartment building.
"Where's your partner?" she inquired as the police cruiser left the kerb and began driving off in northern direction.
"At the house," Harvey answered. "The request was a little short notice so we didn't get around to doing the unusual security checks. He'll meet us there." His hands rested casually on the wheel and he effortlessly joined the LA traffic and he gave Brenda a quick once over. "Don't worry, Chief Johnson. You'll be safe with us."
Brenda didn't answer. Instead she took her cell phone from her bag and saw that she had four missed calls from Sharon, two voice mail messages – probably also from Sharon- and six text messages. Heaving a sigh, Brenda hit the button for her voicemail and slowly brought the phone up to her ear. The tears stung behind her eyes when she heard Sharon's soft, alto voice in her ear.
"Brenda, Pope told me what you're doing. Please wait. Wait for me. We can talk about this. Call me, please?"
Beep. The voicemail went on to the second message. Sharon's voice sounded more desperate this time, and slightly out of breath, like she had been running.
"Brenda, please don't do this. Don't leave. Not without talking first. It's not safe out there. Please, come back and we can talk. I know you're doing this because of what happened and I'm sorry. Brenda, I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean to push you away. Please, call me? Please."
The message ended and Brenda swallowed the hard lump in her throat away. She dropped the phone in her lap without the text messages. She didn't want to see Sharon apologising. The other woman's pleading voice still echoed in her head, pleading, asking Brenda not to go. But what choice did she have? She could taste the tears, the salt, and she stared out of the car window as outside Los Angeles flashed by.
Her cell phone vibrated and she answered it after seeing Lt Flynn flash across her caller ID. She tried to keep her voice neutral. "Captain Sharon Raydor."
"Captain, is the Chief with you?"
Shit. They didn't know. Sharon ran her fingers through her hair. "She's currently unavailable," she said. It wasn't exactly a lie. "What can I do for you?"
"There is something she needs to see," Flynn answered. "Something you both need to see."
"I'll meet you back in the Murder Room," Sharon replied and went to close the door. With the phone still pressed to her ear she walked through the apartment to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. She was just about to open the kitchen cupboard when Flynn spoke again.
"Captain, are you sure Chief Johnson can't hear me right now?"
Sharon looked around the empty kitchen. "Pretty sure, Lieutenant."
"We think this guy may work for law enforcement."
Sharon's eyes fluttered shut. That was the last thing they needed. "Explain it to me when I get there, Lieutenant," she sighed. She hung up and picked a glass from the kitchen cupboard. She held it under the water dispenser in her fridge and eagerly took two large gulps from the ice cold water.
The knock on the door made her put down the glass and Sharon walked from the kitchen to the hall. She rose to the tip of her toes to peer through the spyhole and opened the door after seeing who was standing outside. Her eyebrows shot up when she laid eyes on the two young men. One looked to be barely over twenty-five, the other maybe ten years older. Both had dark hair and both were dressed in the kind of gear she'd expected them to wear.
"Officers," Sharon said. "I'm Captain Sharon Raydor."
"SWAT, Captain," the older of the two officers spoke. "We're here to pick up Deputy Chief Johnson."
The wait for the phone to be picked up at the other side seemed to last forever. Sharon paced through her living room, cell phone pressed against her ear so hard that the muscles in her hand ached, very aware that the two SWAT officers were watching her. Her heart was pounding in her throat and she had to fight against the panic, the overwhelming feeling to just run out of her condo and back to the Parker Centre. She knew she had to remain calm because that way her mind was at its best but the struggle to stay focused was hard.
Why had she pushed Brenda away? Why hadn't she tried harder to go after down the stairwell? Why hadn't she fought a little harder to make Brenda understand? How could she have been so goddamn stupid?! The thoughts were spinning through her head like a whirlwind. Images of Brenda kissing her, and kissing Brenda back, blended with images from the empty stairwell, the sound of footsteps, and the words on Brenda's voicemail.
A familiar voice finally spoke at the other side of the line. "Captain Raydor, what can I do for you?"
Sharon breathed a sigh of relief now that Pope had finally answered the damn phone. She wished she could have reached through the device and grab him by his throat. "There are two SWAT officers standing in my living room looking for Brenda." She didn't even try to correct herself, didn't even think about using Brenda's title. "They say they're here to pick her up but she's not here."
She heard a ruffling sound on the other side, like Pope had sunk down in his chair. "What?" His voice was hollow.
"SWAT is here to pick up Brenda but she is not here. Where is she? You said she was here picking up her stuff! She should still be here!"
Sharon didn't like the sound of that. She looked over her shoulder at the two officers. The three of them shared a look of concern as the reality of the situation began to set in. "Chief, what's going on?"
"She called me five minutes ago to thank me. She said she was on her way to the safe house. SWAT had picked her up."
Something snapped inside Sharon. Perhaps she had reached the level of guilt she was capable of bearing when she heard those words, perhaps it was something far more primal but she said, "Get everyone from Major Crimes back to the Murder Room. NOW. Get Buzz and Sanchez to pull the security footage from the buildings across the street from my apartment. Put a trace on Brenda's phone and try and find out from where she called last." She ran her hand through her hair as behind her the two SWAT officers were already halfway out of the door. "Get every available officer on this. Canvas the blocks around my building, see if anyone saw Brenda or saw her being picked up." Tears stung behind her eyes and the words sounded raw as they left her mouth. "He has her."
Sharon found the Murder Room in full motion when she walked in. Phones were ringing, people were talking and Flynn had just finished adding all the information they had gathered to a second murder board. Sharon froze when she saw that the picture at the top of the information was Brenda, Underneath, scribbled in Flynn's almost unreadable handwriting, was today's date and the time Sharon had made the call about her being missing.
