Chapter 1: Prologue: And that, was that.
And That, Was That.
Their first meeting ‘after’ had been an awkward one.
Brenda had wondered what would transpire frequently and, figuring that they had been bad enough while they had been sleeping together, she thought that the fact that they weren’t would make it all ten times worse.
Having not seen Sharon, that was how she referred to her now, at least in the privacy of her own thoughts, had helped. Almost three weeks had gone by, three weeks of irritability, of temper tantrums, angry outbursts (for no apparent reason), then the short but undeniably intense bout of depression and then Brenda had gotten up one day and had realized that she had had a nightmare.
In her nightmare she had mumbled the woman’s name and she had woken up to Fritz’s stern gaze.
“A shootin’,” she had said sleepily. “I think Provenza shot her.”
And that had been that.
When she had gotten on the elevator that same morning and had found none other than Sharon occupying it, Brenda hadn’t hesitated. She had put a smile on her face, politely nodding in the woman’s direction and had entered, pushing the button for her floor.
“Good morning, Chief Johnson.”
Brenda had smirked at that. She had glanced over cautiously and, she had figured as much, Sharon had worn her barely there, superior little smirk.
“How have you been?”
Sharon had looked at her, surprised but pleasantly so. “I’ve been doing very well, thank you. How are you doing, Chief?”
“I’m doin’ just fine, Cap’n Raydor, just fine.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
They had both sighed in near perfect unison then the elevator doors had opened to Brenda’s floor. The blonde had smiled another smile, a genuine one that time and exited. “See ya.”
And that had been that.
It could’ve been worse.
Brenda tilted her head. She didn’t have to look. She knew that scent anywhere. Of course she’d be here.
Everyone was here.
The blonde squared her shoulders a bit, her muscles straining against the sturdy blue fabric of her uniform.
“Teamwork is essential amongst our divisions. It is the glue that holds us together.”
Delk was throwing out grand words behind the podium, the mayor was smiling and Taylor was beaming like a lovesick teenager.
“But what we need is not only communication between our divisions, no, we need communication amongst all law enforcement agencies so we can conduct investigations, cover jurisdictions and share information seamlessly with our partners.”
Did that even make sense?
Brenda sighed heavily, her lips forming a bored pout as she shifted from one booted foot to the other.
“This is why Assistant Director Faulkner has joined us today, as well as the official FBI/LAPD liaison, Special Agent Howard. To talk about how to improve our efforts in achieving this goal.”
She saw Provenza roll his eyes, unimpressed with the whole shebang. “A whole lotta yackin’ for such a little budget.”
Brenda gave him a look, not that she meant it and chanced a glance to her right. Sure enough, there she stood, Sharon Raydor. She had the most neutral look on her face with a sprinkle of boredom, hands clasped behind her back; next to her stood Sergeant Elliott, squinting in an effort to look interested in the goings-on.
Oh, for heaven’s sakes, Brenda thought, eyeing Fritz who was standing with a rather satisfied expression next to the Assistant Director.
At least he was having a good time.
“We’re all thinking it, Chief.”
Brenda glanced to her right, at Sharon who had inched closer unbeknownst to her and was whispering conspiringly under her breath.
The brunette finally looked at her with an overly sad expression that seemed more comical than anything and said, “That if you hadn’t messed it up, you’d be the one standing up there right now.”
“How nice.” Brenda crossed her arms. “I took the shot, somebody had to.”
Sharon made a sound in the back of her throat, her eyes glued to the podium again. “Sometimes I really wish you hadn’t.”
The blonde mulled it over for a moment, shifting from one foot to the other once more, noting that their shoulders brushed briefly, then shrugged noncommittally. “Me too.”
Their gazes met and for a moment they both couldn’t help but smile at each other.
“I can’t believe that you were handed not only one but two promotions on a silver platter.”
Brenda’s smile fell. “I have never met anyone as aggravatin’ as yourself, Cap’n and you may take that as a compliment.”
“Thank you, Chief.”
“You’re welcome.” Brenda chewed her lower lip and chanced another glance at the woman, curiously eyeing the tight bun, the tiny frame in the blue uniform and the fine contours of her lips.
She still looked the same, smelled the same, sounded the same yet Brenda couldn’t feel the usual warmth, that hot sensation in her belly anymore.
The blonde frowned.
“I would like all of you to join us at our usual watering hole, O'Malley's, for a drink later on.”
Brenda heard Andy sigh from right behind her.
“I hope to see you all there,” Delk finished, finally.
“Why do I feel like this is an order and not a friendly get together?” Flynn felt the need to argue. “I mean, c’mon, like half the LAPD doesn’t have better things to do.”
“You only want to go home to watch the Dodgers game,” Provenza grumbled.
“What? You'd rather 'slum' it with Delk?”
“I admit, I’m not opposed to the idea of, say, a cold beer and some baseball but duty must always come first.” He looked square at Sharon. “Must’n it, Captain?”
Brenda smirked as Sharon shifted from one foot to the other. “Maybe,” she said carefully, “Bobby lets you turn on the TV until Chief Delk arrives..?”
“Good idea,” Flynn said and threw an arm around another officer’s shoulders. “Hey, Benny, we’re watching the game at O'Malley's, you wanna put some money down? Provenza and I started a pool.”
The blonde shook her head and trailed after the men towards the exit.
“Children...” Sharon commented quietly, a faint smirk on her features before she caught Sergeant Elliott’s gaze and patted him on the shoulder. “Let’s go, Sergeant. I don’t want the worst seats in the place.”
Chapter 2: Burying The Hatchet
And just a bit more...
Burying The Hatchet
“Yes, Detective, I’ve heard everythin’ you just said but--Will, Will, I mean, Chief Pope!” Brenda pressed her cell phone to her chest. “Yohoo, Chief, one second, Detective Gabriel.”
“Yes, Deputy Chief Johnson?” Will responded glumly as the blonde caught up to him, accosting him right outside the bar.
“Oh, Will, there’s been a murder--”
“--and I was wonderin’ if--”
“You’re staying right here.”
“What, why?” She almost stomped her foot - silly Tommy Delk and silly FBI bigheads making her late. “Will, are you tellin’ me that I ought to send half my squad out there to investigate a murder by themselves while the other half is out partyin’ with Chief Delk, is that what you’re saying? I bet you that--”
“Send Provenza.” Will nodded politely at another officer who entered the bar. “He’s supposed to be the Incident Commander, isn’t he? Not that you’ve given him much of a chance to earn his paycheck over the years...”
Brenda huffed, hands (and cell phone) going to her hips. “You’re takin’ Provenza’s side?” Her gaze remained nonchalant. “Is that what you’re tellin’ me?”
“What I’m telling you is that Chief Delk asked for your presence specifically and I’m not about to contradict his orders.” Will opened the door, smiling at Provenza and Flynn who had just caught up with Brenda. “Oh, Lieutenant, just the man I wanted to see! There’s been a murder but I’m sure Chief Johnson can fill you in.”
With that he entered the bar.
Brenda seethed inwardly; Will was behaving highly irrational.
“Just great,” Provenza grumbled. “Great.”
Flynn shrugged beside him. “Hey, Chief? Can I go, too?”
The blonde scratched her eyebrow, contemplating whether to stay or to just leave because, after all, a murder was more important than Chief Delk’s mission to stroke the FBI’s ego - it was big enough as it was - surely even he must see that.
“Whatever you do, Chief, don’t leave,” Taylor said who had slinked around the corner, newfound swing in his step. “Chief Delk is restructuring the LAPD,” he quipped, “Wouldn’t wanna wind up on his bad side...”
“Ooooh, I hate politics.”
Taylor shrugged. “C’mon, Chief Johnson, you’ve got a capable squad...and Provenza. I’m sure they can take care of one little murder by themselves.” He smiled and held the door open.
“You go on, Chief,” Flynn reassured her while his partner glowered at Taylor. “We’ll take care of it.”
Brenda hesitated a moment, shifted from one foot to the other then said, “But call me as soon as you get there.”
“Will do, c’mon, Flynn, let’s get goin’.”
“As soon as you find somethin’ out, gentlemen, is that clear?”
“Yep!” Provenza took his hat off, waving it at her as they rounded the corner.
Brenda stared after them, even after they had disappeared, biting her lip anxiously as at least a thousand scenarios of how her squad could mess things up ran through her mind.
Of course she trusted them, of course! The blonde blinked. Of course.
“Chief? After you...” Taylor opened the door wider.
Brenda sighed and lifted her cell phone up to her ear. “Detective Gabriel? I will have to call you back.” She hung up.
And that had been that.
“Thank you, Commander,” Brenda cooed as they entered the bar. It was busy, the ballgame was on and people were cheering. The blonde took off her hat and clamped it under her arm, mindlessly scanning the crowd.
She spotted Will, who gave her a look, the meaning of which she wasn’t remotely interested in. Brenda blew out a breath and decided to at least pretend she was mingling with her fellow officers but found her thoughts drifting back to the murder.
Road rage, Gabriel had said. Doesn’t look like gangs, Sanchez had vowed.
Killing somebody over who has the bigger truck?
Brenda nibbled on her lower lip.
And whipped out her cell phone from her pants pocket. She hit speed dial, momentarily turning away from Will’s prying eyes. “Detective,” she didn’t want to lose any time, “Did you check the car for a gun?”
“Uh, yeah, Chief, that’s the first thing we did,” Gabriel replied evenly and Brenda knew she was unnerving him a bit.
“A knife?” She asked hopefully.
“No knife, Chief.”
The blonde sighed. “Any weapons? At all?”
“Well,” Gabriel started conversationally, “There was a bat.”
“Baseball bat?” The blonde glanced at the TV for a moment.
“Yep. But there was also two gloves, uh some balls...you know, baseball gear.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes...” She took a breath and was about to ask yet another question when her cell phone suddenly disappeared. Whipping around, Brenda came face to face with Will.
“Hello, Gabriel? Yeah. Ah. Of course. Well, she’ll have to call you back later. Much later.”
The blonde adopted a sour expression but said nothing, knowing she was treading on thin ice with him as it was.
“Mingle.” He said and handed the phone back.
Mingling wasn’t really Brenda’s forté. That’s what she had Fritz for. He mingled, she followed. He socialized. She stayed at home. And if it weren’t for him she would be a hermit.
Sighing, Brenda wandered aimlessly around the room. She pulled on the collar of her uniform, her eyes jumping from one familiar face to another as she inwardly complained about the stifling material of her Blues.
Captain Baker from Vice nodded her way, albeit reluctantly, and Brenda nodded back.
The blonde blew another breath out, curling her toes in the heavy boots she was wearing, and decided that, since everything else was sort of failing, she should get a glass of Merlot.
Surely, she could have one drink..? Everyone else seemed to.
Brenda made her way toward the bar, hoping for a seat.
She saw that the TV was on, showing the ballgame in whichever inning, Brenda couldn’t care less and, she gleefully spotted it, a free chair.
The blonde bit her lip.
Making her way past a particularly tall specimen of a guy, Brenda stopped dead in her tracks.
The blonde’s nostrils flared as she debated whether to just sit next to him or to turn around and find somebody else to sit next to.
However, Brenda was somewhat relieved to observe, somebody did sit next to him then. A young blond officer, maybe the same age, who patted him on the back enthusiastically.
Old friends, perhaps?
Brenda made a face - probably went to the academy together...
She swerved to the left, in need of a drink, knowing who she would very likely encounter but not at all fazed by the possibility.
Sure enough, next to Elliott sat Captain Raydor, perfectly poised on her bar stool, sipping on what Brenda knew to be a dry white.
The blonde hesitated for a moment, gazing at the woman as if in a trance, strangely intrigued by their earlier meeting and the calming sensation it had left behind. Brenda had expected a lot of upset and confusion, perhaps some embarrassed looks before everything went back to normal.
After the woman had dumped her.
Which was exactly what had happened.
Not that Brenda liked to think about it; who liked to be dumped anyway?
Anything but complete indifference would have been normal but there they had been, on the elevator, exchanging pleasantries.
“It’s yours if you want it?” Sharon nodded toward the chair. “I guarantee you, no one else is going to sit there.”
The blonde licked her bottom lip to disguise the smirk that was about to overtake her features and slid onto the chair.
That was easy, she thought, and placed her hat on the bar top, somewhat proud at the looks she was garnering - yes, indeed, she braved the Wicked Witch.
Brenda nodded and loosened her tie a bit. “Horrible thang...” She muttered under her breath and opened the top button.
“Sammy?” Sharon meanwhile called over the bar, waving subtly at a young man. “Can I get a big, tall glass of Merlot, please?”
He smiled cheekily, showing off a dimple. “Coming right up.”
“Just put it on my tab.”
“Thanks,” the blonde released a long breath, finally able to relax now that she had found somebody to latch onto - even though it was Captain Raydor - and gave Sergeant Elliott a tight smile.
“You didn’t bring Lieutenant what’s-his-face?” The blonde wondered, remembering a burly man.
“Nope,” Sharon picked up her glass very delicately. “Somebody’s got to man the phones, haven’t they?” The brunette’s eyes scanned the place briefly before landing back on Brenda. “Flynn and Provenza?”
The blonde pursed her lips in displeasure and received her wine. “We picked up a murder.”
“Any good?” Sharon asked over the rim of her glass.
“Dunno,” Brenda commented loosely and took a sip of her own wine. “Somewhere along Sepulveda...”
“Which could practically be anywhere,” the brunette interjected.
“Exactly. But instead of investigatin’ this murder I’m sittin’ here--”
“--waitin’ on Chief Delk.”
“And California’s Assistant Director of the FBI.”
Brenda nodded. “And Fritz.”
“I know,” Sharon said evenly. “It’s so unfair.”
The blonde nodded then, suddenly, lifted her eyebrows. “If I’d known you’d be completely unsympathetic to my situation, we coulda sat here in silence, too.” She turned her body toward the bar, away from Sharon. “You should’ve just said.”
The brunette smirked next to her, turning toward the bar as well, leaving them shoulder to shoulder. “I’m right in the middle of hour 49 in a 72 hour reporting cycle and I’m sitting here, with you, waiting for Chief Delk--”
“And the Assistant Director of the FBI--”
“And Agent Howard,” Sharon added. “While I should be out there, interviewing a potential witness.” She glanced at her clock. “But if I had known that you would be so unsympathetic to my situation, we could’ve just sat here in silence, too, Chief.”
Brenda smiled, she couldn’t help it, and sipped her wine, just to disguise her expression and whatever came along with it. “My, Cap’n Raydor,” she cooed, “Sounds like you’ve got your hands full.”
“Nothing I can’t handle, Chief.”
The blonde toyed with the stem of her wine glass, tapping her fingernails against it, her mind slowly settling into the comfort of the woman’s presence. Oddly enough, Brenda thought, she felt at ease.
They still shared a secret but, and that was the crucial factor, they weren’t sleeping together anymore. Brenda felt the pressure ease somewhat, the simple matter that she did not have to hide what they were doing anymore calming her mind.
She glanced sideways at the woman’s crossed legs, at the mere hint of breasts beneath the uniform, her lips, her eyelashes as she blinked...
Brenda swallowed and blinked herself, a memory surfacing at the most inopportune moment.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t gone then, not completely, it lingered still yet Brenda found herself in control, she had taken back the reigns and it seemed like Sharon had done the same.
Of course she had, the blonde thought, the woman had dumped her - message received loud and clear.
“So,” Sharon said, a fingertip tracing the rim of her glass. “How was your New Year’s Eve, Chief Johnson? Did you celebrate?”
Brenda bit her tongue, something she hadn’t been very good at in the past when in the other woman’s presence - no more though, she thought, and mulled the question over in her head.
Sharon was very hard to read yet sometimes she was painfully obvious; however, Brenda concluded, today she wasn’t the latter.
The blonde licked her bottom lip and decided to go with the truth, see where it led them.
“It was very nice, thank you. My parents and I spent a quiet evenin’ at home, watchin’ old movies...” She trailed off.
“Sounds great,” Sharon meant it, Brenda could tell.
“I cooked dinner, just so my Mama could have a little break...” She trailed off again. The blonde narrowed her eyes, wondering how much she should truly reveal yet couldn’t see the harm in allowing the woman at least a glimpse into her private life. “Clams...”
The brunette smiled, surprised.
“How was yours?”
Sharon adopted a musing expression, her eyes narrowed, her lips curling at the corners and then she said, to Brenda’s amusement, “Very, very quiet.”
“I thought you had plans?”
“They were my plans,” the brunette turned back which, Brenda thought, was as much of an admittance of defeat as she was going to get and turned back around as well. “I opened a bottle of wine, listened to Tchaikovsky, cooked a wonderful dinner...”
Sharon smiled at her, pleased with herself, before she picked up her glass and tilted her head in an inviting fashion. Brenda decided to humor the woman yet couldn’t help but smile back as she picked up her own glass and clinked it against Sharon’s.
“To new beginnings...”
The blonde mulled the words over as Sharon drank and decided that yes, indeed, this was new. She had no idea where it was going but found herself curiously infatuated with this new way of being. “To new beginnings,” she echoed and took a long sip.
“Can I talk to you for a sec?”
Both women turned around at the voice, Sharon with a more alarmed expression than Brenda, and came face to face with what the blonde assumed to be former Officer Crawley.
Sharon surveyed him for a moment, her eyes slowly creeping up his body. “I don’t think that there is anything you and I have to discuss.”
“Look,” he wanted to step closer but Sharon slid off her chair. “Look,” he started over, “I’m getting help now, alright?”
“Yet here you are, in a bar.”
“Can we just talk?”
“No.” Sharon picked up her glass, Brenda watched her, and made to move around the guy.
“Whatever is happening to you, isn’t my fault,” the brunette said slowly. “You brought it all on yourself.”
The blonde’s eyes darted to Officer Creepy and she instinctively intervened. “Captain,” she said softly, sliding off her chair as well. “I’m sure Officer Crawley was just tryin’ to have a friendly conversation,” she glared at him. “But obviously this is neither the time nor the place for it.”
“Hey, buddy,” Sergeant Elliott piped up. “How about you back off?”
“Gentlemen!” Brenda said loudly. “Please. The Chief of Police is about to roll in here and I’m sure no one wants to look like a fool when he does. So, I suggest you, Officer, go on home and visit Captain Raydor in her office next week and you sit back down because if you don’t have anythin’ nice to say, Sergeant, it’s usually better not to say anythin’ at all.”
Elliott stared at her for a moment then he seemed to decide that it was better to obey what sounded like an order and planted his behind back on his bar chair.
“Officer,” Brenda adopted a stern gaze. “Go. Home.”
Crawley put his hands on his hips, his jaw muscles flexing, he took a look around the suddenly quiet room then took off without another word.
The blonde released a breath, her heart pounding away in her chest and turned to the Captain beside her. “Y’know, Sharon, it’s sometimes beneficial not to attack a suspect as soon as they open their mouth.”
“Oh, please,” Sharon rolled her eyes and sat back onto her stool at the bar. “I would’ve loved to see him slip up in a bar full of cops.”
“And put yourself in harm’s way?”
“She’s right, Captain,” Elliott said, nodding. “I’m sorry to say, but he’s a lunatic.”
Brenda lifted her eyebrow - told you so.
“Fine,” Sharon threw her hands up and turned around on her chair, picking up her glass of wine. “But it’s not like he’s breaking any laws.”
“Yet,” Brenda mumbled under her breath. “Next time you see him, Cap’n, you should arrest him on the spot.”
Elliott nodded, smirking. “Agreed.”
“See? Even your Sergeant’s talking sense.”
The brunette rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. “Did Agent Howard mention when the guests of honor will be arriving?” She said with a somewhat sarcastic undertone.
Brenda exchanged one last glance with Elliott, who then minded his own business, and slid back onto her chair. “No idea.” She shrugged, tracing a scratch on the bar top with her finger.
“You don’t know that,” the blonde retorted immediately. “He’s been harassin’ you, he’s been followin’ you round, he’s even showed up at your house.”
“He was drunk.”
“And you believe that nonsense he just spouted? That was a good helpin’ of bourbon if I ever smelled one.”
Sharon tapped her fingers against her wine glass, momentarily silent as her eyes swept from one bottle to another on the shelf behind the bar then slumped forward somewhat and sighed. “Fine...yes, he is out of control but there is nothing I can do about it.”
Brenda watched her and wondered if Sharon was actually scared.
“Not yet anyway.”
“Well, Cap’n, you don’t sound very optimistic.”
Sharon pursed her lips a little. “Do I ever?”
The blonde smirked. “I’ve heard a word of encouragement or two...” Brenda dropped the smile and swallowed - she hadn’t meant it to sound that way...or had she?
Sharon merely tilted her head slightly in a mixture of ‘what are you doing?’ and ‘did you really just go there?’
“I’m still gettin’ used to this,” Brenda explained, knowing Sharon understood. “Us bein’ friendly, I mean.”
The brunette sighed yet again and leaned her head against her palm. “Me too.” She smiled slightly, “but hey, it’s working a treat, don’t you think?”
Brenda smiled back. “Now, see? That was very optimistic of you, Cap’n.”
“Hmm?” The blonde lifted her eyebrows, having heard correctly.
“Sharon,” the brunette nodded to herself and held out her hand.
Smoothing her hair back into place in a somewhat embarrassed gesture, the blonde grasped the offered hand. “Brenda,” she said and smiled at the warmth of Sharon’s fingers and palm.
“Am I interrupting?”
Brenda did well not to snatch her hand away as Fritz suddenly appeared. “No, not at all,” she exclaimed with all the calm in the world, sliding her hand smoothly out of Sharon’s. “The Captain and I were just burying the hatchet.”
“Ah,” Fritz commented and gave Raydor a tight nod. “Captain.”
“Agent Howard,” the brunette seemed fine, much less ill at ease than the last time they had run into each other, Brenda thought. “Congratulations. I heard they gave you a bigger office for the occasion.”
Brenda glanced at Fritz whose eyes wouldn’t leave Raydor.
“They did,” he said evenly. “Much nicer view, too.”
Brenda chuckled and so did Sharon.
“Would you care for a drink, Agent Howard?”
“No, thanks...I’ll get my own.”
The blonde grimaced at the very short lived taste of peace.
“So...” Fritz leaned onto the bar top, waving for the bartender. “Your son applied for a transfer.”
Brenda swallowed heavily, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable.
“Has he now?” Sharon seemed nonchalant.
But then again, Brenda thought with a raised eyebrow...
“My division, too. How about that?”
“How about that...” the brunette echoed with a slight smile.
But then again, Brenda thought, she knew Sharon better than she cared to admit and that nonchalant expression was merely a means to hide how utterly out of her element she was.
“He’s been with the organized crime unit for so long...why the sudden change?”
Sharon wetted her lip a little and spoke with her most concise yet honeyed tone, “Perhaps you should ask him that, Agent Howard.”
“I sure will,” Fritz said and ordered himself a Ginger Ale.
Oh, well, Brenda glanced at Sharon while Sharon glanced at her - somehow she knew exactly what the brunette was thinking and vice versa, apparently.
If anything, the woman could read her, at least Brenda feared so.
She wasn’t the easiest person to read.
Brenda was somewhat proud of that.
At that very moment the door opened and Chief Delk waltzed in, smiling from ear to ear, the Assistant Director of the FBI right behind him.
“I better join them for a drink,” Fritz announced, “I’ll be right back.” He pecked Brenda on the cheek and followed the two men into the crowd.
The blonde sighed in relief and turned back toward the bar, not missing Sharon’s bemused expression.
“Yeah,” the brunette said, having been caught, “I wouldn’t want to schmooze with them either.”
“That’s what I’m known for; my great sense of humor.”
Brenda glared. “May I silence you with a drink?”
“I shouldn’t have any more...”
“Water? Ginger Ale? A coke?”
Sharon sighed, her eyes rolling towards the ceiling. “Tonic.”
Brenda looked at her for a moment then smirked, “Of course. The tartiest thang...”
“Oh, please...not everyone likes their beverage with an extra side of sugar.”
The blonde pursed her lips. “I’ll pretend I didn’t just hear you say that, Cap’n.” She waved at Sammy with a rather winning smile and ordered a Tonic, ice, one slice of lemon and a straw. Sharon didn’t like ice, usually. Perhaps it made her teeth hurt.
She did like straws however. Brenda frowned as the drink arrived before her and she slid it towards Sharon who wrapped her lips around the straw in a most decadent manner, mindful of her lipstick, and took a small sip.
Brenda nearly choked on her own saliva. “Chief Delk, how nice to see you!”
“Captain Raydor...” He nodded with a faint smile that Sharon returned.
“Wonderful speech, sir.”
The man’s chest puffed a bit. “Thank you,” he cleared his throat. “It’s been a very productive day. The FBI and the LAPD will undoubtedly work even closer together in the future.”
“Undoubtedly,” Sharon repeated.
Brenda nodded and bit her lip at the Captain’s all too familiar tone.
“Well,” he went on, “I will leave you to it.” He lifted his bottle of Miller in a silent salute, the bottle he hadn’t even taken a sip from but made him look as if he was slumming it with the rest of them. He slinked away.
The blonde watched him join the Deputy Director and Fritz, and then laugh at something. She rolled her eyes.
“I think we have fulfilled our obligation, Chief. Does that mean we can leave?”
Brenda blinked at the Captain who was innocently sipping away on her Tonic then her eyes wandered about the room.
She couldn’t see Will anywhere.
Oh, to hell with it...
“I need a ride.”
“And I have a car.”
Chapter 3: The Moon And We
The Moon And We
They had plotted their great escape in near silence, sending Sergeant Elliott ahead to see if the coast was clear then snuck out the back.
Brenda smirked, pleased, and put her hat back on, followed by her sunglasses as the L.A. evening blinded her with an orange gleam across the horizon.
“That was excellent, Chief.”
The blonde nodded, grateful for the sunglasses as her heart hammered away in her chest. She dared to glance at Sharon, her features relaxed, a devious glint in her eyes then turned away, staring into the blazing sun.
“What the heck is going on?”
Sharon pointed at a small crowd huddled around the driver’s side of a vehicle. “That’s my car,” she said and sped up.
Oh, boy, Brenda thought and trailed after her. She saw Sergeant Elliott amongst the four men and followed his gaze.
That’s all it said.
Wisely, the three officers cleared the scene, most attributed to the Captain’s more than scathing facial expression.
“Has anyone touched it?” Brenda asked.
“Not that I know of,” Elliott replied, still staring at the big scratches.
The blonde nodded and whipped her cell phone out. “I’m callin’ SID.”
“Chief,” Sharon grasped her wrist.
“No, no, no, Cap’n, you cannot let him get away with it.”
“Chief, it’s a keyed car.”
“This time,” Brenda raised her voice and snatched her hand away, “Next time he might find a different outlet for his anger.”
“It’s a keyed car.”
The blonde stared at Sharon, who stared right back, then sighed defeatedly. “Fine. But I am calling Lieutenant Tao.”
Brenda smirked. “He’s a former SID officer, he’ll know how to get prints off this thang and all.”
“Oh, for god’s sake!” Sharon nearly stomped her foot. “We don’t have time for this, Chief, I have to drive Sergeant Elliott home--”
“Don’t mind me,” he interjected.
“--who is going to a seminar tomorrow. And that is not up for debate, Sergeant!”
Brenda merely rolled her eyes - she wasn’t his Mama.
“Oh, yohoo!” She waved suddenly, startling everyone. “There’s your little friend. Maybe she can give you a ride? Yohooo! Yes, you! Come on over!” She pressed the phone to her ear. “Not you, lieutenant. I mean, yes, I do need you to come over but I also need you to bring your little bag of tricks if you don’t mind?”
Sharon sighed, defeated and decided to lean onto the hood of her car.
Brenda knew she had gotten her way. “See you later! Um, no, not you, Lieutenant, I meant Detective, um, Sergeant Elliott. Bye, bye! Bye, now...yes, you Lieutenant. Bye.” She hung up. “He’s comin’ over.”
“I gathered that. But, Chief, this is really unnecessary. If anything, we will find some partials, which is completely coincidental and all we will have accomplished is wasting precious time while you could be investigating a murder and I could be interviewing a witness. So, let’s do us both a favor and--”
Brenda put a smile on her face. “If you want to keep ignoring this, be my guest, I however will try to catch this guy...somebody has to look out for you if you refuse to do it yourself.”
The blonde swallowed at her sudden, somewhat emotional outburst. “Looks like we have a camera over there, Captain. How about you go and ask Sammy nicely if we can have the tape while I wait for Lieutenant Tao.”
Sharon threw her hands up in the air. “...fine.”
“Anything?” Brenda tapped the DVD case with her nails as she watched Tao pull yet another set of prints from the car.
“Yep,” he exclaimed triumphantly. “I have a partial palm print here.” He held it up. “Looks like somebody leaned against the car while they got up...like so,” he demonstrated.
Brenda nodded, her eyes falling onto Captain Raydor who had gone to visit neighboring businesses hoping for a different, camera surveilled angle of the parking lot.
“Nothing.” She announced, exhaling. “The store across has one but it hasn’t been working for a few weeks now.”
The blonde huffed - at least they had the video from the bar. Risking another glance at Sharon from behind her glasses, Brenda had to admit that perhaps this whole thing was a bit over the top.
Calling Tao away from a murder for a keyed car was definitely not her usual modus operandi - usually nothing would matter more than a dead person, correction: a murderer freely roaming the streets of Los Angeles.
But. Brenda glanced at Sharon who stood there, checking her watch yet again. But, as much as she tried to avoid the thought, perhaps Sharon was more important.
