"You are the most horrible person I have ever met!" Charlie shouted at Brenda. Brenda felt a lick of anger heat up her chest.
"Tell the world that. Sign the paper and get your cell phone back." She slammed it on the table to emphasize her words. "And you can call everyone you know and tell them what a monster I am for trying to stop someone from killing Jake. Or I can gift wrap the DVD and send it to your parents. Your choice."
Charlie angrily grabbed the pen, leaned over, and signed the statement. She pounded on the table. "Recording me!" she said indignantly.
"I was only tryin to help Jake," answered Brenda.
"No one believes that, including you!" Charlie yelled as she stormed away from the table and toward her room.
Brenda sighed and leaned back in her chair, feeling defeated. If there was a grain of truth to what Charlie said, she didn't want to think about it. She turned to look at Fritz for support, and was shocked to see him raising his right hand as if preparing for an oath. "Including me," he said, and edge to his voice. Without another word, he walked into the kitchen and out the back door. Brenda looked around at his half-empty plate, noting that she ruined dinner, yet again, and Fritz was so mad he walked out.
There were several different reactions Fritz had when they fought. Level One, as Brenda thought of it, was when Fritz raised his voice but didn't shout, and whatever they were arguing about was resolved within a few minutes of raised voices on both sides, Fritz usually giving in to Brenda for the sake of maintaining peace. A Level Two fight involved sustained loud voices with Fritz tossing in a few obscenities, ending when the two of them went to different parts of the apartment to cool down, followed by a brief period of mutual silent treatment. Level Two's ended a few hours later with I'm sorrys and kisses. Level Three arguments ended up with someone walking out of the house, usually Fritz, to prevent himself from saying things he would later regret. Level Fours were Level Threes when Fritz didn't come back for hours.
Brenda couldn't believe how fast the argument escalated to a Level Three. She knew what she did was sneaky, but if Charlie wasn't going to come clean about what she and Jake really talked about, well, she had to do what she had to do. Her job was to close her cases, not to fuss over everyone's feelings, wasn't it?
Brenda sat and stared at the gravy congealing around her no longer wanted Swiss steak. She had a knot in her stomach, the same one she always had when she fought with Fritz, but her mind was full of Charlie. Was Fritz right, did she unfairly stick Charlie in the middle of this case? When she was trained by the CIA, she was taught to use whatever she had at hand to get a confession, to solve a case. This model is what made her an excellent criminal investigator, she knew, and she was grateful for it. But when it hurt people she loved—even a petulant, spoiled teenager, it bid unwelcome thoughts like consequences and boundaries, things the Company never taught her how to deal with.
Brenda was still sitting at the table when Fritz returned about an hour later. He came through the front door this time, and walked toward the bedroom without saying a word to Brenda. So, this is a Level Three with elements of a Level Two, she thought wearily. She knew she was going to have to break the silence and find out why Fritz was so angry. She picked up the dinner dishes, scraped away the uneaten food, and put them in the dishwasher so no one would be reminded of their disastrous meal. She walked to the bedroom and slowly opened the door. Fritz had changed into sweat pants and a tee shirt, and was lying on the bed staring up at the ceiling. Brenda paused and leaned on the doorframe, admiring him. He's so handsome, she thought, a rush of love overpowering her irritation like a wave at high tide. My sweet Fritzy, she sighed. Mad at me again.
She moved to the bed and sat on the side, her eyes still on Fritz. He turned to look at her, questioning. "Hey," she said softly.
"Hi," he answered. She could tell by his cautious tone that he was still upset.
"Can we talk about this, Fritz? Why you are so mad at me you had to storm off just like Charlie?"
"I didn't storm," he said indignantly.
She took her hair out of its ponytail and played with a strand. "You're right, you didn't storm. But why are you so angry at my anyways? You stickin' up for Charlie all of a sudden? I mean, you wanted her here, then you wanted her gone, and now you are her number one champion? What's goin' on?"
Fritz rolled onto his side, propping his head up with his hand. "I wasn't standing up for Charlie. I was just agreeing with her."