Provenza stood up when she walked in and their gazes locked. "Lieutenant," she said as she joined him. "What do we know?"
"There is a relatively small window of time between the Chief leaving here and her being picked up at your apartment," Provenza began. "It takes about thirty-five minutes to get from here to your place. On a good day." Sharon nodded but then narrowed her eyes. "Add ten to fifteen minutes for her to collect her stuff and go back outside. That leaves out suspect with maybe only fifty minutes to figure out she's alone and to figure out that she's expecting to be picked up by SWAT as well as to get to your apartment."
Sharon shook her head. "That's pretty much impossible." She looked at Brenda's photo. It was an official one. Brenda wore her uniform and her hair had been pulled back into a bun in the back of her neck. Sharon had only seen her like this twice, both times at the funeral of a fellow officer. The uniform made Brenda appear harder and colder than she really was. It didn't suit her, she decided. Sharon took a step forward, reaching out for the photo but pulling back before she touched it. "He couldn't have made it…" There was a pause and she turned to look back at Provenza. "Unless he knew what was happening."
Her eyes searched the room and she found Pope talking to Flynn. She left Provenza by the murder board and walked towards him. He looked up when she approached and Sharon was taken aback by the look on his face. No longer was he the calm, collected and relatively quiet Chief. The man she saw now looked confused, almost frightened, and Sharon was reminded of the fact that even after all this time he still had feelings for Brenda. The realisation hurt and it didn't do anything to help her anger.
"Captain," he said. "You got here fast."
"I wouldn't have had to leave in the first place if you hadn't permitted Chief Johnson to leave the building," she reminded him. Her voice was sharp, laced with resentment. "You knew her life was in danger and you still let her leave. Why?"
He stared back at her with hard eyes. "Have you ever tried telling Chief Jonson that she can't do something because I have and she always turned around and did it anyway!"
Sharon took a deep breath. "She called you to say she was leaving. What else did she say?"
"That she would be going back to your apartment to pick up her belongings."
"And the suggestion for SWAT to pick her up from there was your idea?" Sharon crossed her arms in front of her chest.
"Yes. What are you getting at, Captain?"
"Lieutenant Provenza has established that it was pretty much impossible for The Huntsman to have had enough time to drive to my apartment and pretend to be a SWAT officer in just fifty minutes. He couldn't have known Brenda expected SWAT to pick her up unless he knew." Sharon felt a cold chill creep down her spine after mentioning the serial killer's nickname.
"So you think I told him?" Pope had raised his voice, clearly offended. Sharon fought not to roll her eyes. It was so typical for him to think that thus was about him. The man seemed to always want to play the victim. Brenda had told her once that he'd always been like this.
"Want me to dump the Chief's phone?" Gabriel asked and Sharon turned to look at him.
"Yes, Sargent," she answered. She shot a quick glance back at Pope. "Both their phones. He's somehow managed to find out the plan."
"Captain!" Sanchez called from across the room and Sharon spun on her heel. He and Buzz were standing around a computer screen. Tao had joined them and the three men now looked at her. She could see the excitement across their faces and when she joined them she understood why. The security footage from one of the shops across her apartment had captured a perfect image of Brenda standing on the sidewalk.
Sharon realised just how lost she looked. With the suitcase by her feet, her bag over her shoulder and her hands pushed into her pockets, Brenda's gaze was fixed on her feet. Her shoulders had dropped. Sharon wished she could just touch her, somehow reach inside the screen and hold her, but instead she was forced to stare at Brenda. Brenda, who believed that she had lost everything because of Sharon's mistake. Sharon ached inside. Then she noticed the time stamp in the bottom right corner and flinched. She'd gotten there only seven minutes after the camera had picked up Brenda outside the building. She had been so close…
Sharon watched as a car rolled up along the kerb. It was a marked squad car, like the ones used by SWAT. The make and model appeared to be some kind of SUV, but she wasn't sure. A quick glance beside her confirmed that Buzz was running the images on a second screen and was trying to get a better angle to see the licence plate. Sharon's breath hitched when she watched the door on the driver's side open. He stepped out and for one precious second, they caught a perfect glimpse of his face.
"Gotcha, you bastard," Tao grunted as he froze the screen, captured the image and opened up a different programme that ran the image against the DMV database.
His face was round, with a strong jawline and deep, sunken eyes. He was tall, probably close to six foot. The uniform he wore fitted him perfectly, accenting a strong build with muscled shoulders and arms. Eye colour or even exact hair colour were impossible to determine exactly on the black-and-white footage but the hair appeared to be blonde. She guessed his was in his thirties. Just like the profile said, she thought. He walked with confidence, like he knew what he was doing. He was a man who had his target in sight and wasn't going to let it slip away.
Sharon continued to watch as the now no longer faceless Huntsman circled the car and picked up Brenda's suitcase. They appeared to be talking. Brenda didn't appear suspicious. Sharon wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing. She watched as Brenda climbed into the passenger seat voluntarily and then the man got back into the car too. Two seconds later, the vehicle disappeared from view.
"Is there any way we can track it?" Sharon turned to look at Buzz. "Traffic cameras in the area surrounding my apartment?"
"Already on it, Captain. Now that we know what the car looks like, it'll be easier to spot."
Sharon looked up to find Flynn walking towards her. "Lieutenant," she said. She was fully aware of the way her heart hammered in her chest. She had just watched Brenda get in a car with a man who had killed several people to taunt her. Flynn reached her and Sharon sized him up from behind her glasses. He looked tired, she thought. Worried, she corrected herself. "Lieutenant, you said that the suspect is most likely involved with law enforcement. What made you come to that conclusion?"