The thought was calming somehow because, Brenda realized, she didn’t exactly feel an obligation towards the woman or worse, as if she owed it to her after having slept with her.
This wasn’t that. This was different.
And that Crawler guy? He rubbed her entirely the wrong way.
“Chief, I really have to go now. I have a very time sensitive investigation on my hands and this,” she gestured at the car, “will have to wait.”
The blonde bit her lip and pulled the woman aside, away from prying ears. “Look, Sharon, I know this is none of my business--”
“--but...” Brenda cleared her throat. “I’m unhappy with how this situation has been handled. This guy is dangerous.”
“I know that,” Sharon urged quietly, “I’ve told one of my detectives to keep an eye on him but so far we have nothing to nail him with. And this?” She turned towards her vandalized Hyundai, “This isn’t it. And even if we can establish that he did it, which we all know he did, all that’s coming to him is a big, fat bill for a paint job.”
“Well,” Brenda tapped her food, “Then that’s at least somethin’.”
Sharon threw her hands in the air.
“Lieutenant? How’s it goin’?”
"Alright then, Lieutenant. Pick up Mr. Blake for questionin'. Tell him we found his car."
"Sanchez?" Provenza grumped as he pulled his jacket from the back of his chair.
"Yes, Chief?" He swiveled around in his chair.
"Compile a list of names for me. I wanna see how he reacts when he sees Pedro on there."
He nodded then lifted his hand, pointing at something. "Uh, Chief..."
Brenda whirled around. There stood Crawley, looking bored and as if all this was just some big pile of horse shit that he truly couldn't give a single damn about.
"In my office," Brenda ordered, even though he wasn't an officer anymore, but the blonde kept up the pretense because as far as he was concerned, Crawley was still a member of the LAPD.
Thankfully he followed her without making a scene. He looked rough, though. Hair unkempt and beard unshaven. He was in desperate need of a shower and his clothes could do with an extended visit to a launderette.
Rolling his eyes, he plopped into a chair.
"Now, let's cut to the chase here." Brenda made a show of opening a file they had compiled on him, mostly nonsense but he didn't know that. "This is Captain Raydor's car after you keyed it."
She slapped the photo onto the desk.
"These are your prints on the car."
"And this is video that we pulled from a surveillance camera across the street."
A nonexistent video and a partial palm print did not great evidence make but, Brenda argued, this wasn't a criminal investigation.
"Now, I know you'd been drinkin' that day, and I know you're tryin' your best what with goin' to AA but I think twelve steppin' only works if you own up to your mistakes and that's what this was, a mistake, wasn't it?"
Crawley said nothing.
"Fine." She closed the file, loudly. "Captain Raydor seems to want to give you the benefit of the doubt. She ain't out to ruin your career, contrary to popular belief, but maybe you've heard about how persuadin' I can be?" She smiled sweetly at him. "I can turn this thing into a criminal matter faster than you can say Jack Robinson."
He sighed, indulging her. "Look. There's a lot I could say about Raydor...and I know the two of you are kinda chummy 'n all--"
"Tick Tock, Officer."
"Fine! I'll write a cheque."
Brenda smiled again. "There's the bill." She watched him write it out, all $329.59 while she nibbled on some chocolate. He didn't seem fazed at all, writing neatly then tearing the cheque off and tossing it onto her desk with a condescending smile.
"Thank you, Officer."
He just chuckled and made for the door.
"See you soon, no doubt."
"Not if I see you first, Chief Johnson."
Brenda mulled over that comment long after he had gone. Something about his behavior didn't sit right with her. She looked at the cheque, turning it over and over then picked up the phone.
"FID, Raydor speaking."
The blonde leaned back in her chair, swiveling back and forth while unwrapping Reese's Pieces. "I got a cheque here for you for $329.59."
"Ha," Sharon laughed throatily. "That's bound to bounce."
"I'm sure it will."
Brenda nibbled on the chocolate and frowned. "He's plannin' something or he's got somethin' up his sleeve. I suggest you keep your eyes open."
Brenda cast a glance at the Murder Room then added, nonchalantly, "I have an application form here, for a CHO."
"Brenda..." Sharon sighed.
"It's already filled out."
"I just don't think we have grounds for--"
"You know that's not true!" Brenda interrupted. "It's a protective order, there's no burden of proof. And I just bet you, he won't even show up and default anyhow."
"And then what? A piece of paper isn't going to keep him permanently away from me, you know that just as much as I do."
The blonde was angry, furious and frustrated that Sharon wouldn't see sense. "At least then, when he shows up the next time, you can have him arrested for violatin' the order."
"...okay. Fine. Fax it."
"No, no, no," Brenda said, her voice low. "I'm comin' up with it and I won't leave until you've wrote out the affidavit." The blonde piled all she needed into a big heap and slammed the phone down.
And people called her difficult. Taking deep breaths, Brenda made to leave, ignoring the curious looks of Flynn who had, undoubtedly, heard an earful. On the elevator ride upstairs, the blonde tried to calm her nerves - some people just couldn't be helped.
And she was a police officer, a Captain, for heaven's sakes! Workin' in FID! Brenda had expected Sharon to be the first to follow procedure.
"Mornin'," she said sweetly as she burst into FID. "Oh, there she is! No need to get up, gentlemen." She swept past Elliott and Lieutenant what's-his-face, batting her eyelashes, and straight into Raydor's office.
"Mornin', Sharon." She dropped everything onto the desk before her.
"I am extremely busy."
"Well," Brenda replied evenly, "So am I." She sat without invitation and opened the first folder. "Here's the application. Now, I need you to tell me, exactly, what happened. And do not leave anything out."
Sharon glared at her, her eyes wide behind her glasses then they roamed around the room as they always did when she was trying to gather her thoughts. "Well."
"It all started last year, when a complaint had been made about Officer Crawley's conduct..."
Chapter 4: The Minor Objects
The Minor Objects
"You're acting like this is a life sentence!" Fritz stood in the kitchen, coffee mug in one hand and cell phone in the other, dressed in a suit and tie, and ready to go to work. "It's your federally mandated paid vacation time, one that you never take!"
"Forced vacation time," Brenda corrected. "And Pope's only makin' me take it because Delk is going on and on about overtime and budget meetins." The blonde pulled her feet up onto the chair she was sitting on, still in her pyjamas. "What am I s'posed to do?"
"Go out! Enjoy life! Call Provenza or Gabriel, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to have coffee."
Brenda bit her lip, refusing to comment. She wasn't the only one who had been forced to take time off - admittedly, she was the worst offender, according to Pope.
"Right, I'm going to work." He kissed her on the head.
"No need to rub it in," Brenda grumped for good measure. When Fritz had left, she picked up the phone and dialled Gabriel who picked up on the fifth ring - an eternity, really.
"I'm in Palm Springs, Chief."
"I didn't know you golfed, Detective."
David chuckled. "I don't but my dad seems to think I should carry on the family tradition."
"Oh...well..." Brenda swirled her finger around her breakfast ice cream bowl. "You go on and have a good time now."
"Thanks, Chief. You, too."
She called Flynn after that, just to see what was going on at Major Crimes. "Any new cases comin' in?"
"Nah," he said. "We're just picking up some of Robbery/Homicide's slack."
"Not really. I'm just running background on some homicide victim. Looks like a burglary gone wrong. Shot with his own gun."
"Sign of a struggle?"
"Hard to tell," he said, sounding bored. "What with the burglary, the house was a mess."
She dialled Provenza then. He had tickets for the movies tonight, with his girlfriend.
"We're seeing some French thing, I have no idea, Chief, but Barbara is French Canadian. It's all very artsy."
"You're goin' to see an artsy movie? In French?"
"Now, don't you start, Chief!"
She spent the rest of the morning not cleaning and not calling the only other person who she knew was also on forced vacation.
She probably has all sorts of fancy schmancy plans, swanning about town with her tons of friends. Amazin' restaurants, and all.
Brenda sulked, going over all the unfairness, bit by bit.
The blonde sucked her lower lip in. "Hi. It's me...Brenda."
"Oh!" Sharon exclaimed. "Brenda."
"What can I do for you? I-I was under the impression that you were on forced vacation as well."
Brenda couldn't help but chuckle at that. "So I'm not the only one callin' it that. Forced vacation."
"God!" Sharon groaned into the phone. "It's the worst!"
"Tell me about it. Taylor has my squad cleanin' up his leftovers while I'm banned from the buildin'!"
"Banned?" Sharon husked. "My, oh, my."
"I know," she mumbled. "I'm not that bad...no matter what Pope says."
She probably was, Brenda thought sullenly. "So..."
"So." Sharon repeated. "Oh, uh, my son's here."
"Yes," Sharon said, the smile audible in her voice. "We're having lunch."
Disappointed, Brenda nibbled on her fingernail.
"But I'm free tomorrow."
"Great! I'll make reservations."
Brenda rolled her eyes. "You keep doin' this to me, you know?"
"Well, Brenda," Sharon chuckled, "You're terrible at asking."
"What are you getting all, uh, how do you say?" Fritz stood behind her as she applied her make up. "Gussed up for?"
Brenda swiveled around, pouting her newly painted lips. "It's 'gussied', and I am not! B'sides, I'm goin' out to brunch."
"Yes." Brenda smiled, satisfied with her lipstick.
"You get a hold of Gabriel?"
"Golfin'," she said, "I'm meetin' Sharon at some swank place in Brentwood."
Brenda fluffed her hair. "She's on forced vacation, too. She knows some sort of French place..."
"Raydor," Fritz repeated evenly. "In Brentwood? They charge fifty dollars for a croissant."
The blonde rolled her eyes and gave up on her appearance - she looked as good as she possibly could without adding another half an hour on her hair. She had put rollers in when Fritz had been in the shower earlier and she had picked out her most casual yet most expensive looking outfit.
"Ooooh, I'm gonna be late!"
"I thought you were having brunch? It's only eight."
"I know that," she whined. "But I was gonna stop by work--"
"Brenda," Fritz said seriously. "You're banned from the building."
"And Chief Pope's in a meetin' at 8:30 so he'll never know."
Brenda poured over the newly acquired case file with waning interest. She always, always gave all her cases her very best but maybe this time off was wearing her down.
It had only been two days yet she could feel her gray matter deteriorating into slush and her body, restless, turn to a pile of goo.
"You are the worst!"
Brenda's eyes shot up and landed on Raydor who stood before her table in the patisserie style restaurant. "Just what Flynn's been practically ordered he's allowed to give me. Cold case file..."
"Any good?" Sharon pulled out a chair, right next to her and sat, crossing her legs.
The blonde couldn't help but stare at the bare skin, the hem of the dress ending just above the knee. "Nah." Brenda looked down again at the crime scene photos then shut the file and stuffed it into her purse. "Sorry."
"Oh, it's fine," Sharon said graciously.
They had coffee while they waited for their brunch. Sharon had ordered for them both.
Brenda chomped down on her lip as the waiter laid out their food. Croissants and freshly baked bread, jams and little chocolatey cakes, fruit and honey, butter...lots of it. And a glass of champagne.
"Oooh, this is nice!" Brenda popped a petit four into her mouth.
"Just what I needed," Sharon said. "I'm glad you called, actually."
"Oh, really?" The blonde asked, surprised, around a mouthful of bread. "You bored, too?"
"Not bored. Frustrated."
"With your forced vacation time?"
"With Chief Delk's lift of the promotion freeze."
Brenda frowned. "Why's that?" She asked and then said, before she could stop herself, "'Cause he ain't promotin' you?"
"Ha! No." Sharon dead-panned. "In case you have forgotten, I'm the women's coordinator of the LAPD and I have noticed that the only woman who may receive any promotion...is you."
"And you don't think I deserve it?" Brenda snatched a croissant; whatever Sharon's answer, it wouldn't bother her either way.
"On the contrary," the brunette said. "However," she added delicately, "there are about a handful of female officers who also deserve to move up another step on the ladder but, sadly, they have been overlooked."
As Sharon spread butter on her own croissant, Brenda couldn't help but watch, fascinated. She did eat more than salad then.
"So, I was thinking, since you seem to have a great relationship with the Chief, that maybe you could, shall we say, nudge him in the right direction."
"Great relationship?" Brenda snorted. "I don't think so."
"What do you mean?"
"If I weren't such an asset to him, he'd probably have a hard time toleratin' me." Pouting, Brenda ate more chocolate. "He thinks I'm reckless and impulsive and incapable of inter-departmental politics. Nevermind that the FBI hates my guts, the DEA can't stand me and the District Attorney's Office hangs straight up when I call."
Sharon grinned, champagne halfway to her lips. "That's not true! Look how well we work together."
"Very funny," Brenda grumped. "He knows what I'm capable of, just like Will, but the only reason he wants me as Assistant Chief is because he hates Will and realizes my value. Just like Pope. I'm 'difficult to manage', he says but he don't seem to have any problem pullin' me out as his trump card: 'remember that time I hired that woman from Atlanta? Didn't that work out a treat?'"
Sharon's face fell in disbelieve.
"Delk's got a rulebook stuck up his you know what...no offence."
"Funny thing is," she said with a broad smile. "That's why I was hired in the first place."
"What, the rules?"
Brenda nodded. "After the Rampart scandal, after Taylor...well," she leaned closer with a conspiring smile. "I know all about the rules, Sharon."
"Gosh," she said evenly. "For some reason I have a really hard time believing that."
"It's true. I probably know 'em better than you do," she licked chocolate off her thumb and glared at Sharon who was rolling her eyes. "I was hired because I get convictions, not just confessions, and that involves a very intimate understanding of the rules."
"And how to...bend them?"
"Nooo," Brenda said slowly, "it's about knowin' where the loopholes are."
"Ah." Sharon smiled. "And it's my job to close them."
"Hmm. We really do make each other's lives difficult."
The blonde nodded, agreeing, then watched Raydor eat her croissant. "Who are those female officers?"
"Oh? You wanna help?"
"I might get Will to be agreeable, depends how aggravated I'll decide to be about this whole forced vacation time."
Sharon grinned, her eyes shining behind her glasses. "Brenda. I like the way you think."
"So that's where you get all your little suits from," Brenda said, nose nearly pressed against the shop window. Beside her, Sharon nodded nonchalanty while she did something as plebeian as slurping soda through a straw.
"Wow," the blonde swooned. "I never knew that was here." The shop was full of high end designer clothes, second hand, believe it or not.
"Don't get me wrong, I splurge on shoes and handbags all the time," Sharon said evenly, "but I can't prance around a crime scene in a thousand dollar suit."
"Yeah," Brenda dead-panned, "Whatever would you do if you got blood on it?"
As the blonde's eyes roamed over a beautiful purse, Sharon cleared her throat.
"So. I showed you mine, where's yours?"
"Oh, c'mon," Sharon looked her up and down. "That vintage doesn't just happen."
Brenda nibbled on her lip then huffed. "China Town."
She nodded casually. "A gay guy with a passion for, well, whatever you'd call my wardrobe."
"You have to show me," Sharon gushed. "I promise I won't tell."
"Fine," Brenda trotted down the sidewalk, "But you have to get me coffee first." They entered the nearest coffee shop and Brenda was tempted to order something with a giant pile of cream on top but refrained.
Even though Sharon was drinking some sweet concotion, unbelievable, really, the blonde still couldn't bring herself to indulge that much. They stood in line, the skinny girl in front ordered a mocha with whipped cream.
"That sounds right up your alley."
"Hm? Oh, no, I shouldn't--"
Sharon ordered the mocha, with cream, and handed her the beverage with glee in her eyes. Brenda felt very transparent then but shrugged it off - Sharon kind of knew her, at least a little bit.
"Oh, shoot!" The blonde licked cream off her finger on their way out.
"Here," Sharon said and stopped next to the door. "Napkins."
"Thanks." Brenda put her drink down, turned and bumped straight into a guy. He brushed past her, went for the door--
He rushed out and walked, briskly, down the sidewalk.
"That's him, it's Crawley!" The blonde went after him. "Hey! Stop! Stop right now!" Crawley started running and that's when Brenda lost sight of him. Behind her, Sharon caught up with her, holding both their drinks. "I saw him!"
The blonde huffed, frustrated. "There. See? He violated the order."
"And what? We can't prove it. And besides, he might have been in there before us--"
"You know that's not true," Brenda said, taking her drink back. "He's followin' you 'round, Sharon, and the fact that he's gettin' this close worries me."
"What do you want me to do? Never go anywhere?"
"Of course not..." Staring down the road, where he had disappeared, Brenda came up empty.
After their successful first friendly lunch, Brenda had wondered whether it was actually in the realm of possibility that they were a perfect match for one another. Sergeant Elliott had once suggested that they were too much alike to get along.
So, if Sharon was anything like her - bad at friendship, bad at commitment, bad at interpersonal relationships - they were, indeed, doomed.
Thankfully, and Brenda patted herself on the back for that realization, Sharon and her weren't two peas in a pod. At all.
Men just liked to think of women that way.
Sharon was good at friendship, she was committed, and she was excellent at interpersonal relationships. If she were anything less, they wouldn't have made further lunch plans, for next week.
It was surprising, really, that the woman could stand to spend more than a minute with her. That she wanted to be friends, even.
Brenda nodded. "Yes, mama. I told you before that Sharon and I get on."
"Well, you haven't mentioned her since. I just thought you'd gotten busy..."
"I am busy," Brenda said, although it didn't look much like it at that point; all she had to occupy herself with was some cold case file and a piece of cake she had picked up on her morning run earlier. "And Sharon's busy, too, which is why she don't get mad at me if I can't make dinner."
"My," her mama swooned. "She was very nice. At Christmas, remember?"
"Yes, I remember, mama."
"And she's a great cook!"
"And she dresses like one of these Hollywood types--"
"--and she calls her parents every week."
"Mama," Brenda said, "d'you want me to ask Sharon if she'd like to be your daughter, too? She's so nice she might even agree to it."
"I'm sorry, Brenda Leigh, you know I didn't mean it like that."
Sighing, Brenda nodded to herself. "I know, mama."
"I'm just so happy that you've finally found a friend. Oh, I have to tell your daddy all about it! He thought," she said conspiringly, "that you and Sharon just worked together."
"We do. Sometimes. Our divisions don't really cross paths all that often." Brenda snorted, bemused. "Good thing, too, 'cause we don't get along at work."
Her mama made a tiny, curious noise in the back of her throat. "What an odd dynamic."
"Tell me about it."
Friends, then. Brenda smiled so wide her face hurt because, for once, she had actually met somebody who thought she was worth their while.
Chapter 5: The Second Lightest
The Second Lightest
Her phone rang that night as she sat curled up on the sofa with Fritz. They were watching his ballgame together and Brenda couldn't be more bored.
She tried to like baseball, really, she did, but never in her life had she been forced to watch such a long winded process.
Worse than office politics. Slower than the DA's office. Snail's pace.
So when her phone rang, Brenda lunged for it immediately. Fritz glared but she chose to stay ignorant to his blatant disapproval.
"Yes?" She sounded eager, even to her own ears. "Hello?"
"Brenda." It was Sharon. "This isn't a bad time, I hope."
"No...no...just, um, watchin' the ballgame, is all."
The brunette was silent as the seconds ticked by and Brenda could just about imagine her, sitting there, calculating her tone and processing the information.
"Oh," Sharon settled on saying and Brenda was grateful - yes, grateful - for the woman's outstanding powers of observation and the tiny, little fact that she knew Brenda better than, well, most people.
"Yes. So." She glanced at Fritz. "What can I do for you, Sharon? Not a work call, I hope." What a big fat lie, Brenda thought to herself, what she wouldn't give for a body or two.
"Oh, no. Actually, I'm in a bit of pickle."
"You see, I was going to go to the ballet tomorrow with my friend but he had to cancel. Some sort of work emergency. And I was wondering if you--"
"Yes!" Brenda interrupted. "I'd love to. Haven't been to the ballet in years!"
"Oh, great!" Sharon sounded relieved, as if she had expected Brenda to say thanks, but no thanks. "Dinner beforehand? I have reservations already and that place is notoriously difficult to get into."
"Dinner?" She glanced at Fritz again who, by then, looked at her in disbelieve. "Sure. Um, do you wanna meet there, or..?"
"I'll text you the address. Six o'clock?"
Brenda smiled. "Six o'clock it is!"
"Okay, great. Um." Sharon chuckled, the sound barely concealing her self-conciousness. "Bye, Brenda."
"Bye, bye now." She hung up and mashed her mouth shut, the phone back in its spot on the coffee table.
"Gosh," Fritz said evenly, still looking at her as if she had been miraculously replaced by an alien. "And to think you actually hate that woman."
Contrite, Brenda crossed her arms and flung herself onto the sofa cusions. "You can mock me all you like but may I remind you who has been goin' on and on at me about findin' friends? You, as far as I recall."
"Yeah?" Fritz pressed play to resume the game he had paused. "Couldn't you have found somebody else?"
"No," Brenda said. "'Sides, you don't get to pick my friends...or friend."
He snorted at that, angry, and watched his game while Brenda was left to contemplate her wardrobe.
"How do you afford these places?" Brenda whined over the menu.
"I don't have a mortgage," Sharon said from right across. "And I've spent the last ten years, mostly successfully, disentangling my finances from my husband's."
"I felt that way about my first husband." Brenda bit her lip, blushing at the unusually intimate details she was divulging. "We weren't married long but I always felt a bit like his cash cow."
"I became a cop to help my husband through law school. Only 'til he passed the bar, he said, but instead he ended up in one."
"Oh, my," Brenda murmured.
"And then he gambled away all of our savings--"
"--and then he cheated on me with his secretary."
Brenda swallowed, hard, and put the menu down. "I think I'm havin' the risotto."
"Me, too. And a glass of Chardonnay."
As they waited for their food, Brenda tried to come up with things to say. She found it easier to converse with criminals, they didn't have expectations but Sharon was different. They had never made the effort and talked, not much anyway. Conversations had included hotel room numbers and time tables.
After further contemplation, Brenda realized that that wasn't entirely true. They had talked, and not just about work. Intimate conversations, things that usually required a great deal of trust in the person sitting opposite you. The blonde mulled that over for a moment, while the silence stretched. She felt rather stupid for sitting there, mute, when she had tons of things to say.
This woman wasn't a stranger. She knew her, intimately.
Her green eyes and how they sparkled with mirth, how they shone with unshed tears. Sharon's laugh, throaty and bemusingly uncouth. Her favorite robe. The silk one that was a bit short.
Her dislike of anything cilantro.
That her favorite color was purple - not violet, but purple.
Brenda blinked, lost in thought, and realized she was smiling. "Oh. Just really like your dress. You always look great in purple."
Sharon looked down at herself then back at Brenda, her eyes wide. "Oh." A blush crept over her features. "Thank you."
"So? Who cancelled on you?"
Sharon said his name as if it should ring a bell, however, it did not. "Who?"
"I never knew his name..."
"He said it about fifty thousand times in court. He spelled it. Right in front of you."
Brenda bit down on her lip and was grateful when the waiter arrived with the wine. Merlot for her. A great vintage, too. Completely wrong to have with the risotto, of course. Sharon cared, Brenda didn't.
"So, you're friends?"
Sharon smirked, wine glass halfway to her lips, and said, airily, "Since I told him that I'm gay and he decided to introduce me to this fabulous lifestyle."
Brenda chuckled, she couldn't help it and was pleased when the brunette smiled at her - that warm smile that always made Brenda's toes tingle.
"He takes me to all the best places. Apparently."
The blonde guffawed and drank her wine which, she discovered, was delicious.
"So. Brenda. You've been to the ballet before?"
Brenda nodded. Should she lie? Instead she went with a half truth. "Been to Russia a coupla times, is all."
"Wow!" Sharon exclaimed. "That must've been--" She stopped abruptly, realization dawning, then nodded slowly. "Oh. Okay. Ha."
"Yeah," Brenda said, eyes scanning the restaurant. "That was quite somethin'."
"I can imagine."
"You're a big ballet fan then?"
"Oh, yes. My daughter is a dancer. A ballerina in fact. In New York."
"That sounds excitin'."
Sharon shrugged. "It isn't, really. She's always broke and complaining about her work hours. But, I guess, she's doing what she loves, which not a lot of us can say."
"I can't say I love what I do, that would be morbid," Brenda grumped. "But I can't imagine myself doin' anythin' else. You said you were only a cop to help pay for your husband's law degree."
"Oh, yes. I wanted to be a lawyer myself but once we, uh, ended up with all these financial burdens, and the kids, well, I guess I just settled for this."
Brenda saw the regret in Sharon's eyes, an opportunity missed, a dream unrealized, a life never lived. "From where I'm standin'," she said quietly, "all I see is someone who is very passionate about what she's doin'. Someone with work ethic and drive. Someone who tries to be the best, every day."
Shrugging, Brenda picked up her glass again. "Don't seem to me like it's turned out all that bad in the end."
After a moment, Sharon smiled, her eyes dancing around the room, contemplating. "I suppose. And, yes, I am very passionate about my work. As are you."
"I think that's why Pope thought we'd be best buds or somethin'."
"Because we're both women," Sharon said evenly. "Or because we're both driven bitches, our sole purpose is to inconvenience him."
"Ha! I like that!"
Sharon lifted her glass and clinked it against hers. "To bitches everywhere."
The ballet was great. The seats, too, which Sharon insisted were paid for - Jonathon's treat.
Sharon knew a great many things about ballet and, for once, Brenda felt contend to just listen. It gave her a chance to gather some intel, as Fritz liked to call it.
He thought she was always on a mission - quite telling, really, considering that this was his opinion of how she conducted relationships. Most of the time, and that was something perhaps even Fritz wasn't aware of, she found what people said, and then did, immensely fascinating.
Sharon was a walking contradiction. A rotten liar, too.
"What is it?"
Brenda shrugged and smiled. "Just thought you'd win jack at poker, is all."
"Poker?" Sharon chuckled as they made their way out of the theatre. "I'm the worst! How did you know?"
"Somethin' I picked up in Russia."
"You've lost me."
Brenda smiled again. "Don't worry, Sharon, s'not a bad thing."
The brunette said nothing, perhaps mulling it all over, trying to figure out what exactly Brenda had meant then she said, "Coffee? As we don't have to get up for work tomorrow."
The blonde nodded before she could overthink it - besides, Fritz was at home, with his bad mood. Nevermind that the reason for his mood stood right there. "Sounds fun!"
"Okay," Sharon said, her voice cheerful and light. "We can go to my place if you like...or we could, uh, go to--"
"Your place," Brenda said as they approached the car park, handing their tickets to the valet.
"Oh," the young guy said, looking at the tickets. "Uh, there's a problem with your vehicle," he said to Sharon. "It has a flat."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Do you have a spare? I could change it for you, no problem."
A flat. Brenda trailed behind Sharon, a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She could tell that the brunette thought the same thing, hoping against her gut feeling that it was just a coincidence.
The car was parked at the back right next to the chain link fence. The space to its left was unoccupied. Brenda looked up, searching for cameras, just in case, and found one attached to the fence, right beneath a broken lamp.
It was immediately visible that the front left tire was flat and Brenda, perhaps much to Sharon's annoyance, bent right down, flash light at the ready.
"Slashed," she concluded.
"What?" The young guy said. "But no one's allowed in here."
That was of little importance to Brenda.
"What do you want me to do?" Sharon said before the blonde could launch into a diatribe. "There is no proof, no evidence that he did this, and I'm pretty sure that, after you had him for keying my car, he was careful enough to wear gloves."
"I don't think so. He's emotionally--"
"Brenda." Sharon sighed mightily. "Let's just change the tire."
"For heaven's sakes," the blonde muttered under her breath. "I'm just worried, is all."
"Look," Sharon said sternly. "I had a great time tonight and I'd rather not let this ruin it."
Reluctantly, Brenda agreed, rubbing her eyebrow. She was desperate to ask the guy - Shane, according to his name tag - how Crawley did get in here. The fence was barb-wired, there was only one entrance and exit, at least four more guys in forest green jackets valeting cars.
She eyed Shane as he changed the tire, being super extra helpful and super extra nice.
She would have to come back tomorrow, just so Sharon wouldn't find out, and squeeze it out of the boy.
"Did you see the ballet?" He asked, making small talk.
Brenda wanted to tell him to shut it - she could change a tire herself, thank you very much - but Sharon remained pleasant and she didn't want her good mood ruined by something as minor as this.
"I've never been," he said, tightening the nuts. "You guys on a date?"
"Yes," Brenda said immediately, glaring at Sharon who looked most contrite. "Third one!"
"Oh," he smiled. "How did you meet?"
"We work together," the blonde smiled sugary. "At the LAPD."
"Oh." That shut him up.
Chapter 6: The Dead-End Middle
The Dead-End Middle
Sharon squinted as another plume of black smoke wafted her way. Her eyes had given up and stopped watering about an hour ago, instead they felt dry and grainy.
She could tell she stunk - if one could smell themselves...well. She stunk and no amount of dry cleaning could ever get rid of that smell. Sharon sighed; she might as well shove it all in the trash and be done with it.
Averting her gaze from the smoldering ashes before her, Sharon's eyes landed upon Louie. The Lieutenant was ripping and tearing at her red crime scene tape and, of course, doubled his efforts once he realized he had an audience. Gleefully he motioned for Gabriel to come along with their tape to secure the perimeter.
It wasn't a question, or even a greeting, but more of a way to set the tone - not Sharon and Brenda, not tonight.
"Chief," Sharon said, but it came out as more of a rasp.