"About what, exactly? That I'm the most horrible person in the world?"
"No, Brenda. I was just agreeing that none of us believed you pulled that dirty trick to save Jake's life. It's like…" he stopped suddenly, his face shadowed with frustration. "Oh hell," said, violently rolling back to a lying position and glaring up at the ceiling. "I am so damn tired of having this same conversation with you over and over again. It drives me insane." He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.
Brenda was bewildered by his behavior. "Fritz, what are you talking about, for heaven's sake. What conversation? I know we've had a few words since Charlie's been here, but I really—" Fritz cut her off.
"That's not what I'm talking about, Brenda, and you know it. It's the way you use people to close your cases. Like me, for example. And now Charlie."
Brenda shuttered silently. She still hadn't quite recovered from their huge fight the previous summer, when she lied to Fritz about the whereabouts of a suspect that was key to his case against el Jeffe. I didn't lie exactly, she thought defensively. I just told selective bits of the truth. In her mind, the two were very different things. She realized that arguing with Fritz wasn't going to get her anywhere tonight; she would have better luck tomorrow if she left him alone for awhile. Brenda decided to go to bed early and, with one more pleading look in Fritz's direction, she turned and headed toward the bathroom.
The grit was still in Brenda's eyes from her late-night awakening by a hysterical Charlie, and she wished she had time to brush her teeth before running out the door to the hospital. She sat in the uncomfortable chair next to Jake's bed, using his intermittent moments of lucidity to ask questions that might point her in the direction of his killer.
Brenda had watched people die before; every cop had. She had been shootouts when the defendant tried to escape, and most recently, she held Wesley, the bank robber whom she had formed an uneasy alliance with, as he bled out from multiple gun shots. But there was something different, very different, about watching the life seep out of a young man who was scared to die. He had beads of sweat on his forehead from a fever, which would occasionally pool and trickle down into his red-rimmed, unfocused eyes. His hand was pressed against his abdomen as if trying to hold the pain, and dry, cracked lips spoke words that made no sense, interspersed with calling out for his mother. His beautiful curly hair was soaked through with perspiration. He was a heartbreak to see, broken and dying, and Brenda found herself less and less concerned with getting answers than hoping that a miracle would occur and the boy would live.
I should have let Charlie come, she thought to herself. It had been a snap decision to leave her behind, fearing Charlie would be in the way of getting valuable information about Jake's shooting. But as she sat next to his bed in the stuffy ICU room, she wished Charlie was there to help comfort Jake, as Jake asked for her as soon as Brenda arrived. She had forced Charlie into this case so she could prove to Brenda that she could care about someone besides herself. But then when Charlie wanted to be there for Jake, as sick and as scary as it might be, Brenda denied her the chance. Mixed messages, Brenda admitted to herself. A bad call on my part. If Charlie could handle seeing shot, bleeding bodies, she could handle holding Jake's hand as he died. There was more to this girl than seen at first glance, Brenda was beginning to realize. Pot brownies and teen sex were the function of a confused 16 year old girl, not a reflection of the character that lie beneath.
Brenda thought back to the argument she had with Charlie over dinner, and with Fritz later on. She had pulled a fast one, threatening to send the DVD of Charlie talking to Jake about personal things to her parents. What a hypocrite, she thought wryly to herself. She lost her virginity at 16 too, and took a hit of pot now and again at parties in college. If her daddy ever found out that, even now, he would have a stroke. Yet Brenda used Charlie's behavior as leverage to force her to sign a statement against her will. She laid her head in her hands. I am a horrible person, she thought. But the end always justifies the means, doesn't it?
As dawn was breaking over LA, Jake's eyes flew open and he looked her way, clearly not seeing. "Mommy?" he said, sounding much younger than he was. His mother had not arrived yet, and wouldn't for another hour. Brenda made a snap decision, glad she could so something for this suffering child, using her ability to lie to comfort instead of enrage.
"Yes Jake, what is it?" she said to the dying child.
"You made it," said, Jake, breathing rapidly.