"A few little things," Flynn answered. "The profile said he had medical knowledge. Cops have some medical training and plenty have witnessed more than one autopsy. It wouldn't be hard for him to appear interested and ask questions. A medical examiner would probably just assume he's keen to learn." Sharon nodded. "But more than that, I kept thinking about how he managed to watch his victims, and even the Chief, without being noticed. We see uniformed officers on the streets all the time. No one stops to think about it. Blending in is easy." His eyes found Sharon's. "And who wouldn't stand out at a crime scene taking pictures?"
She knew he was referring to the photo they'd found at the second crime scene. The one of Brenda which had been taken at the first scene. She slowly nodded. "A police officer." She looked back at the murder board. "Call Atlanta PD. Check with them to see if any officers transferred or resigned around the time Chief Johnson did. If he did indeed work there it would explain how he got the Chief's old business card too."
"On it," Flynn acknowledged and he walked over to his desk. By the time he sat down he'd already grabbed the receiver and was dialling the number for Atlanta PD.
Sharon stood staring at the Murder Board when Provenza sidled up beside her, his arms crossed in front of his chest. She shot him a sideways glance. She and Louie Provenza had history that went way back. They didn't particularly see eye to eye. He was suspicious of her. She didn't blame him. She thought that perhaps he was ready for retirement. He did blame her. Writing him up years ago for sensitivity training had clearly made no difference if his current behaviour was anything to go by but, despite all that, Sharon knew a good detective when she saw one and Provenza was a good detective.
"Don't blame yourself, Captain." He said it without looking at her. Instead he looked at Brenda's picture on the board. Sharon did too. Seeing Brenda stare back at her, her brown eyes bright and full of life, only made her hurt more inside. Provenza seemed to know. "It's not your fault."
Her voice was soft and she had to look away. "How do you know?" Her voice could no longer mask her pain.
Provenza turned slightly to look at her. She could have sworn that he smiled as he arched a knowing eyebrow. "There aren't many things that happen in this place that I don't know about," he pointed out. Sharon shot him a quizzical look. "Like how Agent Howard isn't here." His eyes briefly met Sharon's and he held her gaze. "But you are."
Sharon didn't answer.
The pain was nauseating and she rubbed her eyes, then her temples. It confirmed she could still use her hands and that she was at least relatively intact. As she moved she realised she was lying on her side, her knees slightly pulled up. The foetal position. Bright lights flashed behind her eyes and she then decided to keep still. A dull pain shot through her arms, her legs, and her back. Movement made the pain worse. The room spun, faster and faster, and she lowered her head a little, fighting against the bile rising in the back of her throat. It was dry, her throat. Like she'd swallowed a handful of sand. Swallowing was hard. She tried to wet her lips but it didn't change anything. She was thirsty.
Brenda tried to focus. She extended a hand, patted the surface around her. It was cold and hard. Most likely concrete. The cold had invaded her body, her bones. How long had she been in this position? She tried lifting her head up again, slower this time. Pushed herself up a little, supporting herself on her arms. It allowed her to look around. A wall to her left, maybe ten feet away. She turned slightly, looked the other way. Another wall, about the same distance. This one had a window, though the glass was so dirty that barely any light came in. It was just enough to help her see.
The walls were bare, stripped from any wallpaper or paint. Patches of damp and mould covered the ceiling and the area near the window. The room smelt like old, wet clothes and rotting garbage. On the side directly opposite her she saw a door. It was solid wood and old, with a brash doorknob. The wood had weathered in places.
She tried to remember how she got here. Her mind was fuzzy, the memories unclear. She remembered the sunshine on her skin. Warm and gentle. And something else… A kiss. Sharon. Sharon had kissed her. Brenda furrowed her brow. She caught a glimpse of a car, and a face. A man's voice. Images outside the car window. And then…. Nothing. She couldn't remember anything else. It was as if someone had just removed the memories from her mind. She knew they were there, somewhere, but she couldn't find them.
Brenda slowly pushed herself up further until she was sitting. The muscles and bones in her back protested, her body cold from having been on the cold floor for a long time. She moved her legs. They were heavy but they were moving. Her clothing was undamaged, which filled her with relief. Slowly, and whilst biting back groans of pain, she managed to get on her knees and then, with her hand pressed against the wall, she got up onto her feet. She took an unsteady step followed by another and another. Eventually she reached the door.
It was locked.
She turned the doorknob desperately, It rattled but the door didn't open. Brenda slammed her hand against the door, then her first. She heard herself scream. It sounded primal. Suddenly her senses kicked in. Her eyes flashed around the room as her ears pricked up, listening for a sound she recognised. Her heart thundered in her chest. Panic settled in, slowly overwhelming her and as her hand slid from the doorknob, she had to admit defeat.
No, no, no. NO! She started pacing the room, fingers tangled in her curls, and she desperately willed herself to remember. This was not happening.
She froze when she heard the lock turn and spun around. Her hand shot down to her hip but she found no holster and no gun. She staggered backwards, towards the wall, but her eyes remained fixed on the door. It creaked as it opened and a shadow fell across the floor, followed by the figure of a man. When Brenda laid eyes on his face, she remembered him. The guy who'd picked her up.
"You," she hissed. "What have you done?!"
"Oh it ain't about what I've done," he replied. Brenda took note of the Southern accent. She'd heard that voice before. She knew she had. She didn't say anything. Instead she watched how he took a step towards her and she caught a glimpse of the blade of a knife. "It's about what I'm still gonna do to you, Brenda Leigh".