"Boy," Brenda guffawed. "That's almost as big as the bonfire we had at my aunt Isabelle's for Christmas one year!"
Sharon lifted her eyebrows at the humored chuckle beside her then glanced at Brenda, unable to help herself, and asked, "Bonfire? For Christmas?"
"A tradition," Brenda said. "In Louisiana."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
The blonde didn't bite and Sharon was somewhat grateful; she wasn't in the mood for one of their bantered discussions.
"So. Cap'n, what happened here?"
Sharon took a deep breath. "That is a very long story."
Brenda smiled at her then said, "Don't leave anything out on my account, Cap'n."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Chief Johnson."
Sharon looked up from her pile of paperwork at a young woman. "Detective Oseida, Narcotics," she said and entered the office.
"How can I help, Detective?" Sharon could tell she was all business. "Have a seat."
Oseida lowered herself slowly into a chair, features stoney. "We've got a...situation."
"A situation? And I'm assuming you have been carefully selected by your Captain to bring this situation to my attention?"
"You could say that."
The ice was broken; Sharon smiled a little.
"Here," Oseida handed her a thick file.
Sharon opened it at once and discovered several photographs and reports. "What am I looking at?"
"What were you looking at?" Brenda asked immediately, her lack of patience more irritating than usual.
Sharon rolled her eyes and reached into her car to retrieve the file in question. "Jack Prince is a meth dealer and manufacturer."
"What's he done to gain your attention?" The blonde asked absent-mindedly, her eyes scanning the pages already.
"He's a supplier," Oseida said.
"I'm sorry, Detective, but I still don't know how Mister Prince's meth manufacturing pertains to any of FID's open cases."
"Here's the thing..."
"Yes?" Sharon said, prompting, and looking at the photo of Prince. He looked more like a business man than a criminal, right down to the suit and matching tie.
"Prince is working with someone within the LAPD."
"Who is it?" Brenda asked immediately. "And why haven't they been arrested?"
"Jason Tolliver. He was supposed to be here tonight."
"He might be our body in there," Brenda nodded to the warehouse.
"That's for you to find out."
"And who is this Tolliver character anyhow?"
"He's been with Vice for about three years. We suspect he came into contact with Prince then. Prince is running a little prostitution ring as a side business."
"You could say that," Oseida grumped. "Tolliver feeds him information, we know that much. How, we don't know."
"And you want me to find out," Sharon concluded.
"You have avenues we can't pursue." Oseida averted her gaze. "He's applied for a transfer to Narcotics which may be granted."
"Chief Pope seems to think it's a good idea."
"Chief Pope knew all about this?"
"No?" Brenda stared at her then the knowing glint sparked in her eyes. "Narcotics went over Will's head."
Sharon could tell what Brenda thought. "I did not know that at the time," she said firmly. "In hindsight I should have suspected it." Why else would they ask FID to come to their rescue so fortuitously?
"Then what did you do?"
"We investigated Tolliver and several of his cronies. We've arrested them earlier this evening."
"We lost him."
Sharon sighed mightily. "Gone."
Brenda looked at her, long and hard. Sharon knew that stare, inquisitive and uncomfortably scrutinizing. "So, what's all this?" The blonde gestured to the burnt down building, the hoard of firemen, police officers, ambulances, SWAT team, riot van...and Provenza with the tape.
Sharon swallowed her initial response, her obvious failing laid out before her and highlighted by the crass flash of police lights.
She decided not to say anything. There was no answer, really, that would even remotely satisfy Brenda. But what ever did? There were always more questions.
"You know what?" Brenda said. "How 'bout I see if we just found your Mr. Tolliver and then we talk."
"Okay," Sharon said softly, her throat sore, and watched Brenda walk into the storm.
It was three hours later that Sharon received the news that it was indeed Tolliver. She didn't hear it from Brenda but Morales who had identified what was left of the man's teeth as those of Jason Tolliver. He was burnt to a mere crisp, no fingerprints, and it was only a matter of DNA to make it all official.
Sighing inwardly, Sharon put her phone away and focused on the goings on in Interview 2. Porter and Jenkins were questioning Officer Pratt, a young beat cop.
Everyone had lawyered up, and they had gotten nowhere. It seemed futile.
Sharon's mind wandered back to earlier...or should she say yesterday. She was glad Brenda hadn't asked how she knew the 'where' and 'when' yet the Chief's dismissive attitude gave her pause. Did the blonde know something that Sharon didn't?
She once overheard Brenda saying that she never asked questions she didn't know the answers to. Sharon tried to cling to that, stupidly, in the hopes that she could somehow get ahead of this. First though, she would need to figure out what exactly happened.
The 'when' and 'where' didn't matter, not in the big scheme of things. What mattered, Sharon thought, was how Prince knew.
And more importantly, who had told him?
It was just after 7 in the evening when her phone rang. Sharon had taken her first bite out of a soggy sandwich, her first meal, if you could call it that. She had been home briefly, right after leaving the crime scene, to change and wash the stench out of her hair.
"Please, tell me you have him, Sergeant," Sharon said immediately, dumping the sandwich in the trash.
"I have him," Elliott said on the other end of the line. "I took him to a motel on Vermont."
"Perfect!" Sharon leaned back in her chair and breathed a sigh of relief. "Did you tell anyone?"
There was a brief pause. "Shouldn't I have?"
Perhaps she should have worded it differently, Sharon thought, but Elliott she had to trust.
"I haven't," he said quietly and Sharon was inclined to believe him
"Keep it that way." Biting her lip, she ended the call. Leaning back in her chair, Sharon contemplated her next course of action. There were too may pieces of the puzzle still missing, and Sharon began to wonder whether she would ever see the completed picture.
Sighing, she stepped out into the bullpen and picked up the phone records they had acquired last week...before it all went to hell. Elliott's desk was meticulously organized; he was a very organized guy, a quality she appreciated.
Detective Samuels' desk, littered with rumpled pieces of paper, pens that had long stopped working, files haphazardly piled on top of one another, the half eaten donut, and the banana and apple he had brought in last week but had never eaten, created a juxtaposition so stark, Sharon always thought it made the mess of the one and the order of the other seem like two extremes.
Across, the two desks were occupied by Lieutenant Walter Peck, who had worked in FID for almost as long as she had, and Detective Julie Michaels, the new addition. She seemed to fit in and Sharon was grateful for it.
Detective Ben Acardi, her trustworthy tech wiz, occupied the largest space. He had three computers and he reigned over the printer.
Sharon suddenly felt quite queasy. They were all so, so trustworthy. She wanted to blame Michaels, she was new, and Sharon didn't feel as attached but how could she? She wasn't even sure, really.
Frowning, she gazed over the contents of Detective Bradley's desk, and Detective Osiecki's, and began to wonder what she actually knew about them. She knew Osiecki was catholic. They had discussed it once, at Christmas, when he had displayed a menorah. His father was jewish, so he celebrated both.
Walter, she knew, was divorced twice. He loved sports, or rather watching it. He went to basketball games, and football, and sometimes went to see the Dodgers play. He had a massive TV, or so Elliott had said.
Now Elliott, her right hand man, was a sweetheart. He reminded her of her own son in a way. He wasn't seeing anyone, Sharon could tell, not that she'd ever ask. He loved his mother very much and went to dinner at her house frequently. She had never heard him speak of his father.
Sharon sighed yet again and dropped the phone records onto her desk. Sergeant Elliott was supposed to go over them again tomorrow morning but she suspected he wouldn't catch a wink of sleep tonight babysitting their informant.
Plopping into her chair and opening the folder, Sharon realized she hadn't slept either. Just that nap at 4 in the morning, when she had hit a wall of exhaustion. Before her eyes, the words and numbers started swimming until it all turned into a garbled mess.
She also hadn't eaten, Sharon thought, and she couldn't remember when she last had a decent meal.
She couldn't think. And the more she tried, the less sense it all made.
But then, as she rubbed her tired eyes, the answer, so obvious, magically appeared.
Chapter 7: The Enemy Within
The Enemy Within
Sharon took a deep, deep breath to steel herself then lifted her arm and rapped on the door. It opened only seconds later, as if she were an expected visitor. Agent Howard looked at her, seemingly stunned, and before she could even say anything, he turned away.
"It's for you!" He yelled and walked away.
Sharon bit her lip. She hated coming here, and she hated even seeing the man. It wasn't his fault, obviously, he was entitled to his dislike of her after all, but a single look of his turned Sharon's stomach upside down with guilt.
You kissed my wife and I don't like you.
Good thing he didn't know about all the rest. Sharon frowned; sometimes she fantasized about telling him everything.
"Brenda, I mean, Chief," Sharon said uneasily, aware that Fritz was loitering in the living room. "I need your help."
Brenda's eyebrows shot up then she glanced at the file folders she was holding, and then said, "Come on in, Sharon."
Sharon, not Captain.
She nodded and stepped into the house, files pressed against her chest. She realized Brenda was out of her work clothes - no floral patterns, swishy skirts or vintage blazers. A t-shirt, jeans and barefoot instead. They went into the kitchen, away from the blaring sports news Fritz was watching.
"I only just got in myself," Brenda said. "Was gonna run to the store but now that you're here, I've got a good enough excuse not to go."
"I'm sorry," Sharon checked her watch almost as an afterthought. "I didn't realize the time."
"It's fine..." Brenda seemed ill at ease but, Sharon realized, it wasn't the fact that Fritz sat on the sofa, barely out of earshot, but the fact that she hadn't yet said what she needed help with.
"It's about the Tolliver thing."
Brenda slouched. "You know I can't talk to you about that," she lamented, her voice nasal and annoying.
"This is important." Sharon dropped the files on the kitchen table. "I think," she said slowly, dreading what was about to be said. "I think there's a leak...in my division."
"What makes you think it's yours and not Narcotics'?" Brenda asked immediately, her face blank.
"Because..." Sharon shrugged, the words not coming to her.
"Have you even slept? Or eaten?"
"I'm orderin' Chinese." She picked up her phone.
"You like Happy Family?"
Protest dying on her lips, Sharon practically fell onto the nearest chair. "How about Italian?"
Brenda looked at her, wide eyed, then shrugged - she had managed to surprise the blonde. "...sure."
"There's a nice Italian not far from my house. I'm sure you're still in the delivery zone." Sharon flicked through her contacts. "There's this new tapas and wine place, they deliver but I haven't tried it yet."
"We should go," Brenda said casually.
Pressing the phone against her ear, Sharon just hummed, avoiding having to answer. She ordered the clam linguine for Brenda without even asking, and the crab ravioli for herself.
"Garlic bread," Brenda mouthed.
"And garlic bread, please. Hang on," she covered the phone. "Agent Howard want anything?" It felt strange asking but her manners dictated she had to.
With the food ordered, Sharon hoped they'd get down to business but Brenda had wandered off. When she came back, she was holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a corkscrew in the other.
"Before you say it, one teensy tiny glass won't kill anyone."
With that choice taken away from her as well, Sharon merely took the glass wordlessly and sipped. It was lovely, actually. She had made fun of Brenda a great many times but in all honesty, her taste in wine wasn't all that bad. Neither was her taste in food, if you didn't take the excessive sugar consumption into consideration.
Brenda wasn't a particularly exciting eater, nor was she picky, exactly, but rather discerning. She didn't just eat for the sake of eating, contrary to what people thought.
"Right. Wanna tell me who exactly told you where Prince and Tolliver would be meetin'?"
Sharon rolled her eyes - an educated guess, maybe? "I have a CI. He's helped me on a case about a year ago. Prostitute. When I heard Prince was running a prostitution ring, I figured he might be able to help."
"And he knew about this meetin'?"
"Yes." Sharon opened a file. "This is him. JJ. Turned out he knew all about Prince. Apparently he'd even slept with him a few times."
"My..." Brenda breathed. "That explains the nice suits."
Sharon snorted. "That was entirely inappropriate."
"So. What then?"
"Elliott and I were looking for him for three days, then we hauled him in on a solicitation charge. We talked, he agreed to see what he could find out and we, in exchange, dropped the charges. See where the next cook would be, who was feeding information, how Prince and Tolliver were communicating, who else was involved. Anything, really."
"And he came back with what you thought was the grand prize."
"Well..." Sharon bit her lip.
"You know what just about baffles me?"
"Why, after findin' out all of this, you thought this was something FID had to investigate when this matter would've been far better suited for IAB or, say, Major Crimes?"
Sharon bit down on her initial response then said, carefully, "At that point I had realized that Narcotics had failed to adhere to proper procedure--"
"You were in over your head!"
"I was not. I was trying to get ahead of this before--"
"What?" Brenda said, hands on her hips. "Pope found out?"
It was true, Sharon admitted to herself - before Pope found out and humiliated her by giving the case to Major Crimes. "I am more than capable of conducting an investigation such as this one."
"And now look where we ended up," the blonde said, off-handedly, then shook her head and looked at her - she was exhausted, Sharon could tell. "That was uncalled for a-and I'm sorry. I just wish you'd asked me to help you. And, I have to say, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't, quite frankly."
"I know," Sharon said quietly and sighed. "We just don't get along at work." She tried a smile even though she was sure Brenda must see the truth in that statement as well.
"So." Brenda sat with her at the table, her mood seemingly improved. "The reason you're so adamant that the leak's in your division is the fact that no one knew about JJ or the meetin' until you told them, what, the day of?"
"Two hours prior."
"Coulda been a whole lotta people still. Two hours is a big enough window."
"I know that, and trust me, I'd rather it wasn't any of my people."
"But?" Brenda prodded and leaned across the table a bit.
"But...my gut just tells me that something isn't right."
The blonde looked at her for a long time then nodded, mind made up. "Has it ever occurred to you that the reason why Oseida really, really wanted you to investigate this was because she knew someone in your division was leakin' like a rusty bucket?"
Sharon felt her heart constrict within her chest - she hadn't. "Oh, god...do you think she's dirty?"
Brenda shrugged. "Either that, or she's very, very clever."
"Well, we'll have to make absolutely sure first."
"You have to trust me."
"I will. I do."
Brenda gave her a tight smile, one that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Where's your CI?"
"Elliott has him in a motel." Sharon traced the rim of her wine glass to hide the relief she felt. "I worried that, if the leak is in my house, something would happen to him."
"Like it did to Tolliver."
"Yes. Prince killed him because he wasn't useful anymore."
"We're still runnin' ballistics on the bullet we found between his eyes, see if it turns up anything."
Sharon snorted. "Probably a waste of time."
"Probably," Brenda agreed. "You trust Elliott?"
Sharon didn't have to think twice. "I do."
"Call him. Tell him to bring JJ in."
"You think that's a good idea?"
"I have a plan," Brenda said just as the doorbell rang. With a mysterious grin on her face, the blonde grabbed some cash for a tip and disappeared.
While the blonde dealt with the delivery, Sharon mulled things over. She wasn't entirely sure what Brenda had planned but, apparently, it would at least provide a corner piece of the puzzle.
In the living room, the TV switched off.
"I'll just get us some plates," Brenda said as she came back and handed Sharon the plastic bag containing their food. All she could smell was garlic, not unpleasant though, and Sharon only then realized how incredibly hungry she was.
Plates appeared, and silverware.
"I am starvin'!" Brenda declared, dumping the clam linguine onto her plate. "Tomorrow mornin'," she mumbled around a mouthful, "I'm comin' up to FID."
"And do what?"
"I need you to do, y'know, your thang."
Brenda's cheeks turned rosy, her eyes firmly trained on her food. "Darth Raydor...the Wicked Witch..."
"Oh," Sharon said and chuckled at the absurdity. "Okay, I can do that."
"You'll hate my guts."
"I will?" Sharon asked, mouth watering at the delicious scent emanating from her food.
"Oh, yes," Brenda vowed. "And I'll need to bring in Provenza. I need somebody to know what we're doin'."
Provenza? Sharon wanted to gag. "Ugh," she said uncharacteristically. "He's going to be unbearable over this."
"Sharon," Brenda said with a stern gaze. "They know what they're doin'...at least most of the time, and I need them to work your case so it won't look like I am."
"Okay, fine. What do I do?"
"You just go to work and look pretty."
"I hate you," Sharon said, then stared down at her ravioli. She heard Brenda sigh beside her then the blonde patted her knee. "This is such a mess."
"We'll straighten it out, you'll see."
Brenda had the good decency to look a little guilty, her lips thinning. It was a look Sharon had seen plenty of times. "I'll have Flynn set the whole thing up. And by tomorrow, we'll hopefully know more. Now," Brenda sounded all business then, "have your Sergeant bring in this JJ character on some bogus charge first thing and don't tell anyone. I'll be coming up at noon."
"Okay. Got it."
"We'll speak after. Meet me at the Italian we've been to that time."
Sharon swallowed; she remembered the place, then she remembered that Brenda's husband was just in the next room.
"He's gone to bed," Brenda said.
It shouldn't relieve her that much and, coming back to her earlier thought, Sharon wished he was still there to hear all the details of their supposed friendship. "Okay. Late lunch. 2 o'clock."
"In the meantime, I need you to get a warrant together for all of Narcotics' phones."
Sharon shook her head. "On what grounds? We don't have anything."
"That don't matter," Brenda refilled her wine glass and grinned nonchalantly. "Just make sure everyone knows about it."
"Ah," Sharon caught on. "To see if it gets back to them."
"And to dial the pressure up a notch. If it's anyone sittin' in your bullpen, it's our way of lettin' them know that we know."
"That's set, then," Sharon said, the ravioli suddenly tasting much nicer. "This is good. I didn't realize how hungry I was." With Fritz in bed, Sharon felt much more at ease. Looking at Brenda, she couldn't help but smile; it felt strange being 'friendly' yet, somehow, it made being in the woman's presence more than bearable.
Perhaps, Sharon thought, sex had, sadly, ruined things between them for a long time.
They could have been friends, Brenda had said so herself, once.
"Maybe, when all this is over, we can go."
Sharon shrugged, her eyes dancing all over the kitchen. A nervous tick, she knew that just as much as Brenda did. "The tapas place."
But Brenda smiled at her as she twirled her fork around her plate. "I think that's an excellent idea..."
Chapter 8: Sail On! Sail On!
Sail On! Sail On!
The next morning, Sergeant Elliott nodded at her knowingly.
The plan was about to be set into motion. Sharon took a deep breath for what felt like the hundredth time that day and wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt. She had picked out the Armani ensemble, it made her feel good - confident even - and she had spent extra time on her hair and make up.
She was ready to hate Brenda's guts today even though her insides felt as if they were about ready to drop right out of her. They had finalized their plan over dinner but Sharon would have preferred a rehearsal of some description; she hated going into things blind.
But then Brenda had been right - it had to look natural.
It was by 11:39 that she heard the commotion. She had refrained from staring in the direction of the door mostly successfully but as soon as Brenda came into view, Sharon couldn't help but spring out of her chair.
The Chief wore a grave expression, her big tote swinging violently back and forth, while Provenza trailed after her, red faced.
"Cap'n Raydor, you have somethin' I need," the blonde barreled before she had even come into her office. "JJ Medina. I need him, and I need him now."
"I'm sorry, Chief," Sharon said calmly. "Who?"
"Cap'n, I order you--"
"Do not use that tone with me."
Brenda's lips thinned. "Cap'n, all I'm tryin' to do here is figure out the mess y'all dropped yourselves into. So, if y'all could just hand over Mr. Medina--"
"We had to let him go," she interrupted while Brenda dropped her purse noisily onto a chair.
"Now why in the world would you do that?" The blonde asked in her most petulant voice.
"He was my informant, we had a deal. This is me upholding said deal."
"Oh, for heaven's sakes!"
"I'm sure, Chief Johnson, that with seasoned investigators such as Lieutenant Provenza here, you won't have any trouble finding JJ Medina yourself." Sharon smirked; she used to love using that tone with Brenda, it always got her hackles up, and for a brief moment she reveled in the antagonized contortion that was Chief Johnson's face.
Picking up her purse, Brenda gave her one last scathing look. "Lieutenant, with me!" The blonde tore out the door and through the bullpen.
"Ooooh, that woman!" She hissed, then she was gone.
Sharon just stood there for a moment, hands in her jacket pockets.
"Sergeant Elliott!" She called into the deathly silent room. "Please, release JJ Medina."
"Now," Sharon reiterated with a tiny smirk.
Sharon almost expected to have to wait but when she entered the restaurant, Brenda was already there, waving at her from across the room.
"Hi," the blonde said around a mouthful of bread. It looked like she had attacked the bread basket for the better part of fifteen minutes - only one roll left.
"I think I'm havin' a salad...less carbs."
"A salad?" Sharon squinted. "I'm talking about the case. Also," she added with a condescending look, "I think it's a little late for that salad anyway."
Brenda pouted at the jab and disappeared behind a menu. "My seasoned investigator, Lieutenant Provenza, is following Mr. Medina to his apartment as we speak." The blonde glanced at her over the rim of her reading glasses. "Did you have to call him that?"
"Just trying to keep in character, is all."
The waiter came and Brenda indeed ordered a Caesar salad.
"The same for me," Sharon said. "And a jug of tap water, please." When he left, she looked at Brenda, eyebrows raised.
"Flynn is going over the phone records still, maybe that'll turn up somethin'. And ballistics came back. 9mm, Tao is runnin' it now."
"Perfect. Although, the phone records proved to be useless. All we got was three burner cells that led absolutely nowhere."
"Well," Brenda said airily. "Can't hurt."
Sharon wanted to roll her eyes but refrained from doing so, then the blonde grabbed the last roll and took a huge bite. "What? You didn't want that, did you?"
"Nope, you go ahead."
Brenda smiled. "This is nice," she said, surprising them both. "I mean--um, it's nice. Us. Talkin'. This mornin' reminded me of how much I don't miss being...enemies."
"Enemies?" Sharon let out a laugh. "I never thought of you as my enemy, Brenda."
"Ha! That I like," she chuckled. "But, yes. I don't miss it either."
Later, when Sharon was about to leave because she couldn't justify another minute at the office, her phone vibrated with a text message.
'Found the gun. Been wiped but found print on magazine. Waiting for comparison.'
Biting her lip against the wave of anxiety, and perhaps a little bit of trepidation, even though this was good news, Sharon put on her jacket and grabbed her briefcase. Out in the bullpen, which was mostly deserted, except for the lone figure of Sergeant Elliott, Sharon stopped.
"Sergeant, time to go."
Startled, the young man looked up to her. "I was just going over the phone records, is all. See if we missed anything."
"Still. Time to go."
His handsome features transformed into a smile. "Sure thing, Captain."
She smiled back at him then left.
Sharon paced the length of her kitchen for the third time, waiting for the microwave to ding. She couldn't believe she resorted to frozen lasagna but the past few days had left little opportunity to shop.
Glancing at her watch again, Sharon decided to call the woman herself. How long could it take to compare a set of prints?
It had been two hours already!
The microwave dinged.
But Sharon reached for her phone instead. As she picked it off the kitchen counter, it began to ring in her hand.
"Yes?" She pressed the phone tightly against her ear, anxious.
"Prints came back to a Hector Martinez. Ring any bells?"
"He's Prince's right hand man."
Brenda sighed on the other end. "We picked him up an hour ago."
An hour ago? Sharon squinted at her watch. "Wait. How--"
"We need to talk."
Face to face, Sharon figured. "Okay. Where are you?" There was a knock on her door, timed perfectly. She bit her lip then hung up the phone.
Here goes nothing, Sharon thought to herself. Heart beating its way out of her chest, she approached her front door. Somewhere, in her gut, she knew that her world would fall to pieces. Somewhere in her gut she knew what Brenda was about to say to her.
"Sharon," Brenda said, and Sharon could tell from the look on her face, that her worst fears were about to come true.
The blonde closed the door behind herself, her big brown eyes betraying her guilt.
"Just tell me."
Brenda nibbled on her lip then sighed and dropped her purse onto the side table next to the door. "Hector tried to kill JJ."
Sharon released a mighty breath that she hadn't realized she had been holding. "So, there is a leak...in my division." Saying it out loud felt cruel, and Sharon couldn't stand to hear it. She turned away and went into the kitchen, her eyes stinging with tears.
Brenda followed her, her heels clacking across the hardwood and then the tiles in the kitchen.
"I'm sorry, Sharon."
"It's not your fault."
"I need to ask you..."
She mustered up the courage to turn around and face the other woman. "What is it?"
"Who went over the phone records?"
For a moment Sharon felt confused, then she said, "Sergeant Elliott. Wait--Oh, no. You're wrong."
"There was a fourth burner cell," Brenda said. "Untraceable, of course. But if we found it, we could--"
"But why would he hide it? Why, if it's untraceable?"
Brenda shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe he was worried that, if we found it--"
"Maybe it's all a big mistake," Sharon argued. "We should just talk to him. Ask him. If you arrest him, his career will be over."
"We're not arrestin' him. We don't have any evidence yet. In the meantime Lieutenant Provenza is puttin' together a search warrant--"
"Brenda, I'm telling you, you are wrong."
The blonde studied her and Sharon hoped the woman could see how much she believed what she had said, hoping it would change her mind too.
"What do you want me to do, Sharon?"
"Let me talk to him."
"You know I can't let you do that."
"Then let's do it together."
"Please," she begged with wide eyes and trembling lips. "Please."
Brenda hesitated. As a last resort, Sharon reached out and took the blonde's hand in her own. It was slightly clammy and cold but the hand squeezed back. She saw Brenda blush a rosy pink, her brown eyes averted at first then looking at their intertwined fingers.
Teeth bit down onto a plump lip then their gazes met.
A loud noise interrupted the moment. "What was that?" Sharon wondered out loud.
Brenda didn't answer but dropped her hand. With quick steps, the blonde went into the foyer and reached into her tote. She pulled out her gun and opened the door. Sharon was right behind her, hand resting on Brenda's shoulder as they stepped outside.
It was dark but Sharon could immediately see what had made the sound. Her driver's side car window was smashed.
Brenda lowered her gun as they detected no immediate threat.
"Great," Sharon said as they stepped closer. "After the paint job, the tire and now this, they'll think I'm completely unfit to own a car."
They both leaned in and looked inside. "Anything stolen?"
"Nothing in there to steal." Sharon opened the door from the inside. "You think this is a coincidence?" She looked back at Brenda who frowned at the shattered glass.
"Coincidence? I think someone really hates your car...or your guts."
Sharon slammed the door angrily, leaned against the car with a thud and then promptly burst into tears. First she felt embarrassed then utterly mortified, and then Brenda's arms enveloping her. She tucked her face into the blonde's neck and breathed hotly against the soft skin.
"We'll figure it out..." Brenda cooed and Sharon tried to remember, in all the time that she had known the woman, in all the time they had slept together, whether Brenda had ever hugged her.
"Now, pull yourself together, Raydor."
"Okay," Sharon hiccuped. "I am." She sucked in a series of deep breaths, fisting Brenda's poly blend top. It was then that Sharon felt 'not alright', that she missed their intimacy, that she missed Brenda, and she vowed that once this was over, she would go out to dinner with her.
"I'm fine now," Sharon said and drew back a little to look Brenda in the eye. "This isn't even worth calling in."
"You and I both know who did this and I think you should report it."
"Fine, fine," the blonde said dramatically, "I won't pester."
Sharon shook her head then looked back at her car. "I can't deal with this now," she said, finally.
"You'll have to let me look into Crawley when all this is over."
"That's hardly efficient use of Major Crimes' time, or yours."
Brenda just shrugged. "I'll have Provenza do it."
Rolling her eyes, Sharon trudged back into the house. "Fine. You have my permission, although I doubt it would've made a difference...knowing you." Inside, she slipped into a pair of heels.
"Where are you goin'?"
"With you," Sharon said and held up Brenda's purse. The blonde frowned but dropped her gun in it anyway. "Are you going to interview that Martinez character or what?"
"I was just on my way there," the blonde replied contritely. "What about Sergeant Elliott?"
What about him? Sharon gave it all of two seconds of introspection. "Do you trust me?"
"Sure. Of course I do." The answer was immediate, genuine, as far as Sharon could tell, and somewhere, deep down, it pleased her immensely.
"Then trust me to handle this." It was a lot to ask, especially of Brenda who, for the most part, seemed to only trust herself.
The blonde though nodded slowly. "Okay," she said. "Let's do this, Cap'n."
Chapter 9: Beginning With Bone
Beginning With Bone
If anyone thought it strange that their Chief deposited a highly strung and very severe looking Captain Raydor in the media room, they didn't let on.
Provenza, though, gave Sharon a long look. Not one of antagony but rather of curiosity.
On one screen she saw Julio and Flynn talking to her former informant, on another she saw Brenda and Martinez. Gabriel stood in the corner, looking angry.
Martinez hadn't asked for a lawyer not even realizing that he was a mere sitting duck for one Chief Johnson to hunt down. It was the perfect setup.
Until Fritz walked in.
Sharon looked at him and he looked at her, and she could tell he almost huffed in annoyance. She really shouldn't blame Brenda for this, but Sharon couldn't find it in herself not to.
"Excuse me," she said, the words out of her mouth before she could stop them, and stepped out and into the Murder Room. Lately, she couldn't even bear to be in the same building as him.
He hated her. Clearly.
She was hated plenty, but being despised for the job she did was completely different from being despised for kissing someone else's wife.
She wondered sometimes what had driven Brenda to do what they had done but no amount of puzzling had ever produced an answer. Somehow, she felt awful for the man - thankfully he didn't know the rest of it - yet somehow, she hated him right back.
It was such a startling and uncomfortable realization.
"It's not always black and white, Fritz!"
Sharon startled as Brenda breezed past her, followed by Agent Howard.