"Yes, I made it," Brenda said, placing her hand on his wrist.
"I knew you'd make it," he whispered. "Mommy, I'm so sorry."
"No, don't be sorry. I love you no matter what." Brenda could feel her throat tighten painfully.
"….so much trouble though" he mumbled.
"No no no, no trouble at all." Brenda felt her eyes sting with unbidden tears.
"Sure?" Jake forced out of his cracked lips, so softly Brenda could barely hear him.
"I'm positive, positive."
Jake laid his head back on the pillow and took three breaths that seemed to rattle his entire body. And then he breathed no more. The alarm that went off only confirmed Brenda's suspicion that Jake had died. She looked at his young, innocent face and could no longer ignore the emotions she had been pushing down all night. Tears filled her eyes as she took her hands off of Jake's arm, and she covered her mouth to stifle a sob. This couldn't happen, she thought to herself. I can't get all emotional and allow my feelings to get in the way of this case. I never have before, and I won't now. Brenda rubbed her face and whispered "no no no no" to herself like a mantra, and with a herculean effort she stopped her tears. She wiped away the ones that were already there, not wanting anyone to see that she was crying. She swallowed hard and picked up her purse to go and talk to Det. Provenza. He talked to her about finding out more about the Almassians, Vanessa's family, but he sounded very far away to Brenda's ears. She was snapped out of her haze when Provenza made motions to comfort her; that was unacceptable. She finally relented to sitting down at Provenza's insistence, and even accepted his proffered handkerchief. "You never know," he said to her gently. As he walked away, she felt the tears returning, so she breathed deeply to find her center again, the core of her that was pure strength and determination. She had to get back to that place, or she may never find Jake's killer.
The hot mid-morning sun found Brenda and her team at the Almassian home, and despite having squelched her sadness over Jake, she was overcome with rage, angry enough that Flynn had to calm her down. The story that unfolded at that small house was almost too horrible to process. A false rape story, a traditional Armenian father, and a vengeful brother came together in a horrible tragedy play that had ended in Jake's death. Brenda looked at Alex Almassian as the young boy being was being cuffed by her team, and she couldn't help but think of the matted wet curls stuck to Jake's forehead in the hours before his death. This isn't justice, she thought to herself bitterly. This is a farce.
At the Almassians, Brenda was in her role as Deputy Chief, but as she left to go home for the last notification, she slipped out of that skin and became merely a wife and aunt. When she opened the door to the duplex, she ascertained that both Charlie and Fritz had waited up for her all night. A wave of guilt washed over her, and she wondered yet again if leaving Charlie behind was the right thing to do. The girl was clearly upset, her arms wrapped around her stomach as if to hold herself together, and her eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep. Brenda tried to appease her niece by telling her that the arrest could never had happened without her, which was the truth. But Charlie was far more concerned with what happened to Jake.
Brenda slipped into a medical explanation about the consequences of gunshot wounds, but before she could finish, Charlie interrupted her. "You're saying he died?" she said, looking up at Brenda with brown eyes so similar to her own. Brenda answered truthfully, and then, with words of apology rushing out of her mouth and stumbling over each other, Charlie cut her off. "I should have been there!" she said tearfully. Brenda looked desperately to Fritz, but he wasn't offering her help. "There was nothing you could do," Brenda said softly. "I could have said goodbye! Why didn't you say goodbye?" Charlie wailed.
Brenda knew she was right to be angry.
She stuttered over an explanation of why she did what she did, feeling less and less sure of herself as she spoke. "Did I make the right choice?" she asked rhetorically. Charlie didn't seem interested in hearing Brenda's confession. She buried her face in Fritz's chest and cried harder as Fritz wrapped an arm around the sobbing girl. He held his hand out to Brenda like an olive branch, which she reluctantly accepted, but resisted Fritz's tug to bring her close to his body. She looked away, believing that she didn't deserve to be in his arms along with Charlie. It was too perfect, it felt like they were a family, a father and mother comforting their child. And that made Brenda feel like it was all wrong.
After all, she's nobody's mother.