Tao poked his head around the door of the office, Brenda's office, and found Sharon sitting at the Chief's desk furiously picking her way through case file after case file. The desk was littered with papers, photos and autopsy reports. The latter she didn't even need but they were attached to very file and she'd just discarded them. She looked up when the Lieutenant walked in. Sharon had removed her glasses and he saw how tired her eyes were.
"We've got something," Tao he offered kindly and pointed at the Murder Room. Through the open blinds Sharon saw the rest of the team stand around Sanchez's desk and she rose up from her chair.
"You're going to want to see this," Flynn said when he saw Sharon walk into the room and he turned the computer screen in her direction.
There, plastered across a dark blue background, sat the face of the man she had watched as he picked up Brenda. The picture was older, she guessed, but even back then his eyes looked hollow, like he had gone too long without sleep. The second thing she notice was the small part of the uniform visible in the picture and her heart sank. It seemed that Flynn's original suspicions had been confirmed.
Disheartened, she asked "Is he a cop?"
"Meet former Atlanta PD Detective Franklin Kavanaugh," Flynn grunted. "Disgraced cop and class A asshole."
Sharon's heart thundered in her chest. So he was a cop and he really had worked for Atlanta PD. The pieces had started to fall into place and a picture was beginning to form. They had a face, they had a name, and they had a background history. It would give them answers and it would help them to find Brenda. He would tell them where she was even if he didn't physically do the talking. She'd solved cases with less. That thought was all that kept her going now.
"So what do we know?"
"We called Atlanta and asked them about any resignations or transfers around the time the Chief left. Nothing stood out but then the Lieutenant remembered a case that happened not long after the Chief arrived," Provenza said. "In fact, she was drafted in to investigate this particular case."
"Kavanaugh was a Detective with Atlanta's Murder Squad, Captain," Sanchez explained. "Decorated officer, worked his way up through the ranks quickly. But he became involved in an investigation involving the planting and disappearing of evidence. He and his entire unit were investigated by an independently formed Atlanta PD comity that went through all of Kavanaugh's cases. They didn't let IA handle it but decided to clean their own house first, drafted in outsiders. The Lieutenant said that the comity found several irregularities in some of Kavanaugh's cases and investigated him and his partner. Both were found guilty of tampering with evidence and witness statements and both were suspended and then fired from the force. His partner swallowed his gun three weeks later but Kavanaugh just vanished."
Provenza looked at Sharon. The look in his eyes was dark and his face was solemn. "Three guesses who was in charge of the investigation into Kavanaugh's conduct?"
"Brenda?!" Sharon's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
Suddenly she understood just why Brenda had resented her so much for investigating her division. Sharon had thought it was because Brenda didn't like being scrutinised and felt mistreated but now Sharon understood that Brenda had been in Sharon's position, had seen what an investigation like that could do to the reputation and the lives of cops. She had seen it up close and she had witnessed how it had torn someone apart to the point where they took their own life. Perhaps it wasn't her own actions Brenda had been concerned about but Sharon's presence and what would come of it.
Sharon couldn't imagine Brenda doing any kind of investigating that resembled working for Internal Affairs. She was too loyal for it but at the same time she struggled to imagine Brenda doing any kind of work for the CIA and yet she had. She was about to look away from the screen bu noticed the timeline on the computer, the date of Kavanaugh's dismissal; it was six months after Brenda had moved to Atlanta PD. Sharon remembered the dates from when she had encouraged Brenda to apply for Chief of Police.
Brenda had been brought in to investigate the misconduct. She'd been drafted from the outside to clean up Atlanta's mess, probably because she was a local with CIA training and the uncanny ability to extract confessions from even the most unwilling of suspects, and a cop under investigation was usually the most unwilling of them al. After completing her assignment, Brenda stayed in Atlanta. It clearly wasn't something Brenda was proud of because nowhere in her file did it make a mention of this particular investigation, but the dates added up and Sharon could read between the lines.
"The Chief investigated Kavanaugh and reported to his superior officers. She was then in charge of his dismissal and after that, she stayed in Atlanta for several more years." Sanchez shook his head. "Kavanaugh lost everything. He must've spent the next few years tracking the Chief. First in Atlanta with the crime scenes and then here. He followed her, stalked her…"
"I think we've found the reason why he hates the Chief so much," Flynn commented. For someone who loathed IA more than anyone else, he sounded surprisingly neutral. It clearly hadn't changed his opinion about Brenda. "Now how did this idiot get into the LAPD?"
"He used his mother's maiden name to apply," Provenza explained and Sanchez rolled his eyes. Had it really been that simple?
"I think someone needs to have a word with Personnel about who they hire because if they'd checked this guy's prints, they would've known about Atlanta and he wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the Chief."
"He holds Brenda responsible for the destruction of his career," Sharon said softly. No one in the room pointed out that she was calling her Brenda instead of Chief. She didn't even stop to think about it herself. All she saw, all she remembered, was Brenda getting in the car with this monster.
"He believes she took everything away from him even though he did it to himself and she only highlighted this. So he's a narcissist and he holds a grudge. That makes him extremely dangerous." Sharon ran her hands through her hair as panic began to tug at her heart. "Anything on the phones?"
"Last few calls from the Chief are mainly to you, Captain," Gabriel pointed out. Sharon wasn't too surprised at that. She also knew there was at least one call from Fritz but Gabriel didn't mention him. No one had mentioned him and she briefly wondered just how much these men had picked up about Brenda's situation. "Chief Pope comes back clean too but he did call SWAT to make the arrangements for the Chief to be collected from your condo but there is only one call from Chief Johnson to Chief Pope from earlier today."