"You're the one who can't seem to see the bigger picture!" He said and slammed the door to Brenda's office. Not that it did anything to mute their argument, it muffled it at best.
Sharon crossed her arms as Provenza trundled in.
"What I see is a murderer!"
"How many people do you think Prince has killed, hm? Girls that disappear off the face of the earth. Addicts that die--"
"Prince is not my problem," Brenda interrupted. "My problem is Detective Tolliver, a police officer who's--"
"A dirty cop!"
"So now we're determinin' whose life is worth more by how good a person they were?"
Sharon bit her lip; she had seen that coming.
"You know that's not true." Fritz seemed to have run out of steam, or so Sharon thought, but it was merely the calm before the storm. "And what is she doing here?!" He pointed straight at her.
"Sharon happens to work here," Brenda said and Sharon wished in that instance, like so many times before, that the blonde had learned to refrain from having to have the last word.
"Right," Fritz said and then nearly ripped the door off its hinges.
So that's what it was all about, Sharon thought, and steeled herself. She hoped he'd just leave but deep down, in her gut, she knew that whatever he had always been too well mannered to say to her, was just simmering right there beneath the surface.
Sharon wasn't proven wrong. He made a beeline for her, his eyes angry and dark. "Just...just--" Fritz cut himself off. He looked at her, beathing heavily and then brushed past her.
Sharon stood impossibly still, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. Anything was preferable to this. Closing her eyes for a moment, she reached for the last shred of composure she had left then she saw Brenda, who looked furious.
"Not a word, Lieutenant," the blonde said to Provenza whose face was blank. "Come along now, Sharon, let's make sure a murderer is gettin' exactly what he deserves." And then, with a nonchalance that could only be mastered by one Brenda Johnson, the blonde breezed past them both towards the interview room.
Taking a shaky breath, Sharon decided to follow Brenda's lead. Her embarrassment abated somewhat, even as she looked at Provenza.
"I don't even wanna know," he said after a long moment. "By the way, your little CI is asking for you."
Sharon nodded stiffly. "Okay. Yes, thank you, Lieutenant."
Provenza lifted his eyebrows at her one last time then stalked off.
"Aren't you supposed to be at home," Sharon said bitterly, "With you husband?"
Brenda, who had knocked on her door for the second time that night, rolled her eyes mightily and practically barged into the house. "I happen to prefer your company, what with Fritz sulkin', but from the looks of thangs you're throwin' a pity party bash yourself."
Sharon glanced at the wine glass in her hand and thinned her lips to keep from speaking her mind. Fine, she thought, fine, if Brenda wanted to play it that way...fine. She slammed the door shut and walked away, into the living room.
She knew she was being petty, and Brenda didn't deserve it, on this occasion, but Fritz and his rightful anger had reminded Sharon that what they had done wasn't all Brenda's fault.
It was more of a joint effort.
"I'm trying to figure out what to do about Elliott, if you must know," she said evenly because it was mostly the truth, and sat on her couch, pulling her silk robe all the way down to her knees.
Not that Brenda hadn't seen it all. And really, Sharon berated herself, she needed to stop thinking like that.
"Believe it or not," Brenda snarked, "I came to see how you were, as we're tryin' to be friends but since you don't seem to be in the mood for my company, I might as well go."
Sharon rolled her eyes. "Brenda, if you're trying to guilt trip me, you have to try harder. I'm catholic, remember?"
The blonde snorted then plopped down on the smaller couch, instantly creating a mess with her giant purse and her airy trench, and reading glasses, everything spilling here, there and everywhere. "I did come here to see how you were doin'." She admitted softly. "'Cause I like you. And we both know there aren't a whole lotta people in Los Angeles County that I actually do like."
"Or like you, for that matter."
"My, aren't you just a barrel of laughs."
"Ha," Sharon chuckled. "Wine?"
"Just another reason why you're my favorite person."
Reaching for another glass, Sharon wrinkled her nose. "Now you're just laying it on too thick."
"Shoulda quit when I was ahead," Brenda said and shrugged.
Pouring the wine, Sharon wondered whether to mention what had happened earlier, with Fritz. Brenda didn't seem to want to. That's why she came, Sharon realized, to see how angry she was.
The brunette handed over the glass then studied the blonde with narrowed eyes. "So," she said casually. "Why aren't you at home, really?"
"I told you." Brenda bit her lip, stared into her wine glass then said, "I'm avoidin' Fritz."
"It all seemed to be gettin' better. He wasn't mentionin' it anymore."
"But now he is?"
"Not really," Brenda mumbled, a look of introspection crossing her features. "He's angry at me about somethin'. But it ain't that, or not just that, I'm sure."
Sharon lifted her eyebrows, prompting.
"I mighta been irritable."
"Irritable? You? I can't imagine."
The blonde looked away. "I've been havin' a hard time lately."
"After we broke--I mean, after we stopped seein' each other."
Sharon swallowed against her dry mouth; she wished she had left it alone. "Brenda..." She wasn't going to fall back into bed with the woman just because the blonde had a hard time getting over, well, whatever it was.
"I know, I know. This is awkward but honestly, it's not what you think. I just--I just sorta missed you."
"Missed me?" Sharon parroted.
"I'm sayin' it wrong!" Brenda whined and then looked away, cheeks pink. "Sharon," she said quietly, "I missed you, this, I guess and I was so angry at Fritz for takin' that away."
"You know that's not true. I took that away."
The blonde nodded. "I know. And it was the right decision. I was just angry at Fritz for not being what I thought I wanted but...I realize now that everything's how it's s'posed to be. You 'n I, we're not in love, we're not...anything. Just two people bein' selfish, is all."
Somehow, that stung a little.
"Well...I've felt awful for so long, Brenda, and I just couldn't--"
"I know," Brenda said morosely. "You're the better person, Sharon, 'cause I didn't feel bad one bit."
Sharon nodded, she knew that. She knew what Brenda was like. She knew that, if Fritz found out, she'd feel just as horrible but for as long as she could have kept this to herself, Brenda wouldn't have stopped.
Sometimes it sucked to be the grown up, Sharon thought.
"I should've felt awful. Maybe about Fritz. I should've felt awful for what I was doin' to you. So..."
Ah. "I'm sorry, too."
Brenda's bottom lip wobbled then she smiled a little. "Okay. Good, um--"
A loud knock interrupted whatever awkward thing Brenda had been about to say. Sharon made for the door and the blonde followed her, trailing a few steps behind her.
Sharon looked through the peep hole then opened the door with a sigh.
"Sergeant. Do you know what time it is?"
Elliott stood on her doorstep, fidgeting nervously. "I'm sorry, Captain." As he spotted Brenda, his eyes narrowed. "Uh, Chief. Um, sorry to interrupt."
"Can it wait 'til tomorrow?" She wanted him gone, especially with Brenda there who did exactly what Sharon expected her to do.
"Why don't you come on in, Sergeant? Sharon 'n I were just talkin', it'll keep 'til the mornin'."
"Brenda..." Sharon warned but the blonde put on her most sugary smile anyway.
Elliott seemed confused; confused about the situation, about the sugary smile, confused about 'Sharon' and 'Brenda'. He looked at her for guidance, and it broke Sharon's heart to give him a little nod.
"It's, uh, about the phone records," he said, his eyes awkwardly moving back and forth between the two women.
"I thought y'all had to hand over everythin' to Major Crimes, Sergeant."
"We did, I mean, we had a copy. I did, I mean."
Sharon couldn't watch it any longer. Before Brenda could continue her questioning, she jumped in. "What about the phone records, Sergeant?"
"Well, I just thought, you know, that it was strange," he said, his dark eyebrows furrowed. "How did they know we were coming? Right?"
Sharon looked at Brenda and Brenda looked right back.
"Have you shared this observation with anyone else?"
"No," he said immediately. "Just with you, obviously, and the Chief." He looked at them again. "What's all this about? I mean--JJ? What's up with that? And you and Chief Johnson--wait a minute! Are you two investigating--"
"We know about the burner cell," Brenda interrupted. "Now, Sergeant, can we move this conversation away from incoherent ramblins and perhaps focus on why it took you this long to mention it?"
Elliott looked scandalized. "Hey! I mean, Chief Johnson--ma'am. The thing is, oh gosh, I uh, I'm sorry, Captain, but when you told me to go over the records, well, I didn't."
That's when it dawned on Sharon. She couldn't ask, couldn't form the words and was grateful when Brenda did and put them all out of their misery.
"Then who did?"
"Um," Elliott looked away, ashamed. "Peck?"
It was late when Sharon wove her way through the Murder Room. Provenza was still at his desk, sparing her a mere glare as she walked past, but Brenda's light was still on in her office, and she could just about make out the Chief's silhouette, hunched over her desk.
When she reached the office, the door was open. Brenda was signing papers, her glasses perched low on her nose, almost slipping off. She had her hair tied into a loose ponytail, curls spilling over her right shoulder as she nibbled on her pen.
Sharon swallowed, pushing that soft, vulnerable feeling back into the pit of her stomach. She knocked on the door jamb and Brenda's eyes flew up, magnified by her reading glasses, big and brown.
"Hi," Sharon said with a smile that she hoped was inviting.
"Hi," Brenda drawled back and pulled her glasses down. "You headin' out?"
"I was about to but I was wondering, if, maybe, you'd like to come with."
"Come with where?"
Sharon bit her lip and forced herself to feel normal again. "I really need a drink," she declared. "And even though this is far from over, I thought tapas would be the perfect accompaniment for a bottle of red."
Brenda chuckled at her and stacked papers. She seemed to mull the invitation over and Sharon hoped she'd take it as an excuse not to finish whatever report she had to fill out.
"You know what?" Brenda said, her voice high pitched as if she herself couldn't believe what was coming out of her mouth. "Why not? I'm hungry. And people keep tellin' me I get cranky when I don't eat."
"Oooh, we wouldn't want that," Sharon snarked. "Follow me?"
"Ha," Brenda chuckled, getting out of her chair. "If you wanna get a bottle of wine in me, you're drivin'."
As the blonde shugged out of her beige cardigan, Sharon, for the first time since, well, ever, felt as if they were alone together, as if there wasn't this presence lurking somewhere in the shadows. Just the two of them, in Brenda's office.
"Here," Sharon pulled the trench off the hook and held it out. Brenda seemed to have no qualms about slipping into it as she held it out for her.
"Thanks," she drawled and picked up her purse. "This place better be good, Sharon."
They left together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. They bade Provenza goodnight and took the elevator downstairs. "What about your car?"
"Oh, we're takin' mine."
Brenda nodded. "I think you need that bottle more than I do. And b'sides, your car is missin' a window."
Sharon frowned then leaned back against the stainless steel wall of the elevator - maybe she did need that bottle. "I'm happy to inform you, that the Department has kindly lent me a very reliable and functional Crown Vic."
"You mean a rust bucket? From 1995?"
The brunette pulled a face. "Yes."
"I'll pick you up tomorrow. On my way."
"It's not really on your way, though."
The blonde shrugged nonchalantly and said nothing. Maybe she didn't mind going out of her way for Sharon.
The brunette smiled to herself, warmed somehow, and stared at her feet.
"Thank you. For your help."
The blonde blushed a little and nodded. She didn't take praise very well, or compliments for that matter, and remained mute.
Sharon smiled again as Brenda avoided her gaze.
Maybe this could actually work.
Later that night, Sharon wished she hadn't jinxed it.
Chapter 10: The Consequences of Pie
The Consequences of Pie
"I can't believe you had to double park for ten minutes just for this," Sharon said as they reached her front door.
"Just this? It's the best pie you'll ever have, I swear, Sharon. It was worth it."
The brunette rolled her eyes before she could help it and stuck the key in the lock. True to her word, Brenda had ordered a bottle of wine - and had made her drink most of it.
Sharon's head spun as they entered her house. Looking anywhere but straight ahead was out of the question. "I'm not even sure I can eat another bite."
"Course you can," Brenda insisted and closed the door behind them. "You ordered, could've left out the pork."
"Ugh," Sharon groaned. "But it all sounded sooo good!"
"I wouldn't know," the blonde grumped, "As the menu was all in Spanish."
"You've lived here for nearly seven years, I assumed somebody like you would at least pick up the basics."
"Not fair!" Brenda dumped her bag next to the table in the hall, pie carefully cradled in her arms. "Next time I'll take you to a Russian place, or German...or even Czech. Languages I actually do know how to order in."
"Ha! You know, the Department offers free language courses. Shouldn't be too difficult for someone who speaks Russian, German and Czech."
Brenda shrugged. "It's just what was useful at the time..."
"Never mind." Sharon sighed and took her jacket off.
The brunette squinted through her glasses at the pile of letters next to Brenda's giant tote. Then rolled her eyes. "The mail."
"I can see that," the blonde drawled nasally. "But this. It don't have a post stamp on it."
Indeed it didn't. Sharon tried to remember when she had brought that letter in - yesterday, probably. It was on the very top of the pile. Why hadn't she noticed?
Perhaps with everything that had been going on - Peck being questioned and subsequently arrested, his desk and everything on it declared evidence, and Brenda waltzing in, disseminating sensitive information - well, with all that, maybe Sharon had paid no attention to the letter.
The blonde, meanwhile, rummaged around in her bag until she produced a pair of gloves.
"What are you doing? You realize it's actually illegal to open somebody else's mail."
"For heaven's sakes, Sharon," Brenda grumped and picked up the letter. The typeface on the front was fairly nondescript. Black. Printed.
All it said was 'S. Raydor'. Brenda then proceeded to open the letter, carefully, and pulled out a white, folded sheet of paper. Inside, it said, in big bold letters: 'I SAW YOU'.
"Saw you where?" The blonde asked immediately.
Sharon shrugged, wracking her brain. "I have no idea." Then remembered. "I drove by his house once."
"Oooh, Sharon!" Brenda whined. "Whatever did you do that for?"
"I don't know...it was stupid, I wanted to see where he lived. I just thought...Christ."
The blonde folded the letter again and put it back into the envelope. She produced an evidence bag from her bottomless purse and put the letter in it.
"Do you always carry evidence bags around with you? And gloves?"
"Yes. Why wouldn't I?"
Why wouldn't she - Sharon repeated in her head, wishing she hadn't had the bottle of wine nearly to herself. "Okay," she then said, resignation settling into the pit of her stomach. "I've had enough. You win."
"Get it printed, swabbed for DNA, anything. I've had it with this guy."
Brenda nodded and pulled the gloves off. "I'll get it done."
"I'm sick of looking over my shoulder, of worrying--" Sharon tried to suck in a deep breath but found that she couldn't. "Oh, god!"
"Hey," Brenda said from somewhere far, far away. "Sharon." Then her hands were gripping her shoulders. "Calm down. Calm down."
"Okay," Sharon said, more to herself than Brenda. "Okay, okay."
She looked up and found Brenda's big, brown eyes staring right back at her, gaze stern and hard.
"I promise, Sharon."
"Okay," the brunette said again and reached out for the blonde's arms, holding onto them as her hands were holding onto Sharon's shoulders, grounding and safe.
Brenda's eyes turned harder. "I'll bury him."
The worry in her belly vanished and was instead replaced by a feeling of calm, of purpose because, for all the uncertainty Brenda had inspired in her before and afterwards, nothing had ever been uncertain when they had been together.
Sharon had always grasped for that feeling, flailing helplessly in her marriage, her life...until, well.
She leaned forward into Brenda's arms until the blonde bumped into the door and then further still, until their lips met.
Sharon kissed the blonde, selfishly holding onto that calm, that purpose, because it was all she had ever wanted, really. And Brenda kissed her back, hands in her hair, sucking on her lower lip, strung out and desperate.
Maybe it wasn't all in her head, Sharon thought, maybe she could allow herself to hope that--
But she couldn't. Because Brenda was married. Because Brenda was selfish and loved Fritz.
Sharon turned away, her fingers delicately touching her own lips. Had this really just happened? The brunette slammed her eyes shut and shook her head. "What are we doing?" She looked at Brenda, still slumped against the door, her own lipstick smeared onto the blonde's face.
"I am so sorry," Sharon said. "I've-I've had too much to drink, and I, uh..." She trailed off and wiped at her own, undoubtedly smeared lipstick.
"You know I'd never say no to you," Brenda murmured quietly.
Sharon did know that, sadly. "And I have to. Say no, that is."
And Brenda knew that, too.
"Okay," the brunette sucked a breath in anew and nodded to herself. "Maybe, if you find his prints on this, we can lock him up. He's not supposed to make any contact with me."
"Right," Brenda said. "I'll just--" She looked upset, Sharon could tell even though the blonde was usually difficult to read. Then Brenda brushed past her, into the bathroom and locked the door.
Her eyes fell onto the cherry pie sitting neatly atop her unopened mail.
Well, she thought. Well...
Brenda called her the next day, late at night, after Sharon had just about gotten over the awkward car ride that morning. She was still waiting for Elliott who had promised to drop off his finished report on his way home.
He worked too much and Sharon had begun to wonder if there was something bothering him. The whole ordeal with Peck had stung, especially since Elliott had sat right next to him for the better part of four years.
Maybe they could talk tonight.
"We found his prints all over the envelope and the letter itself."
"Okay," Sharon said slowly. "That was incredibly stupid of him."
"Well." Brenda breathed into the phone for a long moment then said, "The interestin' part is what's not on it. Which is your fingerprints."
"What do you mean? I picked up the mail, I brought it in myself."
"That's why I suggested to Chief Pope that we post a black and white outside your house until we find Crawley and arrest him."
"Oh, god," she mumbled. "When will they be here?" Sharon stood on her toes and glanced out of the kitchen window, unable to help herself.
"Half an hour. D'you want me to come over?"
"Uh." Yes, was the answer but Sharon, after what had happened last night, thought it better if they didn't see each other again. "No. Sergeant Elliott should be here any minute."
The brunette exhaled and wandered into her bedroom, checking for her gun. "Oh, god, he was in my house." The gun laid in her drawer, where she had left it but Sharon checked it nonetheless. "Do you have any idea where he is?"
"He wasn't at his house but we have an APB on him and his car."
Sharon opened her underwear drawer, just to be sure it hadn't been messed with but found everything in order.
Then there was a knock on the door and Sharon flooded with relief. "Elliott's here."
"Okay. Have him stay 'til the patrol car pulls up."
"I will. Thank you, Brenda."
Chapter 11: The Light-Bringer
Merry (belated) Christmas, everyone!
We are pretty much at the halfway mark now but a lot has yet to happen! I hope you're all enjoying it so far, even though it's crawling along at a snail's pace, but bear with me.
Now that I actually have some time off work (insert disco dance here), I'm hoping to make some progress on the sequel to this - cross all your fingers and toes for me!
Anyway, thank you for all the reading and reviewing, it is much appreciated!
Brenda looked up from her phone and at Fritz who leaned against the kitchen counter with a can of coke in his hand. He hardly ever drank it, he lived on coffee and tap water, usually.
"She has Sergeant Elliott there with her."
Fritz sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. "Can we watch TV now?"
"I just wanna wait, make sure the patrol car turns up." Brenda looked at her phone again. "I'm worried, is all." She had a hard time admitting it, especially to Fritz who felt less than favorably towards her friend. "I have a feelin' the first thing this guy will do, when he finds out we're lookin' for him, is get darned angry."
"And you think he's going to direct his anger at Raydor."
"My gut just tells me so."
Fritz nodded; he could relate to that.
In fact, her gut had not stopped churning all day which was why, when Tao had called to inform her of SID's findings, she had Flynn and Provenza knock on the guys door. She had had them sit there in front of it for the better part of the evening, waiting.
Her phone rang in her hand. It was Sharon. The patrol car must have turned up.
Brenda sighed in relief and answered. "Yes, Sharon?"
"What happened?" The blonde asked almost automatically and looked at Fritz.
"He's in the house, Crawley's in my house!" Sharon whispered yet her voice sounded loud, urgent.
"I don't know. In the bedroom, I think." Brenda heard a deep breath and then, "I locked myself in the bathroom. Oh, god! I shot him--"
"Sharon, stay there, I'm on my way. Just let me call dispatch--"
"No! Don't hang up. Please." Sharon's voice quieted a little, her labored breathing decreasing.
"Okay," Brenda scratched her eyebrow, trying to calm her wildly beating heart. "Okay. Fritz. I need patrol cars at 3391 Oak Wood Drive South, right now. And an ambulance."
Fritz had his phone out already, dialling.
"Sharon, listen. We'll have patrol cars with you in..?" Fritz held up four fingers. "Four minutes."
"Okay," the brunette whispered.
"Do you have your gun?"
Brenda grabbed her purse and keys. "Just...just put it in the bathtub." Just in case, the blonde thought.
"It's in there. It's in the tub." Sharon took a deep breath, as if disposing of the gun had somehow calmed her nerves. "It wasn't Sergeant Elliott."
Brenda didn't know what to say to that, the mere mental image too disturbing to her. She got in her car and she drove with lights flashing, listening to Sharon breathing calmly on the other end.
"They're here," the brunette said, sirens in the background. "They're breaking down the door."
"Okay," Brenda said, somewhat relieved. "I'll be there in just a minute."
Sharon hung up without another word.
Brenda counted at least eight black and whites and two unmarked cars littering the street right in front of Sharon's house.
She drove up as close as possible then came to a jarring halt and threw her car door open. Try as she might, Brenda couldn't recover a single shred of composure and it must have shown because, before her, a sea of people parted.
"...my glasses. Please."
It was Sharon's voice, loud and clear, measured as per usual. Brenda's lips quivered as she fought the tears in her eyes tooth and nail. Then she saw Sharon, blurred through stinging tears, sitting on the back of an ambulance, an EMT tending to a cut above her left eye.
"I can't see without them," the brunette said to an older patrol officer.
"For heaven's sakes," Brenda ripped into him before she even got there. "Get the glasses, now!"
"Ma'am, this is a crime scene."
"My scene," the blonde hissed and pulled out her badge. "Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, Major Crimes. Now. Get the glasses."
She was furious, and she wanted to be sick with relief, she wanted to empty her tummy of all the worry. Her body shook as the officer waltzed away, she wasn't sure whether it was anger or shock, or maybe both, but Brenda had a hard time getting a hold of herself.
"This was a brutal assault on a fellow officer! A Captain of the LAPD, for heaven's sakes!And I want y'all to treat it that way. Is that clear?"
Around them it had gotten silent after Brenda's outburst then everyone sprang into motion. The blonde watched, breathless, dimly aware that losing her temper in front of all these people wasn't perhaps entirely appropriate.
"Brenda?" Sharon had wrapped her delicate fingers around her wrist. "Chief Johnson?"
The blonde felt like crying, she really wanted to throw herself at the woman and just cry for an eternity but she had a job to do, didn't she, and that had to come first.
"I'm okay, Brenda. I'm okay."
The blonde took stock; she saw it all, the cut above the eye, a bruise forming around it, the angry red mark around Sharon's neck, the torn blouse. Blood on her chest. Her skirt askew. Her knees, bruised. Her bare feet.
Sharon looked at her with wide eyes then shook her head. "No."
Brenda wanted to say something, anything, but her mouth just wouldn't form the words. Instead she took off her favorite cardigan and wrapped it around Sharon's shoulders.
Then the officer arrived with the glasses, handing them over with a blank face.
"Thank you," Sharon said, ever polite. "Thank you very much." She grinned at Brenda, as if they were sharing a secret and slipped the glasses onto her face. "That's better."
Sergeant Elliott chose that moment to arrive, his frantic eyes searching Brenda's when he spotted them. "What happened? Captain, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Sergeant, thank you."
"Crawley broke into the house," Brenda said.
"I heard the APB and thought I'd better get here and then..." He shook his head and wiped his face. "Oh, man..."
"Sergeant, I need you to pull yourself together now," Brenda said gently but not leaving any room for discussion. "Call Lieutenant Provenza and have him get the squad down here ASAP. Then call Chief Pope and apprise him of the situation."
"And then I need you to take Cap'n Raydor to a hotel--"
"I have to give my statement. And I discharged my firearm which immediately triggers--"
"Sharon," Brenda interrupted then took a mighty breath and decided to do things Sharon's way, just to placate her. "Fine. Get her lawyer down here. Provenza can take the statement."
Sharon rolled her eyes - the simple act made Brenda feel tons better; she was already annoying the brunette, thank goodness.
"Oh, and get me Taylor down here." She looked around at the chaos. "I need someone delegatin' this circus."
"Got it, ma'am," Elliott nodded and gave her a smile - grateful, it seemed.
"Thank you, Sergeant. Cap'n Raydor."
With that she began the difficult task of getting everyone the hell out of the house.
"Buzz," Provenza grumped. "What took you so long?"
"Sorry, Lieutenant," Buzz huffed. "Traffic."
Brenda nodded as they approached. She wanted to get this interview done as quickly as possible and then have Sharon brought to a hotel. True to his word, Elliott had arranged for Sharon's lawyer to come down even though the brunette insisted she didn't need one.
Her lawyer, as it turned out, was an old friend.
"Gavin, I really wish you'd just go. I'm fine. I don't need a lawyer."
He shook his head and pushed a strand of sandy blond hair aside. "I'm not going anywhere, doll."
"And, please, don't call me that."
Brenda just snorted.
"You're both insufferable," Sharon said evenly, then trained her eyes firmly onto Provenza and Buzz. "Can we get started now? I want to get this over with. Oh, uh, and Sergeant, could you, maybe, uh, call the rest of the squad and let them know that I'm fine. Please."
Elliott blinked at the unexpected dismissal but obliged. As he walked away, his phone going up to his ear, Sharon cleared her throat.
"I'm sure you understand that I'd like the details of this incident to be kept under wraps, Chief Johnson."
"Of course," Brenda said immediately and looked pointedly at Provenza. He nodded solemnly, his features hard and angry.
"Let's get started then," Brenda said and gave Buzz a nod to start filming.
"Brenda Leigh Johnson, Major Crimes. I'm here with Lieutenant Provenza and Gavin Baker, interviewing Captain Sharon Raydor. Captain, can you, please, give us a detailed account of what happened here tonight?"
She wasn't going to ask questions - she knew the answers but rather didn't like them. A part of Brenda wished she could just surrender control and hand the whole thing over to Taylor because deep down she knew she wouldn't catch a wink of sleep for at least the next two months.
"As I said, I was expecting Sergeant Elliott. He was supposed to deliver his finished report so that I could take it to the Commissioner straight away in the morning. So. As I opened the door...and I should've checked, but I didn't..."
Sharon trailed off, her eyes dull as she turned introspective - a look Brenda had seen much too often.
"Right." Sharon shook her head, wrapping Brenda's cardigan tighter around herself. "I started opening the door, until I realized it wasn't Sergeant Elliott but he forced it open which is how I received this cut."
"Buzz..." Brenda wanted every little nick, every bruise documented.
"I realized it was Crawley. We struggled in the hallway and I managed to hit him with a picture frame. I ran into my bedroom because that's where my gun was. In my drawer. He followed me and tried to force me onto the bed."
The blonde bit down on her lip - if he weren't dead already, she sure as hell would kill him herself.
"We struggled and he managed to push me down, on the floor next to the bed. He started...choking me," Sharon's hand went to her neck. "But I kicked him. As hard as I could and got hold of my gun. And then I shot him."
"Thank you, Captain." Brenda put on a steely expression to hide how upset she actually was. "Now, Buzz, could you get a good shot of the perimeter, please?" Or Sharon's house, rather.
As he left, followed by Provenza, she turned back to the brunette, sparing the lawyer a glance and reached for her hand. Her fingers felt cold, yet her palm was clammy. "Sharon, I-I just--"
"I know." Sharon patted her hand. "But I'm fine now."
Brenda nodded and let her feelings show, unafraid, even in front of this stranger. "Can you give her a ride to the hotel?"
"Of course," Gavin said, a hand on Sharon's shoulder.
With that Brenda turned to the house and the mammoth task at hand. SID had arrived and she was glad to see Tao dealing with them - he had good friends there.
They entered together and he filmed the door that had been ripped off its hinges. "The responding officers broke the door down to gain entry to the house," she said to the camera. "Get the picture frame right there, Buzz. It has blood on it."
He zoomed in. The golden, antique picture frame laid broken on the floor. The glass had shattered and blood marred a corner of the painted wood.
"Get all of this as well. Signs of a struggle." The pictures that had always hung on the wall left to the door were mostly askew. Some had fallen. Beneath their shoes, shards of glass crunched. "And this, please."
The little three-legged table upon which Brenda had put the pie just yesterday had been knocked over sideways, the legs not lending much support. The remaining mail was strewn across the wooden floor boards and several letters had been splattered with small droplets of blood, red and angry against the stark white paper.
"Ma'am?" Sanchez appeared in the doorway, hands gloved up. "The coroner's here."
"Thank you, Detective. Send him in but don't let him move the body yet."
"Yes, Chief." He waved at Kendall who then ascended the steps to the front door and brushed past them.
The mood was certainly solemn and subdued. Unusually so, as if a black cloud was hanging above the house.
"Okay. Buzz, let's move down the hall." They walked further into the house, a house Brenda was fairly familiar with. Short of the bedroom, a vase had fallen off a dresser and shattered. It had been a nice piece of pottery, some designer, Brenda was sure as she remembered it standing there with a bunch of white roses in it.
The water had spilled all over the floor, across the floor boards and the flowers strewn everywhere. Sharon must have knocked it off when she had dashed into the bedroom. "Lieutenant Flynn."
"Get somebody to mop this up when we're done, okay?"
Sharon would thank her for it - or at least the floor boards would.
In the bedroom Kendall knelt next to the body. Gabriel and Provenza stood over him, arms crossed. Crawley was on his back, still clutching his stomach. His white t-shirt was completely blood soaked, his blue eyes were wide open but starting to dull. He wore black jeans and a leather jacket.
Beneath him the blood had soaked into Sharon's cream colored rug and spread across most of its entirety.
Brenda still remembered how it had felt beneath her bare feet, how her toes had dug into it, how soft it had been.
The sheets on the bed were ruffled, the lamp on the left bedside cabinet thrown over, still alight and dangling by its power cord. The bottom drawer was open, nearly ripped out, where Sharon had kept her gun, and its contents partially spread on the floor around it.
"Looks like a through and through," Kendall said.
"Yeah," Gabriel crossed the room and pointed at a mark above the door frame. "Looks like it ended up in here."
The angle was odd but corroborated Sharon's version of events - she must have been on the ground when she shot him.
"Chief?" Tao leaned into the room. "We've got the gun in here, if you want to get that on tape before SID collects it."
They left the bedroom and went straight across into the bathroom. Sharon's Beretta was in the tub where Brenda had told her to put it.
"We haven't found the shell casing yet," Tao said.
"Might be on the bed...or under."
Tao picked up the gun with his gloved hands and ejected the magazine. "Sixteen and one in the chamber," he said and reassembled it. "There's her cell phone, too." Also in the tub.
"Okay. Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Chief?" Sanchez appeared again. "We found his van a couple blocks down the road."
Brenda nodded and took a deep breath. "Take Lieutenant Provenza with you. And Buzz, please."
It was nearly two hours later when Buzz had returned Downtown with the crime scene footage. Tao had gone with SID who had vowed that all this was first in line - a call from the Pope had helped, of course.
Provenza and SID had cleared out the van of notebooks, newspaper clippings, pictures and, most disturbing of all, pieces of random trash that, more than likely, belonged to Sharon.
An empty bottle of expensive French wine. A bag from the bakery down the road. A wrapper for dark Ecuadorian chocolate.
Brenda vowed she wouldn't tell Sharon any of this.
"Know thy enemy," Provenza had grumped and stalked off down the road, hands on his hips.
Brenda had just looked at Julio. "He's upset, ma'am."
"Upset?" Provenza didn't do 'upset'.
"You told him to look into Crawley the other day but..." He had looked around the van and shrugged.
But then this happened. "Oh. Well, the Lieutenant wasn't to know."
The blonde had left them to it, angrily marching up the street, pulling her gloves off. She had found her car exactly where she had left it with the door still wide open and had gotten in.
That's where she sat, hands on the steering wheel, staring at the crime scene tape. Brenda burst into tears, forehead pressed against the wheel. It was relief this time and all sorts of feelings she didn't know what to do with.
Anger. Mostly directed at Crawley but a little bit at herself, too. Shame for having failed. Shame for crying hysterically in her car over a woman she had always thought she felt not an iota more for. Fear, even though Sharon was fine - or maybe not fine, just alive.
But most of all, sorrow.
There was a knock on her passenger window. Brenda's eyes shot up and she immediately wiped her cheeks as the door opened and Mikki Mendoza got in.
"Are you okay, ma'am?"
Brenda nodded empathetically. "Yes. Yes, Detective." The tears stopped the more she wiped them away, sobless and silent. "What are you doin' here?"
"Oh," Mikki looked away, her dark curls falling here, there and everywhere. "I was just wonderin' if there was anything I can do to help?"
Brenda sniffled, embarrassed by the state she was in. "Oh."
Mikki looked at her, eyebrows drawn together in a frown as the blonde pulled out a tissue. "Are you sure..." She trailed off, her hand hovering just above Brenda's arm then the Detective pulled away.
"Um, I think Sharon might appreciate if you saw about gettin' her door replaced..."
Mikki smiled widely and nodded. "What an excellent idea, Chief."
Brenda nodded, smiling back.
"You take care now, Chief."
"You, too, Detective."
Chapter 12: New Stars
Just a short one leading up to the drama that is about to ensue. I hope you guys are still with me, even I am losing the will to live with this but try to hang in there, pretty please.
Brenda pulled her glasses down her nose and rubbed her tired eyes. It was late, she had sent the squad home although Provenza was still going through boxes, dutifully cataloging the contents and delving into the next as if on a hunt.
He had found three diaries with what they realized were Sharon's habits and whereabouts. Brenda had ordered - yes, ordered - that only she herself and Provenza were to read them.
Sharon would hate knowing everyone had intimate details of her daily routines.
As soon as she saw Fritz enter the Murder Room, she realized that she had meant to call him, that she should be home at...
Brenda looked at her watch.
Nearly twelve o'clock at night.
On an angry scale from 1 to 10, he looked about a 4. Hopefully she could talk him down to at least a 2.
"I am so sorry, Fritzi, I completely forgot!"
"I figured," he said evenly and plopped a brown paper bag onto her desk. "I got you a sandwich."
Biting her lip guiltily, Brenda reached for the bag. "What is that?" She asked before she could help it.
"Hummus, red pepper and salad on wholewheat."
Fritz chuckled but Brenda was actually hungry. It was that Agent Morgan, for sure. Her and her crazy food ideas. Sighing internally, the blonde decided to let the jibe go - she wasn't in the mood for his criticism, or anyone else's for that matter.
"Well," she said then. "I'll have to go see Sharon." Sharon, not Captain Raydor. "She needs to sign her statement and hopefully tomorrow SID can corroborate her account."
"Ah. In other words you wanna check up on your, uh...friend."
"Yes," Brenda said. "My friend who nearly got murdered tonight." She hated when he inferred there was more to it. There wasn't, not now.
"Okay," he then said, mild mannered, and picked up the sandwich he had known she wouldn't touch. "You go see your friend and I'll go home, watch that documentary I recorded."
"I know, I know. Don't worry, we can watch it another time."
"You sure?" She asked, hopeful.
"Of course." He gave her a tight smile and enveloped her in a brief hug, dropping a kiss on her forehead. "C'mon. Let me at least walk you to your car."
Grabbing her things, Brenda stepped into the dimly lit Murder Room.
He looked up from a little notepad he had just uncovered. “Notes about...Raydor. Again. God, this guy was taking obsession to a whole new level, Chief.” He waved the pages at her.
“There’s five more...” He pointed out. “I swear, if I have to read about Raydor going to the store one more time I will burn the whole lot.”
Brenda rolled her eyes. “It’s all evidence, Lieutenant.”
“I’m pretty sure we can establish that the guy was a nutcase, Chief. I mean, he wrote down everything, look, here, 19:08: SR is picking up dry cleaning.”
The blonde bit her lip and glanced over the pages as Provenza skimmed them, feeling a bit uneasy to have Sharon's life intruded upon like this.
"Ah! Here it is again."
"What's that?" Fritz asked.
"20:08. SR meets CJ at bar. Renaissance Hotel. Heh," he picked up another book. "Found several of those."
"Boyfriend," Brenda said quickly yet firmly.
"What? Someone who's actually frost proof?"
Provenza looked pointedly at Fritz. "Sorry," he held up his hands. "But what do you want me to do, Chief, it's all evidence."
"I know that, Lieutenant. However, I'm sure Cap'n Raydor, and myself for that matter, would appreciate it if your esteemed colleague's private life wasn't turned into the laughing stock of the LAPD."
He did looked remorseful then, and nodded solemnly. "I'll make sure this is my eyes only."
"Good. Now, how 'bout we call it a night."
Provenza picked up the notes again. "I'll just finish this one. Goodnight, Chief. Agent Howard."
Brenda let him be, suspecting that he hid a ton of guilt behind all the cruel jokes.
"Oh, and, uh, Chief? Tell her--tell her--"
"I will, Lieutenant." Hoisting her purse up on her shoulder, Brenda gave Fritz a small smile. 'See? I'm not the only one who gives a damn.'
He smiled back. Outside, in the hallway as they waited for the elevator, Fritz bumped her shoulder. "Boyfriend, eh?"
"Girlfriend," she said. "Ex." Because they weren't sleeping together anymore.
...not that they had been girlfriends or any such nonsense.
"It wasn't my place to say." She decided to deflect instead of elaborating the lie. "I just know Sharon would be mortified if anyone knew her business. Even going to the dry cleaners." She adopted a slightly annoyed expression. "Heaven forbid anyone find out what brand o' coffee she buys or where she gets all 'em geometrical jackets from."
"I thought she was your friend?"
"Well." Brenda bit her lip. "I just want this over with. I'll get her to sign the papers and then I'll give SID hell, hell, hell."
Fritz frowned as they stepped onto the elevator. "Gosh, remind me to never wind up on your bad side...again."
"Very funny. It's just that Chief Delk wants this done, too, and he's been calling me every half hour--" As if on cue, her phone rang. "Oooh, I bet that's him again!" One look at her phone confirmed her suspicions. "Oooh!"
"Answer it, for christ's sake."
"Hello, Chief. How can I help?"
The man's usually calm voice boomed over the speaker. "Any news?"
"Yes, indeed, we have determined that Officer Crawley has been stalking Captain Raydor for several months, meticulously documenting her movements in the notebooks we found--"
"I'd like to have a look at them myself, Chief Johnson."
She swallowed. "Lietenant Provenza is currently going over them with a fine tooth comb to, y'know, minimize the exposure of Cap'n Raydor's private--"
"I see," Delk sounded almost apologetic. "I understand."
"Well, I'm just on my way to see the Captain and have her sign the statement we typed up and hopefully SID will have finished with the crime scene analysis by tomorrow, so..."
"Good work, Chief."
"Thank you, Chief."
He hung up, his silky voice lingering in Brenda's mind. It wasn't as if she disliked him. It wasn't as if he was a terrible Chief of Police. Or that he wanted to demote Will and give her his job. It was just that, sometimes, she felt as if he had a soft-spot for Sharon.
He liked her. And when pretty much everyone in the department hated her guts, it was somehow difficult to reconcile that.
Brenda blinked. The elevator had stopped and Fritz had stepped out, looking at her expectantly. "Yes, yes. Fine." She followed him. "It's just, Chief Delk..."
"I know," Fritz said. "Smarmy. He has a soft-spot for you."
Brenda snorted, incredulous, and laughed. "Me? He's got one for Cap'n Raydor, that's for sure." As it left her mouth and echoed around the parking garage, she realized how jealous she sounded. She looked at Fritz then, just from the corner of her eye.
He had this look on his face, that one of suspicion yet he remained mute.
Brenda had seen that look many a times, and more often than not, Fritz had bit his tongue. She knew why, now, why he chose not to lay into her anymore, and Brenda found her heart constrict at the realization that he wanted to believe her.
He wanted to believe in her.
A patrol car had been parked right in front of the house but the drive, next to Sharon's car, was otherwise empty. Brenda parked on it even though she had vowed never to again. They had sparked up a friendship, and Sharon wasn’t afraid of what her neighbors might think...and they hadn’t done anything wrong in, well, quite a while.
Not counting that kiss.
But Brenda preferred not to think about that particular laps in judgment; besides, she added mentally, it was mostly Sharon’s fault anyhow.
The blonde greeted the officer guarding the door on her way in, leaving her badge number and name. Her heels clicking over the hardwood floor sounded strangely hollow, as if the house had been emptied of all its possessions, all its character and perhaps, Brenda thought morosely, perhaps that was true.
She stared at the remnants of broken glass in the hallway, stomach churning.
Brenda tore her eyes away, feeling a sudden shiver overtake her entire body. She decided to not look, to just find what she had come here for and leave again. Avoiding the evidence markers scattered about the hallway, Brenda managed to get into the bedroom. She didn’t look at the blood pool, no, she didn’t even breathe through her nose, not wanting to smell it.
What she couldn’t smell, she could taste however. It nearly made her gag. Usually she wasn’t affected but standing in the dark bedroom, Sharon’s bedroom, her most intimate and private place, the place that used to be hers' alone, Brenda felt decidedly ill.
She turned on the bedside lamp and expelled a large breath; she had to pull it together.
Mind made up and resolve steeled, Brenda opened the spacious closet. Pausing momentarily, the blonde felt a strange sense of satisfaction overcome her; she got to choose the clothes and clothes Sharon had plenty.
Brenda entered slowly, biting her lip as her fingertips traced the different materials. This, she thought, was one of her favorites. That black Armani suit. The blonde smiled, pleased, and laid it out on the bed.
A purple blouse. It suited Sharon very well.
Ooooh, and those shiny black high heels!
As the blonde surveyed her choices, she realized that perhaps Sharon would rather wear something a bit more comfortable.
After all, the brunette didn’t always wear her little suits contrary to popular belief.
Feeling somewhat deflated, Brenda reentered the closet and began her search anew. She chose a cream colored woolen sweater that, for some reason, reminded her a little of her own feel-good cardigan that she always wrapped herself up in in times of upheaval.
Did the cream go with the suit?
But Sharon would have to deal with that.
Brenda bit her lip.
Oh, for heaven’s sakes.
She stormed into the closet; jeans! Jeans, did the woman not own any?!
Brenda found a pair, dark blue and very nice, she could tell they weren’t any old jeans but then that was Sharon. At least now she knew how the brunette afforded it.
Under the bed she found what looked suspiciously like a gym bag which she packed with all the clothes and the shoes. Darth Raydor probably wouldn’t be very pleased about the wrinkles in the suit but that, really, she would just have to deal with.
Stepping over the blood pool and entering the bathroom across the hall, Brenda grabbed the toothbrush, a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner and tossed it into the bag.
Brenda wouldn’t want to be without her shampoo and her conditioner and she suspected Sharon wouldn’t want to either.
As she passed the kitchen, almost on her way out, the blonde’s gaze fell onto the wine rack.
Chapter 13: Brightening Stars
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a great time last night and feel 'bright eyed and bushy tailed' today.
Me? Well, I'm just going to have to waste away on this sofa. Who else is with me on that one?
I also have to confess that I'm not too happy with this chapter. I wrote it a long time ago and then rewrote it so many times, it's just a choppy mess now, but let me know what you think.
Anyway, don't let me keep you. On to the next chapter.
She handed the pad back to the officer and nodded at him while he greedily studied the list. No doubt he was baffled by the wine but Brenda couldn’t care less - Sharon would appreciate it...if Sharon was awake.
On the way to the hotel she picked up a pizza because, frankly, she was starving. All it took to acquire Sharon's room number was a flash of the badge and a honey-dripping smile, then she was going up on the elevator.
Balancing the pizza - which, technically wasn't allowed to take up to the room - the overnight bag and her purse, the blonde proceeded down the hallway.
As she stood in front of the door, Brenda wondered what the heck she thought she was doing there, exactly. Sharon could be asleep, maybe she didn't want to see anyone, least of all Brenda and, if she had given some thought to this, Brenda would have perhaps realized that it was just a bad idea in general. She had nearly talked herself out of all this when someone cleared their throat on the other side of the door.
"Who is this?"
She startled at the tentative voice, nearly dropping the pizza. “It’s--it’s Brenda.”
After a small eternity, the lock turned and the door opened slowly.
There she was, what was left of Sharon Raydor, wrapped in a white hotel robe and her glasses perched low on her nose.
“May I come in?” Brenda asked after a moment.
Sharon inhaled sharply then swung the door open fully, stepping aside. The blonde swept in, feeling the tension radiating off the other woman. She smelled different, her warm scent altered by the hotel’s shampoo.
Brenda looked around the room and then dropped the overnight bag onto the bed, followed by her purse. “I got us some pizza. Have you eaten?”
Sharon barely glanced at it. “I’m not particularly hungry, but thank you.”
Brenda smacked her lips; this wasn’t going as planned, at all. “I brought wine as well...” She opened her purse and pulled out the bottle she had kidnapped from Sharon’s house.
“It’s the one that you like.”
“It’s the one I had in my wine rack.”
“I signed it out,” the blonde argued.
“It was $40.”
“Well,” Brenda handed the bottle over. “I’m sure it’s as tarty a thang as ever.”
She watched Sharon look the bottle over then place it on a cabinet with an indifference that dropped to room temperature close to freezing. “There’s only screw tops in the fridge, no cork screw. They're probably worried people might stab themselves in the eye with it.”
The blonde felt immensely pleased with herself as she pulled a cork screw out of her bag and presented it with gleaming eyes but the brunette merely pulled the robe tighter around herself and crossed her arms.
“I have a headache,” she said and took her glasses off, just to make a point, of course.
Alright, Brenda thought, and tossed the cork screw back into her bag, narrowly avoiding her cell phone - patience, she knew, wasn’t her strongest suit.
Brenda bit her lip, her eyes narrowing in on her Captain whose nails danced across the wooden top of the cabinet. She was being intentionally moody, and Brenda had no idea why but she decided to be an understanding friend...which was what she had come here for in the first place.
Obviously all this wasn't about her or the fact that she had wanted to see Sharon was okay with her own two eyes. But Sharon didn't look okay at all and that realization left her with a bad feeling in her tummy and a helplessness that Brenda was sadly very familiar with.
She just wasn't good at comforting anybody. She had always had a hard time with it.
Yet Sharon was being intentionally cold and indifferent, a not very original, and frankly not very effective plan to get rid of her.
Brenda decided to fight ice with fire - if there was anything they were good at, it was fighting.
“Why on earth do you have to be so mean to me when I’ve been nothin’ but nice?”
"This is you being nice?" As the brunette glared at her, Brenda made the effort to look at least affronted. Sharon slumped and sighed, “Fine. What’s on the pizza?”
Brenda smiled. “All the things you like!”
“And since when do you know what I like?”
“I’m just very observant. Now, hand over that bottle.”
Sharon picked up the bottle and looked at it with a nonchalant shrug, “Oh, what the heck...open it.”
Brenda took the bottle and opened it with the cork screw. The aroma immediately wafted into the air, saturating it with deep darkness and berries and all sorts of flowers.
“...it needs to breathe,” Sharon commented off-handedly, one last attempt.
But Brenda just smiled and picked up the two somewhat cheap wine glasses sitting on the mini bar. She poured the dark red liquid slowly, catching its scent while Sharon crossed the room, inspecting the pizza with a critical eye. The blonde heard her sigh, an odd sound in the quiet of the room.
“What else did you bring?” She had finally noticed the overnight bag.
“Just some things I thought you might want,” Brenda explained vaguely, carrying the two wine glasses.
“Look at the size of it,” Sharon said, “I could go on a two week vacation.”
Brenda huffed, “There.” She thrust the glass at the woman. “Have some of that, maybe that’ll make you more agreeable.”
Sharon lifted her eyebrows, a nonchalant expression crossing her features. “Have I ever been known to be agreeable?”
“Point taken,” Brenda said and deposited her wine on the bedside table. “I just thought you’d maybe want some company--”
“Because I’ve had a terrible night?”
“Nooo,” the blonde drawled while she pulled the sweater and jeans out of the bag. “Because I was tryin’ to be your friend.” She decided to put them in the closet and went back for the suit and blouse. “Because I felt horrible and wanted to see you.”
She hung up the jacket and pants, and fiddled with the subtle material of the blouse, trying to get it onto a hanger. As she turned back to go and attack the underwear next, Brenda nearly tripped over her own feet. Sharon stood next to the bed, naked, robe pooled at her feet.
She turned a little, glanced at Brenda who tried to work her mouth around a word that made sense, and pulled the charcoal grey night slip out of the bag.
Which she dropped onto the bed.
“Thanks for the robe,” she then said and Brenda nodded while the woman slipped the silken robe over her form.
Well. The blonde cleared her throat and came closer, weary of what the woman might do next in her ploy to get rid of her.
But then, rather unexpectedly, whilst looking at Sharon as the brunette tied the sash around her small waist, Brenda felt the overwhelming desire to wrap her arms around her.
Sharon made a noise in the back of her throat as their bodies met but Brenda couldn’t care less. Perhaps she was being selfish and perhaps Sharon hurt in all sorts of places after that awful man had flung her around like a doll but Brenda just couldn't help herself.
“I was so worried about you!”
Sighing, Sharon hugged her back but the blonde knew she was merely being humored.
“How about that pizza?”
Brenda stared at her then nodded. “Pizza.” The blonde made a somewhat mad dash for the box containing it, fighting the blush coloring her cheeks - she was behaving like a complete simpleton. “You wanna watch some TV?”
Sharon waved her hand dismissively as she joined the blonde on the bed. “It’s very unsettling to see your own house on the news...there’s even helicopters, can you believe that?”
Brenda nibbled on her lip and glanced at the TV - perhaps not, then. “Here,” she said and opened the box. “I know you don’t like eatin’ with your hands but I’m afraid you just might have to.”
“That’s okay, just for tonight...”
She sounded weary, Brenda thought but was pleased to see Sharon draw her legs up onto the bed. The silken robe slipped, exposing quite a bit of thigh but the brunette didn’t seem to notice. How she couldn’t, Brenda didn’t know and tore her eyes away instead - not that she hadn't seen it all before.
“Dig in,” the blonde said perhaps a bit too cheerily.
The brunette picked up a slice, balancing it delicately, and took a tentative bite. “Hmmm,” she hummed.
Hmm, Brenda swallowed and picked up a slice for herself. “Good?”
“When is pizza ever not good?"
"When Flynn orders it," Brenda said evenly.
Sharon snorted, a small smile playing around her lips and leaned back. “Don’t forget your wine,” she said and emptied her own glass in a rather uncouth manner. “Here,” Sharon poured more, “It goes perfectly with the pizza, don’t you think?”
Brenda nodded and drank - if that was Sharon’s desire, to get drunk, then that was what they were going to do. She took the liberty to watch while the brunette devoured the pizza and Brenda suddenly wasn't very hungry anymore. She had been sick with worry and Sharon's scraped knees didn't help.
The cut above her eye, taped up, was beginning to bruise and swell a little. Brenda stared at the marks around her neck, too. She could clearly see the outlines of the hands that had been wrapped around Sharon's throat.
Brenda wanted to punch someone.
The brunette had seemed far too composed at the scene, recounting the horrible events that had led to this with a calmness that seemed natural to everyone who didn't know her. But Brenda did know her, and she knew that, whenever Sharon didn't know what to do or how to be, she resorted to precise diction and a voice so measured, no one would even suspect her uncertainty.
“Thank you,” Sharon said quietly. “For this.” She leaned back against the headboard and drew her legs up, the robe slipping even further, almost obscenely low. “How is the investigation going?”
“You know I can’t talk about that.”
“I’m not asking for details, Brenda.”
“Well,” the blonde finished off her slice. “It’s goin’.”
Sharon nearly rolled her eyes and went for another slice of pizza, leaning over a little.
Really, Brenda thought, that robe covered next to nothing. And Sharon knew that - she had pulled it down over her legs and across her chest so many times, Brenda had a hard time counting.
And then she seemed to have a light-bulb moment.
The brunette looked at her, one of those rare, warm smiles shining in her eyes. “Hm?”
If Brenda didn’t know any better, she could’ve sworn that Sharon was trying to seduce her. But that smile, the blonde always felt her insides melt when confronted with it, that smile made her feel utterly ridiculous.
What a silly notion. “I’m glad you’re alright.”
Sharon patted her knee affectionately and picked up her glass of wine. “Didn’t even harm a hair on my head, honey.”
“You and I both know that’s not true,” Brenda countered.
The brunette sighed a little and removed her hand that had rested on Brenda’s knee and nodded, “Nothing that won’t heal...I mean, you’ve seen the other guy, right?”
Green eyes clouded over and the brunette ripped the glasses from the bridge of her nose. She dropped them onto the bed, the slice of pizza falling from her hand and onto the box, then she rubbed her temple.
“Sharon...I’m so sorry.”
“Well,” she nearly laughed, “The worst part is, I can’t stop thinking ‘better him than me’. That’s awful.”
“No, it isn’t!”
“Yes, it is. And you know it.”
“Sharon,” Brenda had forgotten all about the pizza and reached for Sharon instead. The palm of her hand slid along the woman’s knee, to her thigh and then the brunette grabbed her wrist.
The blonde stared at it for a moment, her pale fingers against Sharon’s mildly tanned skin. She didn’t understand, she couldn’t. Brenda swallowed and slowly looked up; Sharon's green eyes were darting over her face and then, after a moment of eye-contact, her gaze dropped to her lips.
Brenda snatched her hand away.
“What do you want from me?” She asked, her voice thick.
Sharon inhaled sharply, “You know what I want.”
Brenda did know, the brunette’s intentions were crystal clear. “I can’t give you that...”
"You said you'd never say no to me."
Brenda swallowed. "I said that...but just this once I have to. You're not thinking straight--"
"Don't tell me what I'm thinking!"
"I'm not! But Sharon--"
"I feel awful and I don't know what to do! And is it too much to ask? Because every time you have a meltdown, who do you go to?"
The blonde was taken aback - was that really how Sharon perceived it?
"That is not true."
"Oh, come on, Brenda!"
Brenda shut her eyes tightly, hiding somewhere else, in a distant memory of desire and succumbing, of racing hearts. “Sharon...” For a moment Brenda felt trapped in this memory, almost a sense of deja-vu overcoming her as Sharon's breath ghosted over her lips.
“Don’t make me ask for it,” the brunette whispered, kissing Brenda’s jaw and then her lips softly, a mere brush and almost not a kiss.
The blonde felt a flutter in her belly; it wasn’t arousal, it wasn’t fear, it merely sat beneath her heart, startling her with its intensity. “Oh...” She sighed against those familiar lips. “Oh...” Her eyes slowly fluttered shut as Sharon’s fingertips danced over her breast.
Oh, but they weren’t supposed to do this because Sharon would hate her for it afterwards.
“Sharon...” Brenda ended the kiss, the flutter in her stomach however remained. She stared at her own hands for a moment, breathing in slowly, composing herself, and then looked at the woman, intending to make this right, the words on the very tip of her tongue, but then she saw that look.
A glint in Sharon's eyes, the soft, vulnerable expression on her face, hopeful, almost naive. The brain was a funny thing, she had always thought so, how it remembered, memorized, replayed. Brenda had seen that look more times than she could count. It startled her and she was afraid of what it meant.
Sharon's eyes narrowed; she looked hurt, somehow, and then that softness in her eyes vanished.
Brenda was certain that it was her fault it had gone.
And then Sharon said, “I want to fuck. Now.”
The blonde swallowed, that tingle turning her tummy upside down; suddenly, she felt quite ill with it, overwhelmingly so. “No,” she said and scooted off the bed, “I'm not doin' this, Sharon, 'cause I just know you'll regret it later.”
She made it to the door then Sharon had her by the wrist, her mouth descending upon Brenda’s and then a hot mess of a kiss, no desire, just desperation.
“Stop!” The blonde said fiercely.
A moment went by in utter silence, Brenda forgot to breathe and then Sharon just went, she stormed off, her silken robe fluttering as she slammed the door to the bathroom.
“Fffff...shoot!” Brenda really wasn’t one for swearing but at that very moment she wished she just could. Rubbing her temples, the blonde contemplated her next move.
Chapter 14: Super-Exploding Stars
Okay. I wanted to update much earlier since it's our day off but, of course, we had to deal with a sickly chicken today. The chicken in question, named Jade, is now residing in our office. She has had baths, treats, massages, her own bed of fresh straw...
Seriously, I'm coming back as a chicken...or a cat, I'm still undecided.
Being a friend wasn’t easy, it was all a lot of effort, worse than a romantic relationship even or at least Brenda thought so. That’s why she didn’t have any, friends that is - close ones - because she hadn’t yet found anybody who thought she was worth the mammoth effort. Except for Sharon.
Sharon who was clearly upset. Shock came to mind. Her earlier composure had gone, what had happened, the horrible ordeal, had finally set in. She remembered how the brunette had sounded on the phone - terrified, in fear for her life.
And then, at the scene, she had calmly asked for her glasses.
In hindsight, Brenda should perhaps have insisted that this Gavin character stay with her. Perhaps he had tried, just like Brenda had, and Sharon had driven him away so she could suffer in silence and sift through her feelings alone.
Sharon rarely relied on other people to pick up the pieces. Only, this time, she had asked Brenda to.
“Sharon?” She decided to knock on the door first then tried the knob - locked. “Open the door.”
There was only one way in. The blonde searched her tote and came up with a hairpin. She poked it into the little hole in the door knob and heard the click of the lock immediately; useless, really, she thought and threw the door open.
Sharon just stood there, hands gripping the sink, eyes fixed on her own reflection in the mirror. The blonde wracked her brain for something to say but realized words were superfluous, instead she approached slowly and laid a hand on Sharon’s shoulder.
She guided the woman into her arms; no protest, nothing.
Brenda breathed in deeply as her arms came around the woman's body. Sharon didn’t seem to just humor her this time; she slumped into the embrace, the tips of her fingers digging into Brenda's back and holding on as if some unseen force tried to drive them apart.
She felt Sharon's breath against her neck, in her hair, hot and labored, yet there were no tears, just sighs.
The blonde kept still, an eerie feeling making the hairs on the back of her neck stand. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to pinpoint what it was.
The flutter, it returned and Brenda felt as if her head was about to explode.
With the opportunity presenting itself, with Sharon wanting her, it was difficult to say no. That was probably how Sharon had felt back when she had finished things and it was quite clear to Brenda then that it must have taken a lot out of the woman to turn her away.
And besides, she thought, she didn’t want to lose this.
That was that eerie feeling - loss.
Losing their new-found relationship; for some reason, Brenda couldn’t fathom why the prospect would fill her with such dread.