Sharon knew what that call had been about. Brenda had called Pope almost immediately after fleeing her office, after their kiss, and she'd asked for SWAT to take her to a safe house. She had asked to be taken away from Sharon because of what happened and now...
"Thank you, Sargent." Sharon didn't want to explain the phone call. She didn't owe anything to anyone but her eyes sought out Pope anyway. He had yet to say anything, contribute somehow to this discussion, but he remained silent and avoided her eyes. He had been listening to the discussion without adding anything useful or substantial and the longer she was in the same room with him, the angrier Sharon became.
"So where's Kavanaugh now?" she then asked. "Do we have an address for him?"
Tao waved a piece of a paper over his head. "It's in his file, Captain. He hasn't gone through any trouble to hide it."
"Which probably means he isn't there," Flynn added.
"I know," Sharon agreed. "But right now it's all we've got. Sargent Gabriel, Lieutenant Flynn, I want you to search his place from top to bottom. Find anything that gives us an idea where he may have taken the Chief. Lieutenant Tao, dump his cell phone, see if you can ping it off any cell towers to help pinpoint a location. Lieutenant Provenza, talk to SWAT and find out how the hell this freak got in. Talk to anyone who knows him. Detective Sanchez, help Buzz with the footage from the traffic cameras and try to follow the car."
Sharon's orders were loud and clear and she looked on as the team went about their business.
No one questioned her authority. No one questioned her intentions. A few months ago they would have all rebelled against her, a rebellion led by Brenda herself, but things had changed. They knew she wasn't out to get the Chief, unlike a certain other high ranking officer in the room. They had seen she was trying to protect Brenda, was trying to shield her from the knives Pope was trying to stab in her back. They'd also noticed Fritz's absence. No one dared to ask questions but none of them were stupid or blind and Sharon suspected they were talking among themselves. She couldn't blame them.
She turned around when she heard Pope's voice. She met his gaze and fixed him with a defiant stare.
"Good work," he complimented her. She could tell he was nervous. He got that look about him. Slightly cocky. He would overcompensate and it made him look ridiculous. One day, the day she retired, she would tell him that, and she would enjoy it,
"I couldn't help but notice..."
"The similarities between Chief Johnson and myself?" Sharon finished the sentence. "Chief Johnson investigating Kavanaugh and me investigating Chief Johnson?" She cocked her head and smirked a little, asserting her dominance but also reminding Pope that she was here because he had ordered here to be here. "Don't worry, Chief. I doubt Chief Johnson will be going on a frenzied killing spree anytime soon."
She turned on her heel and walked into Brenda's office, slamming the door behind her. She didn't even look back to see if Pope walked away. She just crossed the room to the desk, grabbed the piles of files and dumped the whole lot into one of the boxes sent over by Atlanta. The files were a mess but she didn't care. It wasn't her problem anymore anyway.
She then sank down into the chair, logged into the computer system and pulled up Kavanaugh's personnel file, although his name was now Williamson, and the first thing that popped up was his picture, the same one she'd seen on Sanchez's computer. Sharon looked at him, studied his face. She knew she wouldn't forget it until the day she died. She wanted to remember it. She wanted to be able to recognise him in a sea of faces.
She scrolled down his file until she reached the earliest entry. It was dated four months after Brenda had first started working with the LAPD. He'd signed up as a rookie working the beat and then passed every exam and every test with flying colours and has worked his way up to SWAT within four years and had reached the rank of Sargent. Sharon sighed. It wasn't a surprise he passed every test. He'd taken them before, back in Atlanta. But how was it possible that no one had checked this guy's prints? She wanted to throttle whoever worked at Personnel.
She read all the information available and then read it all again. It was all she had, all she could do, to keep herself sane, to stop her mind from wandering to the most horrific scenarios in her head. She tried not to think about what he was doing to Brenda. She was about to log off when there was a rough knock on her door. It swung open before she had a chance to answer.
"Why didn't you call me?" Fritz demanded as he stepped into the office.
"Agent Howard." Sharon stood up and smoothed out the creases in her clothes. She slowly looked up and met his gaze. His eyes were ablaze with anger and the way he looked at her only riled her more.
"Brenda's been kidnapped and you don't think to call me?"
Sharon couldn't cope with this. This wasn't the time or the place. She didn't want this now and before she'd even fully realised what she was doing, she's pressed her hands on the desk and leaned over it, defiance flickering in her eyes. She had scared plenty of people this way in an interrogation room, had seen grown men cry.
"Chief Johnson made it very clear throughout the course of this investigation that she did not wish to involve you, Agent Howard." Her voice was soft but carried a lethal undertone. She knew he knew. "Nothing about this investigation involved the FBI."
Fritz stared back at her with the same amount of anger. They'd always been sort of friendly around each other but none of that remained now. "My wife's been kidnapped!"
"Your ex-wife's been kidnapped. You signed the divorce papers, remember?" Sharon reminded him of the phone call she'd answered by mistake. She knew she'd already crossed a line as soon as she said it but she didn't take a step back. She wasn't about to let Fritz waltz all over this.
"And you would know all about that, wouldn't you?" Fritz snapped. The anger was etched across his face in deep, sharp lines. Sharon saw the shadows under his eyes. She had seen those shadows before, years ago. They were there most mornings when Jackson stumbled through the door. They were signs of the darkness left behind by alcohol. She wondered if Brenda knew that he'd lied in his email about being sober because he certainly didn't look like it to her. The two day old stubble on his cheeks was another silent tell.
She folded her arms in front of her chest.
Fritz's voice was sharp. "Tell me, Captain, how long have you been sleeping with Brenda?"