Sharon’s hands shifted then, slowly moving lower, curving along Brenda’s hips.
The blonde felt almost hyper-aware yet she couldn’t open her eyes. Sharon brought their hips together, aligning their bodies in a way that they hadn't touched in a long time. Brenda felt it, then; that familiar comfort that she wished she could just sink into. It wasn't desire.
It wasn't want.
It wasn't need.
She pried her eyes open and stared back at herself, the mirror showing them both, no lies, no hiding, just the naked truth to the naked eye.
Brenda stumbled backwards. “You’re drivin’ me nuts,” she said, barely getting the words out.
Sharon nodded with a sigh, her hands on her hips. “I know.”
Her bottom lip wobbling slightly, Brenda stared at the other woman in disbelieve. “Why didn’t you say--why--” Words failed her, and what did it matter anyway?
Of course she had known.
“Because you drive me crazy, too, Brenda.” Sharon shrugged, resigned. “Still.”
Brenda couldn't help the dark, throaty laugh escaping her, yet she wished the irony would. “Of course.” Blowing out a breath, the blonde leaned against the tiled wall, shutting her eyes.
“You should go,” Sharon declared evenly without a hint of anger in her voice, just matter-of-fact, as per usual.
But Brenda shook her head. “Well, you better go on and call hotel security ‘cause I’m not goin’ anywhere.” Opening her eyes again to the bright, luminous light, Brenda evaluated her predicament again, studying Sharon, the woman she had grown to really admire.
As buttoned-up and prim and proper as she was, uncertainty was deeply ingrained in her, just as it was in Brenda.
The blonde thought of the first night of passion they had shared - not the night in the hotel room, but the night their gazes first met, igniting a blazing, scorching fire in Brenda’s belly. That fire wasn’t gone but it had become more bearable, a flame that she thought she could control.
But affection? There was no controlling it.
“Come here,” she said quietly.
Sharon came, her bare feet padding softly over the tiled floor. Brenda embraced her readily, dropping a soothing kiss onto a silk-clad shoulder.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” the brunette whispered. “It’s going round and round in my head.”
“I’ve never killed anyone.” Sharon let out a strangled breath then swallowed heavily. “I don’t wanna think about it.”
“Let’s have some more wine,” Brenda urged, hoping that the alcohol would somehow soothe Sharon’s mind. She dragged the brunette out of the bathroom and handed her a glass, she couldn’t remember whether it was her own or Sharon’s but that didn’t matter.
“Thank you,” the woman said, well-mannered even then, and downed the red liquid in one go. Breathing out again, she nodded seemingly to herself then plopped down on the bed.
Brenda felt horrible, knowing exactly how Sharon must be feeling. She sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “It’s going to be alright tomorrow...”
“You’re a liar.”
The blonde bit her lip and stared straight ahead out of the big picture windows.
“When is it going to be alright?”
She felt Sharon’s intense gaze, and she really did want to lie, but she knew that the woman would see right through her.
“Never,” Brenda admitted, looking her friend straight in the eye. “But it gets easier until you can just...live with it.”
Sharon seemed to contemplate that for a moment and then she averted her gaze, introspective. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?”
“I investigate officer involved shootings all the time, fatal shootings, yet I have never made this experience myself...I’ve only discharged my firearm four times, including this--”
“That’s different,” Brenda interrupted, “This is different, Sharon. You weren’t out there, on the job, you were in your own home and Crawley--”
“I know, I know, I know,” Sharon closed her eyes tightly, remembering and not wanting to, Brenda knew that expression by heart.
“You had no choice.”
Brenda gave the woman a long, pointed look, placing her hand on her knee. “You had no other choice. It was either you or him and I’m more than grateful that I'm sittin' here with you right now."
“Brenda...” Sharon breathed, reaching for the hand on her leg, holding it there.
The blonde came even closer, trying to make her point. “I don’t know what I woulda done to him if I’da found you on that floor.”
The blonde squeezed the knee while the brunette gripped her wrist, a silent warning that Brenda chose to ignore. Carefully she caressed the soft skin, moving the silken robe higher up the woman’s thigh.
Sharon understood, Brenda could see it in her eyes; a hopeful glimmer brightening them briefly. “Are you sure?” She asked breathlessly.
“I don’t wanna ruin this,” the blonde admitted.
Sharon came closer even, her lips mere inches away and her grip unconsciously tightening. “You can’t,” she assured, searching Brenda’s gaze.
She couldn’t? The blonde wasn’t so sure although, they had slept together numerous times yet here they were, still, closer than they had ever been before. Perhaps Sharon was right.
“Well, then...” Brenda said, her eyes dropping to the woman’s lips. “Yes.” With that, her tummy turned itself upside down, fluttering, while her heart had a hard time keeping up.
Sharon kissed her and it felt just like the other day - breathtaking and wonderful and not at all wrong.
It didn’t feel like a mistake, not then and not now, and Brenda knew that perhaps Sharon had lied that night.
The brunette dipped lower and kissed her jaw, urging her to lie down.
“Gently,” Brenda whispered.
“I don’t know if I can...” Sharon didn’t slow down; she kissed along Brenda’s jaw, nibbling, teeth sliding along sensitive skin, over a pounding pulse, to a protruding collar bone.
Brenda sighed, fisting the silken robe, trying to stay grounded and ignore that suddenly incessant pounding. The brunette shifted, and then Sharon's thigh was between her legs and her fingers were wrangling with Brenda's top, then her bra until she had exposed her breast.
Brenda’s nipple was hard, pebbling as the adrenalin coursed through her and Sharon’s mouth enclosed it, engulfed it in moist warmth and then...bit it.
The blonde’s breath hitched; the sting didn't feel entirely unpleasant, but...
“Gently,” Brenda said again. Her body, her whole being, even, felt alight, bright and alive. Humming with electricity and a need that seemed more like a feeling in her gut than arousal.
Brenda licked her lip, licked Sharon off of it as the brunette’s hands roamed along her waist. She felt powerful, bigger than herself. Sharon had said that sleeping together had always caused her doubt and confusion but for Brenda it wasn't at all like that.
Sharon had always given her this, that empowerment, that sense of being better, bigger...of being just more than Brenda or Chief Johnson. Yes, she had very nearly forgotten why it had happened in the first place, having chalked it up to selfishness but this proved it, just as much as it should prove it to Sharon that it would have to be just this once and then never again.
Because otherwise they wouldn't stop.
Brenda felt damp, the wetness pooling in her underwear and she knew Sharon could feel it too. Denial wasn't an option - this meant something.
It always had.
The blonde stared into those green eyes, realizing she had gripped the brunette’s robe so tightly that the sash had come apart, exposing her body. Brenda couldn’t help but look, greedily drinking it up, marveling.
“Oh,” she cooed, touching, very gently, Sharon’s chest. After that, there was no sound, just that tingle in her tummy and that unbearable heartbeat between her legs. Sharon looked at her, eyes wide and green, the depth of her gaze almost frightening.
She saw affection. And she knew the same was reflected in her own eyes. And Brenda could just not bear it.
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes...” She reached down and pulled her skirt up, Sharon helped her, frantically shoving the material aside and then she tore at the panties, down the legs, and off.
Sharon flung them somewhere and as she gripped the blonde’s knee, to part her legs, she felt the dampness, her dampness, on the brunette’s hand.
She was wet, very much so, “Oh, Sharon,” how did she always do that. “Oh, Sharon.”
And then the woman descended upon her in a flurry of silk and skin, her fingers entering her, just like that.
Brenda wailed, screwing her eyes shut, as she met Sharon’s hand. It was how familiar it felt that startled her most. How the feel of Sharon's touch, her fingers, her scent, the texture of her skin, was familiar, as if they had never stopped.
It was good. It always had been. An 'I need more' kind of thing. Big, warm, exploding light in her belly. Insurmountable need. Exhilaration that went straight to her head like a good bottle of wine, like a drug so good, so ecstatic, it elevated her beyond reasonable desire.
Reasonable. That's how Brenda's desire usually felt. Containable somehow.
This wasn't containable.
It made Brenda’s head spin; too much, or was it? It all made little sense. Her arousal climbed, and it climbed, so high she could barely see herself.
"Oh, god, Sharon!" Brenda cried hoarsely, her hands clutching at skin, shaking. Oh, god, she would come, she knew it, too quick, too soon, again. She never had to chase it, not with Sharon, she never turned into herself, introspective, holding onto that flimsy, fleeting feeling, hunting for it, grasping for it.
It was just there, out of nowhere, rolling over her like a tidal wave, pulling her under only to find she could breathe under water.
“Oh, Sharon, slow, slow, slow!” But Sharon didn't listen. Why would she? Brenda always said that but really never meant it. “Oh, no...no, no, no, no.”
“Yes,” the brunette rasped.
“Oh, Sharon, oh, Sharon--" Her body convulsed, her spine curled, it was so intense, Brenda didn’t know what to do with herself.
Was she flailing, was she falling?
Sharon's hand remained between her parted thighs, her fingers nearly still inside, warm...and just there.
Her body shook and then Brenda panted as if she hadn't breathed for an eternity. "Sharon...” She reached out for the woman, wanting to draw her into a kiss but Sharon avoided her and slid down the bed and to the floor. “No, no, don’t--” Brenda was rudely cut off as Sharon parted her legs once more and spread her open.
The blonde felt a sudden discomfort, almost shame at her exposure, shoving her skirt back down but Sharon grabbed her wrists, her head disappearing between Brenda’s thighs.
The blonde bit down on her lip and gave up the fight, resigning herself to the fact that this was going Sharon’s way...all the way. Staring at the white ceiling, Brenda felt the woman’s hot breath and then her mouth, moist and warm, engulf her clit.
Yanking her hands free, Brenda covered her face, flinging her arms over her eyes as her body flushed from head to toe.
Sharon took it very slowly then.
The blonde sighed as the arousal, that had never really ebbed away, made her thighs shake. “Oooh,” she cooed, not entirely sure whether she could come again or not. “Oooh, that’s wonnerful...”
Sharon hummed, her lips kissing and caressing and sucking, a delicious mixture of sensations that Brenda wasn’t sure what to make of. “I don’t know if I can...again.”
“You can,” Sharon merely said, her lips brushing the blonde’s sex as she spoke, then her tongue traced over Brenda’s clit, slowly, maddeningly so; the brunette just knew how to--well, how to everything.
“Oh, please,” she whispered, flinging her arms back onto the mattress. “Please,” she reached for the auburn mane between her legs, burying her fingers in it and tried to guide the woman where she wanted her. “Sharon...oh, that’s...that’s good.”
The brunette had found that spot, just right there, where it felt best, and she licked it, just so. Brenda closed her eyes, sighing with pleasure and said what she had said before, “You’re so good at this.”
Propping herself up on her elbows, knowing that Sharon knew what she was doing, Brenda just watched for a moment, reveling at the sight of the woman's beautiful locks spread across her lap. “Oooh,” the blonde moaned and flopped back onto the bed with the startling realization that she would come again.
It was a mere matter of time, waiting for it to build and explode. Reaching for her exposed nipple, Brenda squeezed it, caressed it, and sighed, her hips moving gently against Sharon’s mouth.
“Oh, god,” maddening, Brenda decided, wasn’t the right word to describe this. “Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god...”
Her thighs shook and she tensed, her walls clenched in anticipation, wanting it so bad she tried to will it to happen. “Oh, please, Sharon!” She bit her lip and reached down again, tangling one hand into those curls while the other squeezed her own nipple. “Oh! Yes!”
Brenda moaned and wondered briefly what the people in the next room might think but then the orgasm ripped through her, wiping her brain of all thought.
Silence, that was it. There was always that silence in her head. Just...nothing. And that nothing, in itself, was something.
Shaking and definitely spent, Brenda let her legs flop to the bed and closed her eyes. Barely breathing, she felt Sharon hover above her, felt her lips on her own, kissing her gently. The blonde tasted herself on those lips.
The kiss was sweet and it made her feel safe and unafraid. Then Sharon shifted and straddled her hips. Opening her eyes, Brenda saw her beautiful Sharon sit atop her, robe still undone, body exposed to the bright light in the room.
She didn’t say anything, not that it was necessary, and guided Brenda’s hand between her own legs. The blonde sat up and swallowed as she felt the dampness there - Sharon was incredibly hot, alive - and let her fingertips slide over the woman’s clit.
Sharon still guided her, guided Brenda’s finger inside followed by her own.
“Oh...” Brenda said, mesmerized. “Oh, wow.”
The brunette withdrew, leaving the blonde to figure it out. Brenda knew exactly what to do, remembering how the woman liked it, how her body felt and responded, how it smelled, tasted, looked, everything. It was as if it had been yesterday.
Pushing a second finger inside, Brenda merely watched as Sharon moved her hips, her eyes staring back at the blonde. Her hands came to rest on the blonde’s shoulders, holding on as she went back and forth. Brenda was in awe, feeling the heat and the wetness inside Sharon as her fingers slid in and out.
Sharon sighed then and closed her eyes, her fingertips digging into Brenda’s shoulders as she moved her hips faster and faster. They held onto each other, the brunette’s face pressed into the crook of Brenda's neck, breathing hotly against it.
“Ah,” it was the only sound, barely audible, that left her lips as her walls gripped Brenda’s fingers tightly and Sharon came with shuddering breaths.
The blonde just stared, wanting to do more, to do it all again but instead pulled her fingers out slowly and rested them on Sharon's thigh.
Afterwards, Sharon went very quiet and Brenda began to wonder whether something had just been broken. But then the woman laid down, laid her head next to Brenda's and closed her eyes, exhausted.
She woke up to voices in the background and realized it was the TV.
"Hey," Sharon said from beside her, wine glass in hand.
Wiping drool off her cheek, Brenda sat up. "What time's it?"
"Just after five."
Sighing, the blonde plopped back onto the pillow. "I should go." She closed her eyes for just a moment, grasping for that sated, satisfied burn between her legs.
"I've missed this," she said quietly, listening to Sharon breathing slowly beside her.
"I know," the brunette whispered. "But Brenda--"
"Shush...I know." With that she sat up again and gave Sharon a gentle smile. "It's fine. I understand now."
The brunette looked at her for a long moment then smiled back. "Okay." She patted her leg. "Thank you, though, for being there for me."
"What a mess I made of it, too, huh?" Brenda chuckled. "Well. I'm gonna go on home but you call me if you need anything. I mean it."
"I will," Sharon said reassuringly. "If I need anything."
With a heavy heart, Brenda dragged herself out of bed and put on her shoes. She spotted her underwear next to the bedside cabinet and stared at it as her cheeks turned rosy. She snatched it off the floor and stuffed it into her purse alongside her lipstick that had fallen out and the phone charger she had taken to carrying around wherever she went.
"Here. The statement."
Brenda took the brown folder with a smile. "Did you find it all in order, Cap'n Raydor?"
"Right then..." Brenda murmured. "Bye, now," she said and bent down to place a gentle, gentle kiss on the corner of the woman's mouth. "Bye, Sharon."
When she finally made it home, Brenda was exhausted. She managed to drag herself into the house, dropping her purse onto the couch in the living room where Fritz had left the light on for her.
As she meandered into the dark bedroom, first one shoe off then the other, Fritz laid on his back in bed, his chest bare and one arm stretched across her side of the bed.
Brenda watched for a moment then pulled the v-neck shirt Sharon had stretched on one side over her head. She dropped it just there, on the floor, the skirt as well and went into the en-suit.
She wished she could have just crawled into bed but Sharon's scent still lingered on her skin, so shower it was.
Under the hot spray, Brenda contemplated the idiotic thing they had done and tried, with all her might, to find at least a shred of regret within herself.
When she returned to the bedroom, Fritz had turned over, his back to her.
Chapter 15: When the Penny Drops
Let the drama commence...
When the Penny Drops
SID had it all wrapped up two days later, not the next day, as Brenda had hoped. She had seen Sharon once, yesterday, to hand back her gun after the ballistics report had come in.
She had seen Provenza cornering the woman on her way out, his face solemn and, dare she say, empathetic. Then Flynn had joined their conversation, all stony faced and serious.
Brenda had remembered then, that they had used to work together, that Sharon had, in fact been partnered with Andy once, when she had been a rookie.
That evening SID had released the scene - Sharon's house - and Brenda had gotten the best crime scene cleaner upper Lieutenant Tao knew of and had then presented Pope with the bill. He didn't mind pushing things like that through for her these days - he was getting fired soon, as far as he was concerned.
"I've cataloged the evidence, Chief," Provenza had said late that evening. "I'll walk it down there now."
"It can wait 'til the mornin'."
"Eh," he had grumped and given her a very pointed look. "Maybe it would be better if I took these tonight, Chief."
The diaries, or log books, of course. Brenda had nodded and gone home.
Fritz had been very cheery when she had arrived, pressing a kiss to the side of her head and had asked how it all went.
"Good, good. Ballistics came back, no surprises there..."
"And?" He had prodded over Chinese take out.
"And, we're cataloging the evidence and I made Pope pay for a clean up crew."
He had chuckled at Will's expense.
"I'm recording the ball game..." He had then said. "Maybe we can watch that movie we missed yesterday."
Brenda had felt her own face hurt from smiling. It had been almost like it had been before. Fritz's arm around her, curled up on the couch together - that was what it was all about.
Safety. Comfort. Love.
So the next day, when Provenza handed over the summarization of statements, and they saw Delk waltz in, Brenda, for the first time since yesterday, felt her good mood dwindle.
"Does he have some sort of telepathy or why does he always turn up just at the wrong time?"
Provenza just looked at her.
"Chief Johnson...uh, Provenza," Delk said. "I just heard."
"News travels fast," the blond drawled and then said, quite on purpose, "I haven't even had the chance to call Sharon yet."
"Well." He smiled at her boyishly yet with hawk-like eyes. "I just wanted to personally thank you for a speedy conclusion. I'm sure...Captain Raydor feels the same."
"I'm sure she will."
"Well," he said again and shook her hand. "Good work."
"Thank you, Chief."
He gave her a very tight smile then he left.
"What was that all about?" Provenza grumped.
Brenda just shrugged.
"What an odd little man."
"Hey," Provenza said, "I may be short and I may be odd but I sure don't moon over Darth Raydor." He cleared his throat. "Unlike some people."
Gritting her teeth, Brenda said nothing. Instead she called Sharon. She got her answer phone, both times, and in the end Brenda just left a message.
"And don't forget that appointment with Behavioral Science," she chirped just for good measure.
When she got home that night, late, and pulled onto the drive, she wondered where Fritz was. He hadn't called but then again, neither had she.
Nevermind, she thought as she stuck the key in the lock, a glass of wine was waiting for her.
What greeted her on the other side of the door, after she had almost tripped over it in the dark, was a suitcase. One of two as she discovered once she had turned the light on.
Brenda just stared at the set.
Then the penny dropped.
She dug into her purse, shifting its entire contents from one side to the other five times before dumping it all on the floor.
They weren't there, she realized with increasing horror.
Brenda abandoned everything and hurried into the bedroom. There, she went through the hamper, frantically throwing clothes onto the floor until it was empty.
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no!"
The underwear was gone from her purse, and her clothes gone from the floor where she had discarded them. With a sickening feeling she sank to the floor, cradling her upset tummy.
"No, no, no..."
Several thoughts went through her head.
She should call Fritz.
She should call Sharon.
She should check the washing machine.
She should check the closet because maybe Fritz was going on a trip.
Brenda opened the closet, slowly, her head so hot and thumping with terror, she might just pass out from it.
Yes. Half her work clothes were gone. Half her casual outfits, too. Packed into two small suitcases. Her body shook and her heart constricted painfully in her chest, sucking her lungs, her entire rib cage, into a black, bottomless abyss.
She stood there, staring, blinking, and for a moment she felt suspended somewhere in the air, looking down at herself with a detachment usually reserved for crime scenes. Then her face went even hotter, her limbs heavy, leaden.
He had found out.
At first, Brenda wondered how then searched her memory, puzzling over last night, when they had sat on the couch together. Had he known then?
It had been a goodbye, Brenda realized. Au revoir to this marriage. Aufwiedersehen, Brenda Leigh. He had known.
"Oh, Fritz," she mumbled.
Out in the hallway, she collected her things and stuffed them back into her purse. If she hadn't been so careless...
If she hadn't. If she hadn't...any of this.
Then, stuck to one suitcase, she found an envelope. A note, maybe? Brenda opened it and scribbled onto a post-it was Fritz's handwriting.
The post-it was stuck to a key card for the Hyatt. Funny, Brenda thought, that's where she lived when she first came to LA.
And then she burst into tears. She cried like she hadn't cried in a very, very long time. She sobbed, wailed with her forehead pressed against the floor as the world, her life, spun around her in never ending circles.
"Oh, god," she moaned. "What did I do? What did I do?"
"Are you okay, ma'am?"
"Hm? Oh. Yes." Brenda left it at that as the concierge gave her a tight smile.
In the bathroom she realized that her make-up had run all sorts of places and had then dried in black streaks. She stared at herself for a very long time in a mixture of disbelieve and disgust.
She had no idea how she got here. Not the hotel. But here, to that point in her life. If she were honest with herself which, unbeknownst to most, she was most of the time, brutally so, she'd have to examine that part of herself, the one that she shoved back into the furthest corner of her very being, and deal with what she had avoided for months.
But she couldn't, not yet, think about that. Rationalizing wasn't on the agenda - sorry, compartments full to overflowing.
She laid on the bed for another long, long while with a bottle of wine that she hadn't bothered pouring into a glass. She drank the whole thing, gulping mouthful after mouthful until she couldn't taste the bile.
She thought about calling her Mama but then, maybe, she was too drunk to be careful about what she said when, really, all Brenda wanted to do was to call and cry into the phone and tell her Mama what a huge mistake she had made.
She switched the TV on when the silence became too much. She drank the tequila from the mini bar, and the vodka, both of which she heaved up over the toilet.
Then, around 2, she passed out on the bed.
Brenda woke up slowly. It was her phone buzzing, she knew that, but couldn't bring herself to open her eyes. As she turned over, the buzzing stopped and started anew.
Work. She was meant to be at work! Her eyes shot open and she realized with startling clarity where she was.
Fritz. Maybe it was Fritz.
"Chief?" It was Gabriel. "Chief, are you okay?"
"Yes. Yes, I am. What's goin' on?"
"What's going on?" Gabriel parroted. "We've been calling you for over an hour."
"Ooh, no," she whimpered as the room began to spin around her. "I'm sorry. I've just-I've--"
"Where are you? I'm at your house. And Agent Howard isn't picking up the phone either. We thought you'd been in a car crash or something."
"No, no, I'm fine, I'm just..." Just what? Brenda looked around the room, her unopened suitcases still where the concierge had left them. "I'm..."
"I can't drive."
"And I need you to pick me up...from the Hyatt."
"The Hyatt Regency?"
"Yes," Brenda said slowly. "You still remember where that is?"
Gabriel remained quiet for a moment then said. "Uh, okay, sure. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
Brenda hung up and bit her lip, hard. She wanted to stay right there on the bed and not move for at least a whole decade - waste away into nothingness.
As she dragged herself to the bathroom, her stomach lurching and rolling, she tried to come up with an explanation for Gabriel. She showered, mulling it over.
She ended up wrapped in a towel and staring at the suitcases wondering what Fritz had packed for her. Brenda hoped he had remembered a toothbrush and immediately felt heartbroken at the thought.
She always relied on Fritz to organize her things and take care of stuff - she always managed to get to work on time though and he had once complained about that after she had left a dirty plate in the bedroom for over a week and had run out of clean bras.
She opened the first suitcase and found mostly work clothes. She picked an outfit - a skirt, very brightly colored and printed - to divert attention from her swollen eyes and pale complexion. A fuchsia top, glaringly bright, and a somewhat muted black blazer.
He had packed underwear for a week. Was that how long she was supposed to not call?
In the other suitcase she found jeans and shirts and sweaters. Her blow dryer. Make-up. Toothbrush.
For someone who had never really needed anyone, who had merely permitted people to partake in her life, Brenda felt decidedly helpless and left behind. Perhaps that was how Fritz had felt when he had found out? The blonde pushed the thought aside, cramming it into a box at the very back of her mind.
When Gabriel picked her up outside the hotel, reminiscent of her first weeks with the LAPD, Brenda tried to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
David just kept glancing her way for all of five minutes before he had to say something. "You wanna tell me what's going on?"
He usually wouldn't speak to her in this way but she could tell he was upset and angry.
"Too much wine," she said, her head pounding and her eyes nearly falling out of their sockets behind her sunglasses. "I..." She took a breath. "I want you to know that, whatever happens, I've always appreciated your candor and your...friendship--"
"You're not gonna quit, are you? I mean, if the Pope becomes Chief now, I'm sure you can pick--"
"Wait." Brenda shook her head. "What are you talkin' about?"
"Chief?" Gabriel looked at her as they came to a stop at an intersection. "Didn't you hear?"
"Chief Delk," he said. "He's dead."
"But--but I only saw him last night." She replayed their encounter in her head for anything out of the ordinary. "When?"
Gabriel sighed. "He collapsed in the middle of City Hall late last night."
"Oh, for heaven's sakes," she grumped and tried to muster up some sympathy. "That's terrible."
"So, Pope's the acting Chief."
"And you're next in line for his job."
Brenda glared out of the window. "Tell me something I don't know, Detective." She rubbed her temples, fighting the pounding in her head.
"Soooo, Chief. What were you talking about?"
The blonde sighed. "I'm afraid that'll have to wait."
Chapter 16: Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Sailor
Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Sailor
On her way up in the elevator, Brenda began to regret her choice in outfit. It was too bright for the day after Chief Delk had keeled over and dropped dead.
They probably all thought she had known and had picked this outfit deliberately when all she had intended was to distract everyone long enough to not ask why she looked like death warmed over.
She also regretted going to the hotel so readily - that was just an admission of guilt, and she didn't even know what Fritz knew.
If she had stayed and argued her case, perhaps she would still be sleeping in her own bed.
Or perhaps it was time to stop lying.
"It's just..." He looked around. "What do you want me to tell the others?"
Brenda glanced down the hall and adjusted her purse. "Nothin'."
The blonde lifted an eyebrow. "Or is there anything you feel the need to say, Detective?"
Gabriel just looked back at her and then at his feet, shaking his head. "Nope."
The blonde nodded to herself as they split ways. Will would be mad, she just knew it. He had called six times earlier that morning. Her phone beeped as she stood in front of the vending machine - she hadn't eaten anything since yesterday but couldn't bring herself to choose anything.
She'd throw it straight back up, Brenda suspected, and she didn't want to associate any of these chocolate bars with that.
Instead she pulled out her phone and opened the text message. It was from Sharon. Brenda's tummy fluttered.
'Sorry, did not feel like talking to anybody. Good luck with the Pope.'
Brenda nibbled her lip. Should she even text back? What with...well, Fritz and everything. She would have to warn Sharon. Would Fritz confront her?
Or worse, report them for conduct unbecoming?
Brenda felt like heaving, again, and rubbed her tummy.
"Ah, finally," Will said from behind her and grabbed her arm like a brute. "In my office. Now."
They hurried down the hall.
"I've called you, Gabriel's called you. Provenza called you--"
"I know, I know," Brenda interrupted as the door slammed shut behind her. "I'm sorry. I just--" I just, what? The blonde breathed out slowly and stared at the big, stuffy chair behind the desk.
This would be her office in a month.
If she still had a job by then.
Brenda dropped her purse, flopped into the visitors' chair and stuck her head between her knees.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," she mumbled. "I know what you're gonna say and I just--I just don't think I can deal with it. Right now." When she looked up, Will was staring at her, confused. "So. They're makin' you Chief of Police."
"After the funeral. Which is how long you've got to get used to the idea of having to move office."
Brenda rubbed her temples. "Isn't there anyone else?"
"What? You want to report to Taylor?"
"Taylor," Brenda breathed, nauseated by the mere thought.
"Besides," Will said as he sat. "It has to be you. What's it going to look like if I promote Taylor over my own outside hire, who, may I remind you, was in the running for Chief herself."
And what a farce that had been, Brenda thought sullenly.
"Look. I realize you never wanted this job and I know you did your best to keep me behind my desk, I'm appreciative, but this is gonna happen, Brenda. Whether you like it or not."
The blonde picked up her discarded purse, suddenly woozy - low blood sugar, she told herself. She rummaged for a mint and then, out of nowhere, everything crept up on her again.
"If I still have a job by then," she said what she'd thought earlier out loud. "Or a husband."
"Nothing. I mean, I may have made a...mistake. I dunno. It's not important." She glanced at her phone again and wiped at her eyes.
"Seriously, you need to get it together."
"I am, I will." She took a deep breath.
"Oh, and there's another thing. Speaking of Fritz. I got a call earlier this morning. Apparently the FBI pulled the evidence in Raydor's shooting. Know anything about that?"
Well, Brenda thought as her face drained of all color, now he knew everything.
"Fritz," she said, voice steady. "I know you told me not to call but...but I want to explain. So, I'll just keep on callin' 'til you pick up." She hung up the phone and squinted at the screen.
She didn't do the whole texting thing much. She texted Charlie sometimes and that was about it. She preferred talking yet she didn't feel like talking to Sharon at all.
Having to explain to the woman that her career might suddenly end, and that there was a ton of humiliation coming her way, wasn't something she could stomach.
So Brenda texted, her reading glasses perched low on her nose.
'We need to talk.'
She realized it sounded somewhat ominous once she had sent it but shrugged it off - she didn't have time for niceties.
By the end of the day Brenda hadn't heard from either Fritz or Sharon. She had left over 15 messages for him. So she stayed late at work until Gabriel poked his head in.
"Chief? You ready to go soon?"
"Oh, I completely forgot!" Brenda gathered her things immediately. "I'm so sorry, Detective."
"It's okay, Chief. Uh, do you need help with that?" He pointed at the giant stack of files she had gathered, paperwork mostly - she needed to keep busy.
"No, no, I'm fine." She picked the stack up and slung her purse over her shoulder.
In the car she said, "Just the hotel's fine." She glanced at Gabriel. "My car. It's still there."
David just drove. He knew she was lying. A tiny part of Brenda wished he'd just ask and she could tell him all about how she was screwing up her perfectly good life for no apparent reason. At the hotel she thanked him and went straight inside, not even keeping up the pretense.
She stopped at the restaurant and ate by herself, pouring over an old case file.
She called her Mama, making idle chit chat - her brother was selling the house to get something bigger, Charlie was doing real well, Daddy still loved the wrenches she got for him.
Then, as it was pitch black outside, Brenda prayed for a dead body.
Did that make her a bad person?
She laid on her side and cried into the pillow over her lost morals, her failed marriages and the confusing tendency towards sleeping with Sharon Raydor.
It was three days later when Fritz finally picked up the phone. Brenda could barely believe her luck.
"Hi," she said dumbly, her mouth suddenly dry. "Hi, Fritz." She didn't know what else to say or how to say it. Fritz was quiet for the longest time, all she could hear was his steady breathing.
"Brenda," he said. "I can't talk right now."
"Okay, um," she said slowly, "b-but when?"
"I can't. I don't know what I'll do...or say, I'm that angry."
Brenda sucked in a breath. "I want to explain, Fritzi, please."
"I'm not sure I want you to." He sighed on the other end and Brenda could make out the sounds of ringing phones and voices then he said, "Saturday. Come by the house on Saturday evening."
"Okay," Brenda nodded to herself. "I'll be there by six. And Fritzi, I-I really--"
"I can't do this right now. Just...just stop calling me."
He hung up. Brenda stared at the phone then buried her face in her hands. It was all getting a bit too much - she realized she was drowning in things she had zero control over. A job that she didn't want, forced on her, a marriage that probably wasn't even remotely salvageable--
What did he know, exactly? It drove her insane; not knowing just drove her crazy, and a small part of her wondered whether Fritz was keeping her in the dark on purpose.
He knew her, after all, perhaps better than anyone.
"Chief? A minute?" Taylor stood in her doorway, frowning.
"Oh, uh, sure, sure. Come on in, Commander."
Taylor entered, a thin folder in his hand. "I pulled the missing persons case file you asked for." He held it out to her and as she took it with a quiet 'thanks' he proceeded to sit down.
What now, Brenda thought. "Anything else, Commander?"
"It's about Chief Delk. The service is on Sunday, next week."
"Oh, good," Brenda opened her drawer and reached in blindly for a Twizzler.
"I realize that, maybe, it seems a little premature but I was, well, wondering if you had any idea who Chief Pope and, uh, you might pick to run your squad?"
The blonde chomped down on the Twizzler then threw it in the bin. "Certainly premature, Commander considerin' Chief Delk's not even in the ground yet."
Taylor didn't move. "I know it may seem insensitive but, Chief, I was just wondering." He shrugged and gave her one of his smiles that he usually reserved for the press. Then he turned serious. "The thing is, I've had about thirty years of public servitude, and I, quite frankly--"
"Had enough?" Brenda interrupted.
"Your words, not mine." He shrugged casually and adjusted his brightly colored tie. "What with Delk lifting the promotion freeze, and you moving up the ladder, the department's short a Deputy Chief," he said, pragmatic. "I also realize that, to run this division, I don't have to be promoted..."
"So, what you're sayin' is, you don't want my job if there's no promotion in it." Brenda pulled out a packet of M&Ms and proceeded to tear it open.
"What I'm saying is that if you decided not to, uh, take the promotion, that I'd be more than happy to and that I was hoping for your support, seeing as I have supported you, vigorously, in your bid to become Chief of Police."
Ah. Brenda spilled the M&Ms across her desk. "And report to you?" It came out a bit more sarcastic than she had meant but it was the truth - she'd be damned if he ever outranked her.
"Look," he said smoothly. "We all know you don't want to be Assistant Chief. But if you decided to stay with the department, all I'm askin' is that you think of me because I've earned," he stressed that, "Earned! A promotion. Deputy Chief. Maybe the new Special Operations task force Delk's been putting together, hm?"
Brenda sighed. "Commander..."
"Just think about it. I mean, Commander McGinnis would make a good replacement."
"Well," Taylor said as he got up. "I've taken up enough of your time." He smiled again then stopped at the door. "Oh, uh, by the way. If you decided to...explore other avenues, I heard the FBI's looking."
"Mmhm. Section Chief. Some sort of task force, you know how it is...dime a dozen."
Chapter 17: Rich Woman, Poor Woman, Beggar Woman, Thief
Rich Woman, Poor Woman, Beggar Woman, Thief
Brenda drove past her house. She slowed down a little and looked at Fritz's car in the drive. The lights were on and she could make out the TV. Joel was probably situated on the back of the sofa. Before she realized what she was doing, Brenda had stopped the car.
She stared at the house, wanting nothing more than to just go in and be home with her husband and her cat. But instead she merely sat there until she nearly cried. Rubbing her upset stomach, Brenda tore herself away. She had to or else she'd stay there all night.
As she drove on, her heart squeezed so painfully in her chest, she thought she'd just die. Brenda wasn't maudlin but as she sat at an intersection, she almost, very nearly, wanted to plow her car into the 18 wheeler across the road.
She couldn't believe what she had done, it made her sick to her stomach, literally.
She stopped in front of Sharon's house and stared at that one. The lights were on, too. Her car was there.
Brenda leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, gulping air into her lungs. She had no idea how to tell the woman that her career and the life as she knew it depended upon the mercy of one Fritz Howard.
Rubbing at her tired eyes, Brenda got out of the car. Her knees felt like jelly and the blonde tried to remember the last time she'd been so scared. Maybe that one time when she had told her daddy she was going to Georgetown.
That day her gut had nearly dropped out.
Another deep breath then she rapped on the door. Quietly. Hoping Sharon wouldn't hear. Wouldn't open the door and she could just go home. Well. The hotel.
"Brenda?" The door had opened and there stood Sharon in a pair of jeans and a blouse so soft looking it may have just been silk. "What are you doing here?" She asked and stepped out, pulling the door shut behind her.
"I-I'm sorry for just turnin' up but...we need to talk, Sharon."
The brunette sighed and crossed her arms in front of her against the chill in the air. "I know," she said, looking at something else, something in the shadows. "But I really can't talk right now."
Brenda let out a humorless laugh. "That's what everybody keeps tellin' me."
The blonde sighed. "We really, really need to talk. Now."
The front door flew open again, revealing a tall young man framed by the light in the hallway. He looked familiar, as if she had seen him before but Brenda couldn't place him.
"Oh," he said, clearly surprised. "Oh!" He looked at Brenda and extended his hand. "You're Chief Johnson!"
"I sure am." She shook his hand and plastered a smile onto her face when realization dawned. "And I'm sorry for draggin' your mama away. I hope I didn't interrupt anythin'."
"Ah, no, no. I was just wondering where you'd gone, mom. Dinner's nearly ready."
Sharon smiled at him affectionately. "I'll be right there."
"Oh, uh, why don't you join us, Chief? There's plenty."
"Oh, no, no, that's fine. I have ta--I have ta get back. To my place. I just need to borrow your mama for a bit." She could tell Sharon was relieved when she declined.
"Why don't we talk upstairs, hmm?"
They all went inside. Brenda remembered the house clearly. The pictures on the wall, where she recognized the boy from. The bedroom down the hall. The guest room she had slept in. Brenda had never been upstairs and felt somewhat uneasy, out of her element, as they ascended the stairs.
"In here," Sharon said, pulling her from her thoughts.
They entered what appeared to be a boy's bedroom, decorated with all things baseball and books about criminology, an odd amalgamation of childhood things and grown up stuff.
"It's Ricky's old room." Sharon said evenly. "He works with Agent Howard."
"I know," Brenda said. "Agent O'Donnell or some such."
"Dwyer," Sharon corrected with an eye-roll.
"Sorry," Brenda said for good measure. "Your husband's name?"
"It's mine. My maiden name."
Sharon looked away, her hands on her hips, and sighed. "I want to be furious with you for just showing up without even asking but I realize that, since I've been avoiding this conversation, you must feel equally as frustrated."
"Let me just say, how sorry I am for...manipulating you into...sleeping with me," Sharon said slowly.
"That looked like it hurt a little."
Brenda shook her head then, and plopped onto the bed, her knees no longer supporting her. "But, um, that's not why I'm here. And b'sides, none of it was your fault and no one can manipulate me into sleepin' with them no matter how many times they bat their eyelashes."
The brunette avoided her gaze again and nodded, defeated. "I'm aware of that."
"Then why apologize?"
Sharon seemed to search for the right words, the right reasons but none of it would come out. She just turned away, rubbing her forehead and shrugged.
"Sharon." How to deliver news like this? Brenda came up just as empty as Sharon had a moment before then she felt herself detach from her own emotions, all of the trouble she had gotten herself into, looked down upon the situation with an uncaring despondence.
"Fritz knows." The words bounced around the room while Sharon stood there, still, facing the window.
"He found out and I thought...I should tell you."
"He found out? How?"
Brenda had never heard Sharon's voice sound like that. "I'm not sure. Several things."
"When I came home that night, I left my clothes on the floor and he must've picked 'em up. I don't know, Sharon. And-and the notebook entries--"
"Crawley's. I-I didn't know he'd been followin' you for that long and I don't know what's in 'em, exactly, 'cause Fritz pulled them from Evidence--"
"Jesus, Brenda! Jesus Christ!" Sharon paced the room. "Jesus!"
"It's all in there?"
"I don't know. It don't say my name. Just CJ--"
"CJ? Chief Johnson? It doesn't take a genius to figure that out." The brunette paced again, her eyes shining with unshed tears, her hands trembling as she slapped them over her mouth to contain a sob. "What am I gonna do? I just put the house on the market--"
"I can't sleep here, after..." Sharon took her glasses off and wiped at her eyes. "Oh, god, I'm going to lose my job. Who's going to employ me? I'm barely promotable--"
"He found out four days ago, he's not reported us."
"Yet! Conduct unbecoming. You know how bad that looks? And the fact that I investigated your OIS! Oh, my god, Brenda! They're going to re-open every investigation I've ever conducted!"
Brenda's bottom lip trembled and for the very first time she felt the guilt hit her like a ton of bricks - not that niggly little feeling of regret, no. Guilt. Gut wrenching. Sickening. Earth shattering.
"I'll do whatever he says, I promise, Sharon, I'll make it right, I swear--"
"How? If Fritz decides to report us, that's his prerogative and there's nothing we can do about it."
"It's not like I was your direct supervisor. I'll go to Will--"
"Oh, no!" Sharon interrupted. "You will do no such thing. You'll be the Assistant Chief, Brenda, Pope can't afford a scandal like this. He'll crucify you and god only knows what he's gonna do to me."
Brenda snorted. "He sure can't afford it. He might throw a tantrum but it sure is in his best interest to keep this under wraps."
"And you're sure of that?"
As sure as she could be, Brenda thought glumly but gave Sharon a reassuring nod.
"You should go. Go home."
"Where? To my hotel room?" Brenda said sourly.
"Ha," Sharon laughed humorlessly. "You're not staying here. You're leaving."
"I wasn't asking," Brenda said demurely, patting down her skirt. "I just--" A hiccup interrupted whatever she was about to say. "I just-I just--"
"Dear god," Sharon lamented, arms crossed. "Please, tell me you're not about to cry."
She wasn't, Brenda insisted then burst into tears. She had seen Sharon do it - the tears so unexpected and sudden that they had come as a surprise to them both. So there she was, tears streaming down her face, breathing labored until she could barely get a word out.
"I'm so sorry, Sharon. I really am! I ruined everythin'! Everythin'!"
The brunette looked at her through her designer glasses. She was well practiced at appearing indifferent but Brenda knew better - she knew Sharon and what a gentle soul she truly was. As the tears rolled down her cheeks and the sobs wracked her body, Brenda finally understood what had previously escaped her.
"I'll miss you," she cried. "So much!"
Sharon sat beside her on the bed, one arm around her shoulders. "Shhh shh shh."
"I just want to feel normal. Just this one night. Please, Sharon, please, just this one last time."
The brunette sighed into her hair and squeezed her tighter. "I don't want my son exposed to all this. My family doesn't lie to each other."
"Please," Brenda begged. "I'll just be your friend Brenda, and he won't even know any better, I swear."
"Brenda..." Sharon let go and she looked like she was saying 'no' again but couldn't help but say 'yes'. "...okay. Fine. Stay." She looked like she regretted it. "What are you going to do about Fritz?"
"What do you mean?" Brenda asked as she wiped at her tears.
"Are you going to try to...mend things? That's what you want, right?"
"Of course," Brenda said immediately. Of course. Of course she wanted to mend things with Fritz. She had married him.
"Of course," Sharon repeated and shot up off the bed. "Great."
"It's just..." Sharon shook her head. "You can stay, tonight. But you have to stop taking advantage of me like this."
Sharon stared out the window at the light polluted night sky. It was a full moon and the bright, clean light shone into the bedroom. Brenda could see Sharon's immaculate silhouette framed by the moonlight. The brunette turned to her then, posture guarded.
"I hate you."
Brenda startled at the harsh words, blinking at the unexpected hurt they caused. "Well...if that's how you feel..." She trailed off. "I may have been takin' advantage of you but you took advantage of me right back." Brenda pointed at her then, a trait her mother utterly abhorred. "But I thought we'd been past that."
"Ha," Sharon chuckled and nearly doubled over with something heavy and burdensome. "Oh, god!" She glared at Brenda, shaking her head as if in disbelieve. "You idiot!" She yelled - Sharon never yelled - and gestured helplessly with her hands.
"Can't you see?"
"I have feelings for you!"
Brenda's mouth dropped open and suddenly she was somewhere else, with Elaine, looking through a two way mirror as the older woman's cigarette smoke wafted around her.
'He's going to crack,' Elaine said, smoking. 'The bigger the secret, the harder it is to keep.'
Sharon threw her hands up in the air and looked at her as if she were indeed an idiot. "I'm in love with you, Brenda. In case you hadn't noticed...which, of course--"
"Why didn't you say?"
"Say what? Even now, you want to be with Fritz, and trust me, I wasn't under the impression that that was going to change but if you keep doing things like this, saying things, that you're going to miss me..." Sharon trailed off then she truly looked at her, no more hiding. "Hope can be a very, very debilitating thing."
Brenda swallowed as they stood in this room together, the weight of it all crushing her. "I thought we were friends. I-I didn't know, Sharon."
"Well, now you do and I'd appreciate it if we didn't talk about it ever again."
"Whatever you want," Brenda said, afraid. Scared, even, of losing her friend forever.
"Okay," Sharon breathed out and she actually looked relieved. In that moment, Brenda envied her, envied that feeling, that weightlessness.
"Sharon?" Brenda reached for her hand and squeezed it. "I'll do everythin' I can, I promise. I won't let anythin' happen to you, not if I can help it, I owe you that much."
The brunette smiled, almost affectionately, and patted her hand. "Oh, honey. You don't owe me anything." Even when she said it, with that smile, Brenda could tell she was disappointed.
How long had Sharon been in love with her? And how could she not have known? Brenda began to realize that her selfishness had spread further and wider than she could have ever anticipated.
Downstairs, Sharon called out for her son. "Ricky?"
"In here," he said as he came out of the kitchen. "Everything okay?" He asked and eyed them both up. He could tell they had both been crying, perhaps he had heard the argument, their voices muffled by the walls.
"Yes," Sharon said after a moment. "My friend Brenda is having dinner with us."
"Oh? That's-uh-great. I'll just get another plate."
Brenda smiled. "Thank you." He was well mannered and handsome, just as she had imagined it and not at all how Fritz and that Agent Morgan had painted him.
He reminded her of his mama, of Sharon, in her clean cut dresses and suits. She imagined Ricky in his dark suit and tie, hair combed back, sleek and professional. Here, though, he wore faded jeans and a nondescript t-shirt with holes in it, well worn, his hair falling into his eyes.
"Are you alright?" Sharon asked gently, quietly, her hand resting on her arm, just so, and standing much closer than she ought to.
Brenda nodded and met Sharon's worried, intense gaze with a reassuring smile. "Yes, I'm fine."
"Then why are you staring at my son like a crazed psychopath?"
The blonde chuckled which, in turn, made Sharon chuckle, too. "Oh..." Brenda shrugged. "He's just like you."
"You mean, beside the facial hair and his flair for exotic food."
Brenda's face fell. "How exotic?"
Sharon leaned closer. "I've learned not to ask."
The blonde's tummy churned as they neared the table and Ricky opened the oven. The smell was great. So far, so good.
"Okay, you've kept me waiting long enough. What is it? And more importantly, where is it from?"
"It's a Russian dish. Well, French and Russian," he said, smile wide as he set the casserole onto the table. "Veal, I hope you eat veal, Chief?"
"Just plain Brenda will do," she said and glanced at the dish as her face broke out into a smile all on its own. It wasn't the fact that she knew what it was that flooded her with relief but the simple knowledge that she had eaten it before and had liked it.
She wouldn't have to pretend and swallow every bite with silent contempt.
"Ha!" Ricky grinned. "How did you know?"
"Ooh," Brenda shrugged nonchalantly. "Been to Russia a coupla times." Her standard line that she had once fed Sharon.
"Oh really? Wow! But uh, let's eat and then you have to tell me all about it. I've got wine. Brenda? What would you like?"
"She drinks anything," Sharon interrupted and took a seat, patting the chair next to her.
They ate and drank. Brenda just listened for the most part. Listened to Sharon laugh outrageously, her voice, laden with carefree humor, listened to her retelling of this brilliant all-gay theatre production.
Listened to Ricky saying, "If you keep hanging out with gay guys, how are you ever going to meet someone?"
"Very funny but I don't need you match-making."
"Eh," he shrugged boyishly. "And here I thought your coming out preceded a long line of gorgeous women." As if he had remembered himself, he glanced at Brenda and frowned.
"Brenda knows. Besides, this isn't a secret."
"...okay," he said slowly and smiled again. "Ah, sorry. I just--of course Brenda knows."
"Of course," Sharon patted Brenda's arm again and then she poured more wine. Her eyes were shining with mirth, amusement at her son's expense and then Ricky was clowning around again, and Sharon laughed, and Brenda felt her heart warm.
In the pit of her stomach however, sat a big knot that had only just begun to unravel. A weight she had carried with her for a long time unanchored. Beside her, Sharon leaned closer, her perfume surrounding them both in a cloud of warmth.
As Brenda looked at her, really looked at her, well, she began to wonder what could have been. Say, if she had met Sharon and not Fritz.
And then, that weight, it just left.
She laid in Sharon's bed, wearing her borrowed pyjamas and stared at the ceiling. There wasn't much to see, naturally, but Brenda felt restless and if she stared long enough at nothing in particular, she may just fall asleep.
Sharon was right next door, in the guest room as she refused, or rather, couldn't face the memories. Crawley had wrecked a lot of things for Sharon, Brenda thought, but she was about to wreck a whole lot more.
Will came to mind, over and over, which was in part why she was staring at the ceiling. An hour ago, Brenda had remembered how in love she had been with him and how heartbroken when she had found out he had been married.
Just like Sharon, she had hoped because he had said things, promised things, that he had no intention of keeping. She had held on and had waited until, one day, her heart couldn't take the ache anymore. Maybe that was what had happened to Sharon when she had finished things.
How long had she hurt because of me? Brenda buried her face in the pillow that smelled of nothing but Sharon.
Brenda pushed the blanket aside and got out of bed. If she had given it any thought, she would have known it was yet another stupid idea, but realization only struck when she crawled onto the guest bed and slipped under the covers next to Sharon.
"What are you doing?" The brunette asked sleepily. "Go back to bed."
"I'm just gonna stay here," Brenda whispered back and slung an arm across Sharon's waist. She drew comfort from the warm body, the scent - safe and calming - the soft inhale and exhale.
"Brenda..." Sharon whispered. "I can't do this."
"I'm not askin'."
The woman turned around, their faces inches apart. "I know," Sharon said, her face dark and cloudy. "But, Brenda--"
"Shhhh..." The blonde leaned closer and kissed Sharon, softly. She, honestly, hadn't meant to but once she was doing it, Brenda had a hard time stopping. Sharon let her, she probably felt as if she didn't have much choice what with being in love.
Brenda remembered that feeling; of taking whatever Will would give. So she kissed Sharon with all the affection she had.
When they were undressed and clinging to one another, and Brenda was inside Sharon, touching her slowly, she knew that, come morning, she would walk out of this house.
Brenda would walk out, she had to, but she knew she would take Sharon's heart with her.
Chapter 18: The Unmentionable Planet
The Unmentionable Planet
Brenda used her key to get in the house. She had wondered whether she should knock but that just seemed silly. It was her home, too.
As she closed the door behind her, feet like cement, she immediately spotted Fritz on the sofa. He was in plain clothes; jeans and a shirt. He wore his shoes as if he wanted to make sure he was ready to leave whenever he felt like it.
"Hi," Brenda said timidly and held out the brown take-out bag. "I got dinner. Happy Family...and extra spring rolls."
Fritz said nothing as she set the bag on the table. He looked defeated, angry. Brenda had wondered all day how to play this. She wanted to lie, desperately; the truth was embarrassing and it might just destroy everything she had. It might just destroy Fritz. She had never meant to hurt him but the truth would do just that.
Her gaze followed his, downward to the boxes on the floor.
"Maybe you can return those," Fritz said.
Brenda wished she had read the notebooks, just so she knew what she was dealing with - she hated not knowing all the answers before anyone could even ask her questions.
She loved this man, she really, really did but Brenda also knew that he loved her more than she loved him. It had always been that way, with everyone she had ever been with.
...except Will, maybe. He had cured her of love and trust.
She looked at Fritz again.
Quietly, she sat her purse on top of the evidence boxes and leaned against the wall, mind made up.
"Okay," she said, her voice trembling. "I've been sleepin' with Sharon Raydor."
"I know that," he said immediately. "But thanks for not lying."
It was meant as an insult, Brenda knew that, but was she really that bad?
"I just feel so stupid." Fritz looked away - he couldn't even face her. "For over a year! Right under my nose!"
"That is not true!"
"Oh, really? C'mon, Brenda--"
"No," she said firmly.
"I could smell her all over your clothes when you came home that night. And those notebooks? At first you had the decency to wait 'til I was out of town but then you just stopped caring! Fucking her when you should've been at work, when you should've been here!"
Brenda swallowed her first reaction, calming her nerves. "I deserved that but...if you've made your mind up already about what you think happened then--"
"Do tell. Tell me all the details, Brenda."
The blonde looked down, at her shoes, and scuffed the floor. She had had no idea how humiliating this would feel, how helpless she would be, defenseless against whatever Fritz wanted to hurl at her.
"I know," she said feebly, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I know I make it real hard for you to love me and I know that what I've done...it's the most horrible thing I've ever done to you but I'd do anythin' if you could find it in yourself to forgive me...or-or give me a chance to make it up to you as best as I can..."
She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her favorite cardigan but the tears just kept on coming.
Brenda's eyes shot up. "Why?"
"Why did you do it? Why her?"
The blonde struggled to find an answer, just like last time he had asked. She had chosen not to know, not to figure it out for a reason. It scared her to think that there was something more, something deeper that, once she had acknowledged it, she wouldn't be able to make go away again.
"D'you think that's gonna make you feel better?"
"...no. But I need to know." His voice was calm, quiet and removed. "I don't know if I can forgive you, Brenda. But if you want me to try, you have to tell me everything."
Everything; the word echoed in her mind. She never told anyone everything, ever. "Okay."
"Then why? If you love me..."
"If?" Brenda shook her head. "It wasn't about love."
"So you just decided to throw it all away for something completely meaningless?"
"No..." It just sort of happened, Brenda thought.
Brenda took a deep breath and looked at anything but Fritz. "It's just...the first time I saw her," 'her', not 'Sharon', "I felt this...thing."
"What thing?" He pressed.
"Attraction, I guess. But I wasn't gonna do anything, I didn't even know what I felt." Brenda remembered that night, when she had seen Sharon at the hospital. "I wanted to hate her because of it but try as I might, I just couldn't."
"You have feelings for her?"
Brenda wanted to say no. Of course not. But the words wouldn't come. "Maybe." She shrugged. "Not love but...I feel something."
"And then you just, what? Decided to have an affair?" He was furious now - sex was one thing, feelings another.
"Not at first."
He let out a dark laugh.
"We went on as we were. Sharon didn't do anything I didn't want her to," Brenda chuckled, her face hot with embarrassment. "I always blamed her but it was just as much my fault. I thought it would just go away, I wanted it to go away but then you left town, a-and I didn't want to have an affair, I'd decided to sleep with her, just that once, and I thought it would go away then--"
"It didn't seem that way at the time!" Brenda rubbed her tired eyes and tried to remember what had been going round and round in her head back then. Sharon, mostly, she realized with regret. "It made it worse. I wanted her and we slept together again, when you were gone--"
"But you met her, it says so."
Brenda glanced down at the boxes and the big, bold letters.
Evidence. Evidence against her.
"I did, okay? We met. We kissed, we had sex in the car--"
"And then we met at the hotel--"
"What do you mean, again?" Brenda looked down at the boxes and then she realized, to her utter horror, when she had first met Crawley. That night, after the Rick Zooman case, after they had slept together.
"How long? How long, Brenda?"
"When you left to arrest that guy, that drug dealer--"
"That was the first time--"
"Oh, my god!"
"A-a-and then we had sex in the car, and then we met at the hotel, and then at her house, twice. And then we stopped, I swear!"
Fritz stood up then, and paced, his hands on his hips. "You actually want me to believe that?"
"It's the truth, I swear! We were friends, just friends--"
"Until you decided to have sex with her again, at the hotel."
"It wasn't like that," Brenda sniffled. "I don't know what happened. Sharon needed someone--"
"You know," Fritz hissed, "in the big scheme of things, I really don't give a shit what Sharon Raydor needs."
"My, god, Brenda," he said quietly.
The blonde quivered in fright, crying as her whole life imploded before her. "Just tell me what I have to do. Please? I'll do it, whatever you want!"
"What?" Surely he couldn't ask that of her. "My job?"
"Yes. Your job." He crossed his arms. "I don't want you to see her anymore."
Brenda knew, deep down, that she shouldn't agree because that was exactly what he wanted. He was leaving it up to her, to end this marriage but what with the promotion she didn't want...and the simple fact that she didn't want to end anything, Brenda nodded.
"Okay. I'll quit."
"I will. For you. If that's what you want."
She nodded again, trying to convince herself that she had made the right choice. "Okay. But..." She had promised Sharon. "But, if I do this, you have to promise me to leave Sharon out of this. To leave her alone."
"You're not in the position to make demands here, Brenda."
"I'm askin'. And b'sides, what you just asked of me? I think it's a hell of a lot." As he pondered, Brenda realized what power she had just given him. She had put him above her job, above herself and what she wanted. She hoped he would be satisfied with that.
"Fine." He shrugged. "Just so you know, I wasn't going to report either of you in the first place."
"Well." Brenda fought against the nausea in her tummy. "I guess I'll talk to Will tomorrow and-uh-look for a new job."
"Great. And I'll find a marriage counselor...to...fix this."
"And maybe it would be best if you, uh, stayed at the hotel, for now."
Brenda nodded. "Of course."
As the light turned green, Brenda took a right at the intersection for the third time and checked her mirrors. Perhaps it was a bit late to live her paranoia to its fullest but there could be no more mistakes - she had even switched her phone off.
No more calls on cell phones, no calling from the hotel, no emails, no texts. Just the extension at work.
She stopped eight blocks down and parked her car there then walked up the street. When she arrived at the house, Sharon was just stepping out the door, locking up and flinging her jacket over her shoulder.
The brunette turned around, car door open already and purse tossed onto the passenger seat. "Brenda," she groaned. "Now, I really can't talk. I've been called out." Then she shook her head, a confused expression crossing her features. "Why are you here? I mean...here and not at the scene?"
"Provenza called me."
"Oh, no!" Brenda dug into her bag, frantically searching for her phone. "Oh, shoot! I switched it off!"
"You're a walking train wreck," Sharon said evenly as they stood there on the drive. "Sometimes I wonder how you manage...with yourself."
"Barely," Brenda retorted and switched her phone back on. "My car's all the way down there!" No more mistakes, she reminded herself and then rounded the car. "I'm comin' with you."
"Brenda!" Sharon hissed but the blonde got in anyway, the small Gucci bag on her lap. "Do you really think this is a good idea?"
Brenda rolled her eyes "Just drop me off at my car and then I'll follow you to the scene."
The brunette glared at her, just to make her feelings known, and started the car.
"I talked to Fritz." Brenda decided to just come out with it. "He agreed to leave you out of it. He won't report you and he won't be comin' knockin' on your door."
Sharon glanced at her then looked back at the road. "And you're sure of that?"
"I am," Brenda said firmly. "I gave him exactly what he wanted." She chuckled at the irony. "What he's wanted for years, in fact."