"Excuse me?" Sharon challenged. She arched her eyebrows. Even if he was somehow aware of her feelings for Brenda, which she doubted, it still didn't give him the right to question her like this. Her lips formed a thin line and behind her glasses, green eyes darkened dangerously. "Agent Howard, I do not believe that right here or right now is the appropriate time to have this discussion." She wasn't defending herself. She didn't need to. She was defending Brenda.
"I guess that answers my question," Fritz concluded, giving her a knowing look. "How am I ever going to compete with that, hmm?"
"It's not me who stormed in here wearing yesterday's clothes and smelling of cheap whiskey and stale cigarette smoke," Sharon spat.
She had been at the receiving end of an alcoholic's abuse one too many times and she certainly wasn't going to be putting up with Fritz's behaviour in this situation. She had shown Jackson the door years ago after spending too long living in an alcohol infused bubble where Jack would be drunk and she'd was left alone at home raising their two children. Jack had been her husband and she had been ruthless to him. Fritz was nothing to her. She had no loyalty to him and didn't have to treat him the way she treated others who did have her loyalty. He hadn't come here because of his concern for Brenda but because he was angry he hadn't been told, because it made him look bad.
Sharon pursed her lips. "Does Brenda know you lied when you said you were sober?" She cocked her head when she noticed the flash behind his eyes. Busted, she thought. Fritz may have had Brenda wrapped around his finger for quite some time, only because Brenda didn't know any better until Fritz finally showed his true colours, but Sharon knew a drunk when she saw one.
"And that job in Washington?"
"I've accepted," Fritz said. He ignored Sharon's comment about the drinking. Sharon knew what that meant. Addicts rarely owned up to their flaws. "I leave in two days." His features softened and his shoulders slumped a little. She now recognised the man standing in front of her, caught a glimpse of who he used to be. He admitted his defeat, fell apart like a flower that had run out of water. "Captain... Sharon..." He chose her first name. It changed something between them. "I know I've lost Brenda and most of that is my own fault. But please, tell me, is she going to be ok?"
"We know who he is and we're doing everything we can to find her," she said softly. "And we will find her."
Don't say anything. Don't do anything. If you must, only answer the most basic of questions. Never share your name. State your blood type, your date of birth but nothing else.
She repeated the information over and over in her head. She'd trained for this, years ago. She'd trained others. She'd been the one who shouted at agents who were taking part in training sessions. She had been the one to turn on the charm to pry information out of her subjects. She had always, always, succeeded.
She knew he was applying the same tactics to her. He had come in and offered her water after showing her the knife. He had tried to scare her, had tried to mould her into subjecting herself to him. She had refused to drink, had turned her head away instead, even when he grabbed her cheek and tried to force the water down her throat. She'd spat it out, some of it into his face, and she hadn't flinched when he hit her. She'd sensed the frustration. He was looking for her fear. She refused to give it to him. She knew him better than he would ever know her.
It had been a long time since shed seen him. Time had not been kind. The Los Angeles sun had tanned his skin a little but his eyes had still been empty, just as they had been back then when he sat across the table in the interrogation room and she confronted him with her evidence. She hadn't been hired to care. She'd been hired to find out who had manipulated evidence, and as a result of that had sent an innocent man to prison for life, and she had done her job. Her job wasn't to care about Franklin Kavanaugh.
Brenda thought about Sharon. Whenever she felt her mind slipping, whenever her body shivered against the cold and her legs protested against the endless walking, her feet numb and her toes frozen, she thought about Sharon. She kept calling up the image of her face, the brightness of her green eyes and the way her hair had felt as it ran through her fingers. She tried to hear her voice, tried to remember how Sharon's hands had felt, imagined them taking the pain and the cold away.
She had to hold on. For Sharon. She had to keep strong.
Brenda stopped pacing. Something changed. She heard a metallic sound. A key was turned in the lock. She straightened herself, ready to face Franklin Kavanaugh as soon as he walked in. The door opened slowly and he stepped into the room. He carried another bottle of water. Instantly Brenda set her jaw.
"You willin' to drink now?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, thank you. You drugged me once, I'm not gonna let you do that again."
"It's just water, Brenda Leigh."
"Don't call me that."
He unscrewed the lid and let some of the water pour onto the floor. It seeped into the porous concrete.
She didn't flinch even though she was thirsty. He was trying to trick her, played on her desperation. It was an old torture technique. She'd seen it used plenty of times. She wasn't going to fall for it. A person could survive a day or so without water; she was willing to take her chances.
"What do you want?" she asked. "Lovely as the décor is in here, if you're just gonna pour water on the floor, it seems to be a bit of a waste of time, don't you think?" She shrugged. "You do know Los Angeles is experiencing a drought and wastin' water's a crime?"
"You think you're so smart, don't you? Think you have all the answers?" He was in her face before she could blink. "You're not that smart, Brenda Leigh, because you're trapped in here. I WIN!"
"Is that what you were thinkin' when you were cuttin' hearts out of peoples' bodies? You're winning?" Brenda shook her head. Her eyes were alive with fire. A thrill jolted through her body. "Is that how you felt when you took my picture and painted my name in blood? You thought I'd notice you?" She snorted. She leaned in, her nose almost touching his. She looked into his hollow eyes. "I had no idea you'd done all of this because really, I hadn't given you a second thought."
His fist collided with her jaw and it sent her spinning. She stumbled and then tripped. The last thing she felt was the warm blood on her lip and then the world went black.
Her eyes had adapted to the darkness and somehow she had gotten used to the pounding in her head. Even with the constant pain she managed to organise her thoughts. Brenda tried to keep her breathing even and shallow. If she took too deep a breath, her chest would hurt and tears would jump into her eyes, but if she continued to take shallow breaths and focused, she could handle the pain.
The blood on her lip had dried. She could feel the crust with the tp of her tongue and her fingers. There was something sticky in her hair and on the side of her face. More blood, probably, though she hadn't checked for injuries. It was best if she didn't know, then the knowledge wouldn't distract her. She had to rely on her senses, had to stay sharp. She kept repeating those thoughts over and over.
She thought of Sharon.
Beautiful, smart, kind Sharon.
She had to get out of this. For her. For Sharon. She had to survive this because she had to tell her…. She had to tell her how she felt, how she'd been feeling for a long time. And she had to apologise for running away, for being a coward and a bitch and she would apologise for all the other things she had done wrong and would probably still do wrong in the future. But most of all, she wanted to touch her. Hold Sharon's hand, hear her laugh, see her smile.
Brenda knew she had to hold on because Sharon wouldn't want her to give up.
She didn't know how long it had been since she saw him last. It had to have been hours. When she came to, curled up on the ground, her fingers were numb and her body ached. But she'd gotten up and started walking again to try and get warm. It had worked because her hands were working now and the pain… well, she could live with it. The hunger pangs had subsided but her throat was dry. She was desperately thirsty.
Brenda froze when she heard the sound of the key in the door. Her heart thundered in her chest and the adrenaline rushed through her veins. Whatever shred of doubt and fear there was left just vanished and she moved towards the door. The key turned a second time and she pressed herself against the wall. The door opened inwards and she'd be behind it when it did. It would allow her a split second advantage and it would give her one chance, and one chance only, to surprise him.
The door opened slowly and her breath caught in the back of her throat. She had planned it in her mind but now the moment was here and she was scared. Terrified. If she didn't get this right, she knew for sure that she would never see Sharon again.
She had to try. She had to, she didn't want to think about what would happen if she didn't try so she took a deep breath and held it. IIn her head she counted to ten. One…two…three…
Franklin Kavanaugh stepped into the room, his figure backlit by the faint light coming from the hallway. He was taller than she remembered and for a moment it rocked her confidence but Brenda bit down on her lip hard in a way of bringing herself back into the moment. The pain shook her, reminded her that she had to do this. It was now or never.
He looked around, trying work out where in the darkness his prisoner was. From where she was standing, Brenda could see he carried another bottle of water. He took another step, and then another and then he was far enough away from the door.
She moved quicker than she had believed she could. The kick was well aimed and she hit him in his lower back. He grunted and his body swung from left to right in an attempt to keep his balance. He turned slightly, surprise etched across his face and he saw her. She was close enough that she could see him too. She could see the way his eyes widened. Without thinking her leg came up a second time and this time she hit him in his stomach. He buckled, dropped the bottle of water and grabbed at his gut as he fell to his knees. He gasped for air but all she heard was a gurgle. The sound of a man who was fighting for air.
Brenda didn't hesitate..
One last kick. Her foot made contact with the side of his head. She heard the cracking sound of bones breaking. It was sickening. The sound of Kavanaugh's body collapsing to the ground was dull. She didn't turn around to look. She'd reached the door, her fingers desperately searching for something to hold on to and then she stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. Her lungs pressed against her ribcage so hard she felt they would explode. The keys were still in the lock and she grabbed them. The metal was cold against the palm of her hand. She yanked at the door and it fell shut behind her. Clutching the keys she ran towards the light that seemed to come from another door. She ran as fast as she could, the sound of her footsteps hollow and haunting in the empty hallway.
The door at the end was open and led to another, larger space. It was brighter here. There were windows. Small windows. They were high up. Faint rays of light fell onto the floor. Darkness was falling outside and soon all the light would be gone. The space was about the size of half a football pitch. The roof was quite low and supported by big, thick metal beams and poles. The floor was concrete and cracked in places. It was some kind of warehouse. Along one of the walls big wooden boxes were stacked up and the place reeked of stale old fish and dirty plastic.
Brenda took a deep breath. The keys jangled in her hands and she clutched them tighter. Her heart pounded against her ribcage and she ached everywhere. Her head was spinning and the wide open space in front of her faded in and out of a blur. She took a few more steps, supporting herself by grabbing hold of the metal poles. She tripped and only just remained standing.
She had to find a door. She had to find a way out of this somehow.
She looked around. There didn't seem to be an obvious exit. No door. The windows were all too high up for her to climb through.
Tears stung behind her eyes. Brenda didn't want to cry. She had to push on, go further. There had to be some kind of way out.
Her gaze fell on the wooden crates. They were stacked high, almost up to the ceiling but towards the right, there were only three on top of each other, just underneath a window. A spark of hope woke up in her chest and Brenda forced herself to walk towards the crates.
The only way to get up to the window as to climb on top of them. She placed her hands firmly alongside the outside of the crate and pushed with her feet. Her body came away from the floor and she dug her nails into the wood at the same time as jamming her feet into the crate. Her fingers ached and her nails broke off and bled but it was enough to get her up.
Brenda cried out in pain and frustration as she pushed again and moved a little higher. Warm blood trickled along the inside of her wrist up towards her arm. Tears now streamed down her face, blurring her vision, but she held on. She pushed herself up further, using her legs and her arms, and finally, she reached the third crate and with a strangled, pained whimper, she pulled herself up. She panted, her body burning, and she briefly closed her eyes.
She got up on her knees and played both her hands against the dirty glass window. It didn't move. The window had not been designed to open. She balled her fists and smacked them against the glass in frustration. She was about to drop back when she noticed something.