"And what's that?"
The blonde shrugged, her insides clenching at the mere thought of it. "I'll quit my job."
Sharon gasped beside her but the blonde couldn't stand to even look at her. Instead she stared out of the window. "Oh, god, Brenda. I am so sorry."
"Well." Brenda refused to cry, she had done plenty of that. "If that's what it takes. I'm just not good with change, is all."
"Oh, Brenda..." The brunette double parked next to Brenda's silver Crown Vic and sighed, dismayed.
"He knows that, if he reports this, if I have another ethics inquiry on my record, I'll get fired and then who's goin' to employ me here? We'd have to move...and everything." She leaned back, both purses on her lap and rubbed her forehead. "He's always wanted me to quit. I never have time and, at first, that was okay but he hates that I work with Will and now he doesn't want me to see you anymore."
"Oh," Sharon breathed softly. "So...he's willing to fix this?"
"He's willing to try therapy."
"And what about your job? What are you going to do?"
Brenda shook her head. "I really don't know, Sharon. I mean, I'm about to get promoted and when I quit it's gonna look real bad for Will..."
"What a mess..."
"None of it is your fault. I did this all on my own and I want you to know that I'm not angry..."
"Oh, Brenda. This is just as much my mess as it is yours." Sharon smiled then, her warm smile that always made Brenda's tummy flutter. "But thank you. For trying to make me feel better." She patted Brenda's knee softly then nodded her head towards the Crown Vic. "We better get going or we'll walk into a turf war."
Brenda smiled back. Sharon always made her feel better. "Okay. I'll follow you."
"That'll be a first."
"My, Cap'n Raydor, there's a first time for everything."
Chapter 19: Opposite!
The crime scene was located on a busy highway, of all places, and Brenda wished it had all happened about two miles further north because then she could have just called the Sheriff's Department and handed the whole thing over to them.
Provenza spotted them as they passed the tape, Elliott hot on his heels.
A young officer sat on the back of an ambulance, crying, the fire department was slicing open a car, popping the top and peeling it back like a sardine can. Taylor was there organizing traffic with the Traffic Division.
"I can barely hear myself think!" Sharon shouted over the cacophony.
My thought exactly, Brenda grumped internally. "Lieutenant!"
Provenza sidled up to them, his expression severely harassed as they walked along. "Chief!"
A helicopter chose that moment to fly over and by the looks of things, Brenda thought, it wasn't going to be the last.
"Let's talk in my Command Post!" Sharon yelled and pointed towards the big 18 wheeler parked smack in the middle of all the chaos. The foursome trekked across the scene and stepped inside. As Elliott closed the door, he effectively shut out the noise.
"What in the world is goin' on here?"
"Well, Chief...Captain, you see--"
"I think what the Lieutenant is trying to say is that this is what a high speed chase gone wrong looks like," Sharon supplied. "Did we have a helicopter on the chase?"
"Yes," Elliott said, "We're still waiting for the recording though."
"Lieutenant, why don't we ask Chief Pope to hurry this along a bit?"
"Sure thing, Chief." Provenza whipped out his phone and dialed. While he spoke, Sharon gave her a tight smile.
"Thank you, Chief." Then she turned to Elliott again, nonchalant. "What do we know so far?"
"Four units were giving chase to a vehicle that had failed to stop for a traffic violation--"
"What kind of violation?" Brenda interjected.
The tall, dark haired Sergeant startled at the tone, he wasn't used to it, what with Sharon's usually polite and even tempered manner. "Ran a stop sign."
"All this for a stop sign?"
Sharon gave her a pointed look - she apparently agreed. "The driver?"
"Alive. Barely. He rear-ended another car, which ended up in the ditch then, according to the officers involved, they boxed him in and he ran straight into the barrier."
Brenda frowned - this wasn't how she had envisioned her Saturday night. She had had a date with a bottle of Merlot and Chinese take out. "And, what exactly, is Major Crimes doin' here anyhow? Seems to me that y'all have it all covered."
"The thing is, Chief," Provenza said, phone call finished. "A body just...popped out of the trunk."
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Brenda hoisted her purse up higher, huffing. "So this guy's drivin' 'round town with a body in the trunk, runs a stop sign and then--"
"No, no," Provenza interrupted. "The body was in the other car. The one in the ditch."
"Oh, for heaven's sakes," she said again. "What are the chances of that?"
"Indeed," Sharon murmured.
"Just look at it this way: if the guy hadn't ran and the officers hadn't pursued, we'd probably never even have known about the body in the first place."
Brenda found that little fact to be of no consolation whatsoever.
"However," Sharon chimed in, "this makes it much easier to determine who will take lead on this investigation which will be FID, seeing as the majority of the scene is immediately related to the chase and consequent result thereof."
Brenda blinked. "Fine," she said, surprising everyone which she found terribly amusing. "You want it, you can have it."
"Now, Lieutenant, where's the driver of our body car?"
"Still in the car, dead."
"He wasn't a priority...until, well, the body dropped out."
"Okay, well, why don't you drag Flynn away from whichever FID personnel he's currently harassin' and have him hurry along the coroner. I want wallets, IDs, everything, from both the driver and the body in the trunk."
"You got it, Chief."
"Have Detective Gabriel run the plates on the vehicle. Is Buzz ready?"
"He should be here any minute now."
Brenda nodded then looked at Raydor. "As soon as you receive the helicopter footage, I would like to have a look at that."
"And have Sanchez interview the witnesses with you."
"Sergeant, take Sanchez with you, start with the responding vehicles."
Elliott nodded and headed out immediately, not one to waste time.
"Okay," Brenda sighed, getting her thoughts into some semblance of order. She glanced around the command truck and its high tech interior then at Provenza. "The car was rear-ended?"
"Then the first thing we need to figure out is whether the body was placed in the trunk, already dead or if there was a person in there that died durin' the collision."
Sharon cleared her throat. "You may have access to the chase vehicle."
"How very gracious of you, Cap'n," Brenda dead-panned. "But let's start with the body, Lieutenant." As Provenza made no move to leave, she lifted her eyebrows at him, prompting. "What is it?" Really, she thought, they didn't have time to stand around and make idle chit chat.
"Since you're both here, I'd like to have a moment to...uh...have a hypothetical, uh, conversation," he said slowly, eyes averted and hands stuffed into his pockets like a little school boy.
"How about we skip the hypothetical and you can just come out with whatever seems to be botherin' you so much."
Beside her, Sharon rolled her eyes.
"Well, Chief," he said, "what with you staying at the hotel--"
"Oooh, Detective Gabriel!"
"--and the two of you arriving together and, well, things people observed..." He shrugged.
Brenda, out of the corner of her eye, saw Sharon looking at her but the blonde refused to show a similar reaction. "What are you sayin', Lieutenant?"
"Well...I'm usually not one to meddle--" Brenda rolled her eyes at that. "--but I think it is my duty to mention that it would be a good idea if you were a bit more...discreet."
Sharon cleared her throat, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her trench coat now. She looked decidedly uncomfortable with where this was going and as much as she hated having her personal life examined, especially when it came to the more intimate details, Brenda had to know what he knew.
"In English, Lieutenant."
"I've read the notebooks," he said, "And it's plain obvious that CJ is you." He looked a tad angry. "And then I get your Sergeant in my ear about your car being at the house, again."
Right. Brenda felt her face go hot as she remembered that time he had come by to pick Sharon up and Sharon had made it plainly obvious that someone was hiding out in her bedroom.
"He passes my house on his way to his mother's," Sharon said quietly. The first thing that had come out of her mouth during this whole ordeal. "He visits her every Friday."
"When I was over for dinner last night," Brenda concluded.
"Well. I know what I know and Elliott knows what he knows," Provenza said tersely. "But people talk. Now. I don't give a damn about whatever it is you're doing but I'm running out of explanations whenever Elliott is yapping on about it."
Brenda crossed her arms and nibbled on her lip. Were they that obvious? There were a whole lot of questions she didn't dare ask. Instead she said, "Okay. Thank you, Lieutenant, for pointin' this out to us."
Provenza looked shocked at her nonchalance but, wisely, decided against saying any more. "I'll get, uh, Flynn to hurry the coroner along." He left after that.
"What? That's it?" Sharon practically screeched.
"What do you want me to do, Sharon? Put him on leave because he figured out we were sleepin' together?" What a mess. "You might wanna tell your Sergeant to stop runnin' his mouth, too--"
"Look at it this way: soon I won't be workin' with you anymore--"
"Yes," Sharon interrupted. "You get to swan off while I get to deal with the knowing looks." She stopped her outburst long enough to take a deep breath then let it out slowly as a long sigh. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"We both made a mess of things...and we'll just have to deal with all this as and when." Brenda reached out and squeezed Sharon's hand.
The door flew open and their hands separated. Elliott stepped in, followed by Sanchez. She saw the discomfort on Elliott's face although she had to look closely, but she knew that Sharon saw it, too.
"Captain," he said. "They took one of the officers to the hospital."
"Whiplash or some such thing."
"Well. Go! Take Sanchez with you, I'll interview the rest," Sharon urged.
"I'll get Gabriel to go along with you," Brenda suggested. "Detective Sanchez, you heard the Captain."
The pair dashed off and Brenda was left to look at Sharon again. "Okay. Alright then. Thank you, Sharon."
“Oof,” Brenda collapsed onto the bed, still wearing her clothes and trench coat. Her purse landed next to her with a muffled thud. Groaning as her body throbbed pleasantly as the muscles relaxed, Brenda went in search for something, anything, edible.
She hadn't eaten since breakfast and there hadn't really been time after they had left the scene. Elliott had called her not long after returning to the Murder Room that they had received the helicopter footage.
Tao had downloaded it and she had watched it on his computer. The eyewitness accounts had been fairly accurate, at least.
As she nibbled on the granola bar she had picked up that morning and forgotten about, her phone started ringing. Sighing, she looked at the screen.
“Hi,” the brunette sounded surprised. “I just wanted to...inform you that, upon Chief Pope's urging, we have released the scene.”
Brenda snorted. “He was gettin' antsy 'bout the cost of closing a major highway all night."
"Every minute, Captain, is costing us my months' salary," Sharon grumped in an imitation of Will. "I had your murder car towed to the yard, by the way."
Brenda crossed her legs, rubbing her feet against each other and looked disdainfully at the granola bar. "Thanks. Whole lotta good that did us."
"Mmh hm. No ID on either body and Morales can't get to 'em 'til tomorrow mornin', which means I won't be gettin' the ten card 'til then either."
"Gosh," Sharon said airily. "Disaster!"
"I know!" She chuckled and curled up on her side. "Did I tell you 'bout Taylor and his pompous suggestions?"
"What pompous suggestions? There's too many to keep track of, quite frankly."
Brenda snorted. "Apparently my job's not good enough for him. He said that, if I end up as Assistant Chief, he don't want it. He musta heard something because he wants S.O.B."
"S.O.B.?" Sharon chuckled. "If the shoe fits..."
"That's what I thought."
"Shame his carefully laid plans will be thwarted."
Another perusal of her purse produced a lone Ding Dong which Brenda found much more palatable. "You realize, when I quit, he'll be Assistant Chief. I'm just grateful I won't be 'round to witness it." Licking some fluffy white filling off her finger, Brenda turned onto her back.
"He suggested McGinnis as my replacement..."
"Ha! You realize Pope will appoint Commander Dolan--"
"Who is completely incompetent!"
"Yes! Thank you!"
"Over my dead body," Brenda grumped.
"It won't be me at least, not over Pope's dead body...and not that I was expecting...well."
Brenda just bit her lip. "I don't even wanna think about it. My squad headed by somebody else? When I don't even know where I'm gonna be?"
"I'm sorry, Brenda."
"Yes, well, maybe something'll come up."
"I wanted to mention," Sharon said slowly. "I know it would probably involve more paperwork that you're used to...or any human being can cope with but Andrea Hobbs mentioned that they're looking for a Chief Investigator at the District Attorney's Office."
"God," Brenda groaned. "I remember that incompetent oaf, what's-his-face? Why is it that we're surrounded by incompetent oafs all over?"
"That's why I'm the women's coordinator. There's plenty of capable women who get passed over while half as competent men are awarded promotions that they don't deserve."
"Apparently I'm too loud mouthed to be passed over, or so I've been told."
Sharon laughed at that. "I can't believe somebody said that to you...albeit true."
"My supervisor...at the CIA. I got him into all sorts of trouble."
"You never talk much about that," the brunette said quietly.
"Non-disclosure agreements will do that to ya." Brenda crumpled up the Ding Dong wrapper and tossed it in the general direction of the trash.
"Do you miss it?"
"No," she said immediately. "Not ever."
"How did they recruit you? I mean, I'm sure you didn't fill out an application for CIA training in interrogation."
"I didn't. They approached me when I was at Georgetown. It was all very hush hush. I hated sayin' I worked for the State Department. But then people never asked any questions 'cause no one really knows what that even means."
"What does that mean?"
Brenda grinned. "Just a bunch 'a suits drinkin' coffee all day long."
On the other end, Sharon laughed, the sound making Brenda's toes tingle.
"So. You're sellin' the house?"
The brunette sighed. "Yes. I just can't..."
"Feel safe there?"
"Yes. I put it on the market the next day. Thank you for the clean up crew, by the way."
"Might wanna thank Pope. I made him pay for it."
"The LAPD, you mean?"
"They sounded exactly the same, you realize that?"
Brenda shrugged. "As long as somebody paid for it, it don't matter how I say tomater." She dug into her bag again, searching. "Why is there nothin' to eat in there?"
"Are you back at the hotel?"
"The Hyatt. Wanna hear somethin' funny?"
"It's where I lived when I first moved here. I'm sure Fritz did it on purpose."
Sharon stayed quiet and Brenda immediately felt bad, reminding herself that they weren't just friends, that Sharon had feelings for her, and that hearing about her possibly vengeful husband wasn't helping.
"I'm just leaving, actually--"
"You're still at the office?"
"--if you want to grab a bite? I haven't eaten either."
"Never mind," Sharon said quickly. "That's probably a bad idea. In fact, it's a very bad idea."
"No...no, I could eat. The bar downstairs is still serving."
She could hear the smile in the brunette’s voice as she responded. "Liquid dinner?"
"Or something. They have tapas, apparently."
"Ooooh," Sharon cooed. "Now you're talking. I'll be there in about half an hour."
"Great. I'll meet you there."
Brenda made it down in just under twenty minutes. She had changed into a pair of black slacks and her feel-good cardigan.
She entered the bar, knowing Sharon couldn't have possibly made it there already and took a seat at a small bistro table. By the time she had arranged her purse, that had gotten its very own seat, and had rummaged for her cell phone, the bar tender had already poured her a glass of Merlot.
"Thanks." She gave him a winning smile. "And a glass of, um, Chardonnay, I guess. I'm--I'm expecting someone."
As he left, Brenda wondered whether having a standing order for Merlot meant that she drank too much. At least, she thought, she wasn't drinking by herself tonight. She had a friend, thank you very much.
Sharon arrived only minutes later, still in her work clothes from earlier. She smiled when she spotted Brenda yet the exhaustion was plainly visible on her features. The brunette shucked out of her trench, draping it over the back of the purse's chair and sat with a huff.
"Ooooh, wine!" She exclaimed and picked up the glass of chilled Chardonnay.
"You don't even wanna know what it is?"
Sharon grinned. "Do I look like I care?" She took a delicate sip and seemed to find it sufficient. "Today was the worst what with Pope breathing down my neck like a rabid dog and two investigations to manage and then--" She stopped and bit her lip, continuing in a much quiet voice. "And then Lieutenant Provenza's little speech."
"I know. How's Elliott? Did'y'all talk?"
Sharon nodded. "Somewhat. Vaguely." She sighed. "And that was perhaps the most awkward conversation I've ever had."
"What did you say?"
"I'd really rather not talk about it. I feel like everyone knows. I feel like...I should quit, too."
"You're not gonna quit," Brenda screeched. "And no one knows anythin'! Did you not listen to Provenza?"
"I did," Sharon replied evenly. "Did you?"
"Yes. Now, Sharon, I really, really need you to keep it together until I've quit so that all these rumors Lieutenant Provenza talked about stay just that. Once I'm gone, everyone will just forget about it all and you can just go about your business as usual."
Sharon traced the rim of her glass with the tip of her finger, sullen. "That's easy for you to say."
"It ain't. I need to find a new job before you launch into a full-blown panic attack."
"...okay. I'll keep it together as long as you promise me not to do anything stupid."
"Who? Me?" Brenda joked. "Trust me, Sharon, I can take care of myself. Too well, sometimes." The blonde looked down at her wine glass, realizing how true that actually was.
She always ended up with what she wanted and often people just stayed in the peripheral view of her narrow-minded selfishness.
"I'm sorry," Brenda said because, clearly, Sharon wasn't going to bring it up. "About last night."
"Here we go..." The brunette murmured. "I had hoped we could forget it ever happened. Quite frankly."
Blushing, Brenda averted her gaze again. "Oh."
"Yes...and I'm not trying to make excuses for you. I should have just said 'no'. Not for your benefit but for mine. By now, I know what you're like."
What I'm like? Brenda had heard that before. She had many faults, she was aware of that, but sometimes it was harder to see them from someone else's point of view. Like Fritz's...or Sharon's, of whom she had taken advantage, again.
"Just because you feel bad, Brenda, doesn't mean I'm readily available to make you feel better. To put it plainly."
"I know that," the blonde said, ashamed. "I know. And I keep makin' that mistake."
Mistake? Perhaps a stronger word would have been a better choice.
"You have feelins for me, which I maybe did know, too, and I shouldn't take--"
"For god's sake," Sharon groused. "Just because I feel more for you than friendship doesn't mean I'm completely incapable of making rational and, I admit, less rational decisions myself. Honestly, I was waiting for you to apologize for what a horrible, horrible person you are but honey, that, to me, is just plain patronizing."
Taken aback, slack jawed, Brenda could all but stare.
"Now you know. And don't get me wrong, I could actually, really kill you sometimes."
"Oh," Brenda said, contrite.
"The sad part is, I'm not even angry with you. I promised myself I wouldn't do this anymore. I hate what sleeping with you makes me and every time I let myself have this...you, have you, it takes something out of me, something so intangible yet something so profound that I can't even recognize myself in the mirror the next day."
As much as Brenda knew that feeling, she had never had it when she had gotten out of bed the next day and had looked at herself in the mirror over Sharon's bathroom sink. She had always looked different, as if she was seeing herself in a new light, clear and sharp.
The blonde's eyes shot up; she had been staring into space. "I'm sorry."
"Where did you go?"
"Oh..." Brenda blinked against the tears in her eyes, the disappointing realization that Sharon didn't feel the same. How ridiculous. "Just...I-I never felt that way about it."
Sharon studied her, her gaze piercing and hard then her eyes softened. "Oh," she cooed. "I guess we do have something in common."
"Yeah," Brenda drawled and chugged her wine like it was going out of fashion.
Sharon looked around the deserted bar then just smiled. "So. You said something about tapas..?"
As they ate, both tired, grumpy and exhausted, Brenda contemplated Sharon's words. It was true, all of it. Sharon was her own person but Brenda, sometimes, had a hard time leaving people to just themselves.
She meddled too much and, of course, her opinion was always the one that mattered most. She used people. She influenced them with strategically placed words - lies, mostly - to get what she wanted.
She did it to Fritz. And to Will; all of the time.
She had tried to do it to Sharon, too, countless times. And more often than not, all the lies blended into the truth, spreading slowly, blurring the lines.
Maybe she wasn't this big, bad person. Maybe she didn't have as much power as she thought.
Maybe Sharon did exactly what Sharon wanted.
Much like Brenda herself.
"Will? You got a minute?" Brenda entered his office, closing the door and wiped her sweaty hands down her black slacks - the last clean pair.
"Actually, no. I've got the Commissioner coming," he looked at his watch, "in twenty minutes to go over the funeral service, again, and to undoubtedly talk about the massive pile up the LAPD is suddenly responsible for." He shook his head. "How's that going, by the way?"
"Oh. Um. Cap'n Raydor's handlin' that part. I'm just lookin' into the body in the trunk. Actually," she said slowly. "I've just come from the autopsy and we're runnin' the prints as we speak."
"Great. At least I know it's getting done within 72 hours," he chuckled and dropped into his chair. "That's the last thing I need..."
"Will, I really need to talk to you."
"Can it wait?"
Brenda wanted to say yes but shook her head. "It's important." She knew she had to do this today. Fritz was waiting for some sort of action on her part and, since this was his only demand, she had to fulfill it.
It had occured to her last night, as she sat eating tapas and drinking wine with Sharon that, instead of precisely that, she should be working out a way to make things better with Fritz. She should be thinking about him and their marriage.
"Okay, but this better not be another crisis I have to handle."
"Depends how you look at it, I s'pose." Brenda smiled, suddenly feeling vulnerable and self-conscious as she sat opposite him. "It's about the promotion."
"And I told you, there's nothing I can do. It'll look entirely too--"
"I quit," Brenda said. It came out in a rush, garbled, so she said it again. "I quit, Will."
"What?!" He hit the roof, Brenda had known he would. It was understandable, really. "You're quitting because you don't want to be promoted?"
"Noooo, Will. No."
"Then why, pray tell, is the next Assistant Chief of Police quitting before she even took office?"
"I think it might be better if you didn't know why...exactly. It's more of a personal thing." He hated that, 'personal things'.
"Are you pregnant?"
"What? You can't ask me that!"
"So you're pregnant."
"I am not pregnant, Will."
"Your parents are fine?"
"You're not sick, are you?"
"No!" Brenda rubbed her temples; she felt nauseous again. "No, Will."
He seemed calmer now, after his outburst.
"No. I am not sick. Look, Will--"
"Then, please, please, pretty please explain to me why you think it's in your best interest to quit?"
Brenda swallowed then her mouth opened and what came out, she wished she could stuff right back in. "I had an affair, okay? I had an affair with someone I work with and now Fritz wants me to quit."
Will fell back into his chair, slack jawed. "An affair, you? With whom? Wait! No, don't answer that because if it's anyone from your squad, I'd have to report you."
"It's not anyone from Major Crimes. Okay? Nothin' has been compromised, 'cept for my marriage, so, I have to quit--"
"Oh, god, Brenda," Will rubbed his face. "What did you do?"
The blonde closed her eyes. "I've asked myself that very same question." Now that it was all out in the open, Brenda felt instantly better. Her stomach had stopped churning and her head had stopped throbbing. Was that relief? It sure felt like it. "So. I will write my resignation and hand it in tomorrow mornin'. Two weeks should be enough since you've got Taylor lined up to jump in my grave."
"What are you even going to do? Can you afford to live on Fritz's salary?"
"The DA is lookin' for a new Chief Investigator or so I've heard."
Will shook his head. "Now, don't get me wrong, but, are you crazy?"
"That's a huge step down from Assistant Chief. Do you know what that's going to look like? For me and for you?"
Brenda scoffed. "In the big scheme of things, as you know, I don't really care much about appearances."
"Well, I do. This is going to reflect badly on me. What do you think will happen when my own vetted outside hire decides to quit just as I'm about to become Chief?"
"Oh," Brenda said, "so you're gonna throw me under the bus to make yourself look better? Is that it?"
"Conduct unbecoming. An ethics inquiry. The second time, Brenda. How about that?"
"I can't believe you'd do that to me, Will," she said quietly, tears threatening to fall. "After everything--"
"What? You've done for me?"
Her anger catapulted her out of her chair. "Exactly! After everthin', I never, ever stabbed you in the back even though I had plenty of reason to do so. I helped you when Estelle stomped into my Murder Room. I helped you when Ramos tried to dismantle everythin' you built - on my back! I helped you when you applied for Chief and treated me like some sort of traitor for tryin' to better myself and I helped you when your job was on the line."
Brenda picked up her purse and flung it over her shoulder. "What horrible thang did I ever do to you to deserve this?!"
Body shaking with nothing less but fury, Brenda was ready to waltz out of that room and never come back, never even look back.
She should have expected this, after all.
"You're right," Will said.
Now that, Brenda thought, she hadn't expected.
"Here." Will opened his drawer and pulled out a stack of papers. "This is what we're going to do."
Eyes trained firmly onto the papers, Brenda sank back into the chair. "What's that?"
"Your new job," Pope said. "With the FBI."
"My new job?"
"Yep. It's not official yet but there's a new Task Force in the making. It's a step up...at least."
Ah. So that's where Taylor had heard about it but Brenda decided to keep that little tidbit to herself, saving it for a later date. "You wanted to quit?"
Will nodded. "I was going to apply but then, well, Chief Delk, uh...you know." He shoved the papers across the desk.
"How can you be sure they'll pick me?"
"Because they were going to pick me."
All of it made little sense but Brenda picked up the application forms anyway.
"Apply. And stay, until the FBI announces their plans. That way it'll look like you left for a bigger, better office and not because of my becoming Chief, yet you were gracious enough to stick it out with us."
"And that's how we're gonna play it?" Brenda said evenly, stunned as she leafed through the application.
"That's exactly how we'll play it. It'll work out for everyone. And," he held up his finger, "it gives you time to train your replacement, aka Taylor, who will be, undoubtedly, loving you more than a kid loves candy."
"Undoubtedly." Stuffing the papers into her purse, Brenda decided that Fritz would have to just suck it up. They couldn't afford to lose more than half their income. And he couldn't afford to suggest otherwise. "Okay. But."
"If I agree to this, I wanna...pick who's gonna head Major Crimes."
"Okay," Will shrugged as if it were of little importance to him. "I thought Dolan would--"
"Not Dolan," Brenda said firmly.
"...okay." He said and frowned.
"Yes." Brenda nodded. "And there's also a list of female officers that I'd like you to look at."
"And, uh, I need you to promise me to not retire Provenza."
Will snorted. "That's on your agenda?"
"It is." She nodded vigorously. "He is a valuable asset."
Brenda nodded; she couldn't believe what she had just done. What she had just agreed to. "Oh, uh, that new job...what is it?"
Will chuckled, "Missing Persons."
"Yeah. Section Chief. You'll be overseeing a new Task Force comprised of Cyber, Missing Persons and Behavioral Science, headed by, uh, some psychiatrist. Never mind."
"Hilarious, considering you'll be doing the job you don't want...just at the FBI."
Will started laughing and Brenda rolled her eyes all the way back to Major Crimes.
The Relativity of Wrong
"It's done," Brenda said into the phone. "I quit."
Fritz breathed in deeply on the other end - he didn't seem relieved or pleased. "Effective immediately?"
"No." Brenda rolled onto her side on the big hotel bed and curled herself around a cushion. "I have to find a job first. We can't afford to lose my salary. 'Specially if I'm s'posed to live here for a while."
"Okay. Well, I've made an appointment...in a months time, that's all they had," he said and sighed. "I hate that I miss you so much."
"I miss you, too," Brenda cooed. "Just...let me come home."
"I can't. Not yet. I need more time."
The blonde wiped at her eyes, trying to not let him hear that tears were streaming down her face. "How's Joel?"
"He's fine," Fritz said quietly - perhaps he was just as sad. "Your mother called."
"What did you say?"
"That you were busy. She saw you on TV. You and 'your friend, Sharon'. At that massive pile up."
Brenda nodded. "I'm only investigatin' the body in the trunk. It's not been on the news yet." She swallowed then said, carefully, "Sharon's investigatin' the pile up."
"Ah. Well. I can't say I'm sad that you quit."
"It's the proof you wanted, wasn't it? You thought I loved my job more than you, and Sharon more than you--"
"Brenda," he breathed. "I don't wanna talk about her."
"Because I don't even care about why you did it anymore." He went silent for a moment, and Brenda was left to contemplate that. "It was wrong. And because I love you, I thought, hoped, that there was a reason, something to make it less so but, no matter what, it's still wrong."
When they had hung up, Brenda thought about calling her Mama again. See how everyone was doing. But deep down she knew, that if she called again so soon, her Mama would know something wasn't right.
Something was wrong.
The blonde laid flat on her back and stared at the ceiling of her hotel room, counting the tiles. No matter what Fritz said, wrong was never just wrong, not to her.
What she had done and, really, had continued doing after he had found out, was terribly wrong.
Cheating, she thought, didn't start and end with sex. Her life as a cheat had started the moment she had fantasized about sleeping with Sharon, entertained the idea. Had let the woman touch her. Had let her kiss her. Had met her in bars and restaurants and lied about where she went.
And her cheating hadn't yet ended. Just last night she had sat drinking wine with the woman, talking, sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings.
That was still cheating. And that was wrong. Perhaps not as wrong as sex, but still.
When would it end? When she finally left the LAPD? When she finally left LA? California? Moved back east?
Brenda didn't have an answer for that. Just like she had never had an answer for Fritz when he had asked her 'why'.
And if she had a reason, something beyond selfishness, something beyond 'just because', that would make what she had done less horrible, just that little bit less wrong.
If she had feelings--
Brenda slapped the palms of her hands over her eyes as a sob forced its way out. Tears streamed down her cheeks and the sobs wouldn't stop, wracking her body, one after the other like a mighty earthquake.
If she had feelings for Sharon then all this, what she had done, it wouldn't be so wrong at all.
~ fini ~
Yes. I know. It's another unhappy ending. I promise though, I really do, the next installment will have that happy ending. The first chapter will be up on Monday, so don't get me assassinated just yet.
But...let me thank all of you for reading this story and for leaving all that amazing feedback! I appreciate it so much, I can't even tell you!!!! So, thank you, and I hope you'll stick with me through the next installment.