The window looked out over a street, or a road of some kind. She could see tarmac and the shape of a building across the street. Pieces began to fall into place. It explained why she couldn't find a door. She was in a basement.
Brenda placed her hands against the glass again and tried to take in as much of the view as she could. She couldn't see the sky, just the dirty red bricks from the other building, the gutter and drains and part of the road. But then she saw the car pull up around the corner from the other building, the one across the street. The driver's side door opened and she saw a pair of boots as they landed on the ground.
Brenda pounded her fists against the glass but the sound was weak at best. "Help!" she shouted. Her sound bounced off the walls in a haunting echo. She pounded against the glass again. "HELP!"
The boots walked towards the side of the other building, out of her line of sight. They were almost gone.
Despair kicked in.
Brenda took off the blazer she was wearing and wrapped t around her arm, all the way up to her elbow. She then used her left arm to shield her face, turned her body away from the window and smashed her right elbow against the glass. She heard it crack and she repeated the action almost immediately. Shards of glass rained down into her lap and she felt the gust of fresh air on her face. She turned and found the window broken.
She reached her arm through the broken glass and her fingers touched hard, cool concrete.
"Help!" she cried, her fingers still ghosting over the surface outside. "HELP! Help me!" Her voice was hoarse and constricted by tears but she shouted as loud as she could. Her bloodied nails scraped through the dirt outside, desperate to just cling on to something… anything.
"Someone please… help me!"
The touch was unexpected. A warm hand closed around her wrist, took her hand firmly. The hand belonged to a man.
Brenda sobbed in relief. She knew that voice and she knew it well. "Lieutenant?"
Provenza looked over his shoulder and was careful not to let go of Brenda's hand. Behind him, people approached but his eyes singled out only one of them.
"Captain!" he shouted. "We've got her."
And then Brenda felt Sharon's hand.
"Oh thank God," Sharon whispered. She wiped at her eyes but the tears still came. "Oh Brenda, thank God." She clutched Brenda's hand. "We found you."
Through the broken glass Brenda saw Sharon's face and she tried to smile. "I knew you would."
"She's been asking for you," he answered and then smiled. "A lot."
"How is she?"
"She's got a concussion, mainly bumps and bruises. She's dehydrated so we've put her on a drip. We've cleaned her wounds. She should be ok to leave in a day or two but she will need constant supervision for the upcoming weeks."
"Thank you, Doctor," Sharon said and put her hand on his arm in passing.
She stepped into Brenda's room and Sharon was struck by just how small the blonde looked in the big hospital bed. The sheets where crisp and clean and white and formed a stark contrast against the bruises that had begun to appear on Brenda's face and arms. Her blonde curls lay fanned out over the pillow and Brenda's eyes were closed but they opened as soon as she heard the door open. When she saw Sharon, she smiled and she tried to sit up.
"SSssh," Sharon shushed and she took Brenda's hand. It felt warm and comfortable and familiar. "Don't try to get up. It' ok." She brought Brenda's hand up to her lips and kissed it.
"Don't say anything. Right now I just want to sit here and look at you. God, Brenda, I was so scared I'd lost you." Tears shimmered in Sharon's green eyes and she chewed on her bottom lip. The pain shed felt when Brenda was gone had not fully disappeared yet and seeing her now was overwhelming. "I was afraid that I would never see you again."
Brenda weakly smiled and looked at Sharon's hand holding hers. It felt right. She didn't ever want to let go. "But you found me."
Sharon sighed. "Yes, I found you."
"Brenda, it can wait," Sharon replied even though she knew Brenda wouldn't settle for that. She shook her head and began to recite the events that had led them to arriving at the warehouse.
"When we found out that Kavanaugh was the one behind all this, we went to his house. He wasn't there but Mike found some evidence that his family owned property elsewhere. A couple of apartment buildings and one warehouse. They were planning to sell them on but then the market crashed and his cousin died, leaving Kavanaugh as the only other family member with access to them. The apartment buildings have recently been repossessed but the warehouse was still his."
"Did you find him?"
Sharon smirked. "We did, thanks to you. He was out cold." She softly squeezed Brenda's hand and circled her index finger over the spot where the IV had been inserted into a vein. "It's over, Brenda."
Brenda sank back a little deeper into the pillows and Sharon could see the relief written across the younger woman's face. The look in her eyes was distant, like she was reliving something she wasn't quite prepared to share yet. The bruises across Brenda's face told a story of their own, one that didn't need any words.
Sharon wondered if she should mention the fact that Fritz had paid her a visit once he found out about Brenda but she decided it was better kept for a later time. More than anything she just wanted to take Brenda home and make sure she was safe and all right.
"You should rest," Sharon whispered.
Brenda turned to look at the brunette sitting in the arm chair. "Will you stay?" Her voice quivered.
"Of course I will stay," Sharon promised.
Brenda smiled weakly. "There's room, you know."
"What do you mean?"
Brenda patted the bed and Sharon arched an eyebrow for a moment but then stood up. Careful not to tangle the IV line that was giving Brenda her fluids, she elegantly climbed onto the bed and lay down beside Brenda. In her chest her heart fluttered and then settled in a content and steady beat when Brenda curled up into her. Blonde curls tickled Sharon's chin and she kissed the top of Brenda's head softly. Sharon's arm carefully slipped around Brenda's stomach and they lay like this, spooning, until Sharon knew for sure that Brenda had drifted off to sleep. Only then did her own eyes close too.
The door to the room opened briefly but closed just as fast. Provenza turned around and looked at the people having gathered outside and shook his head.
"I think we should wait," he said and began ushering people down the hallway before casting a final look back over his shoulder towards Brenda's room, a smile on his face.