A/N: In this story we learn more about Fritz's first marriage and his alcoholism. While it isn't a sequel, reading Scrapbooks and After the Bullets might prove helpful. As always, feedback is most gratefully appreciated. Thank you in advance.
Brenda was in her new office at the DA's headquarters. Case files were piled high around her. When DA Corning had given her a tour of the building he had explained that she would be overseeing more than 300 investigators as well as a myriad of clerical and support staff. Just the thought had made her feel woozy. She had first met with the twenty intermediate level supervisors responsible for directing the course of the investigators. She had asked them to give her a summary of every investigator's strengths and needs as well as a summary of the problems they faced in getting cases ready for court.
Reviewing all of this material made her realize that all of the investigators and supervisors were in sore need of investigation training. "I need to talk to Fritzy about this," she thought. "Maybe he can help me find someone to help with the trainin'." After all, DA Corning had agreed with her when she suggested that training would be vital to improving the investigator's skills. And he had given her a training budget. It wasn't a generous budget but it was a good start, providing she could find the right trainers.
She was waiting for Fritz's call. They had gotten into the habit of checking with each other late in the work day. If he was going to be working late, she would also stay and review case files. Her cell phone rang right at 4:30.
Brenda checked the Caller ID and answered on the first ring. "Hi, Fritzy,"
"Hi, honey. I think I'm going to be ready to leave in about an hour. How about you?"
"I'm drownin' in these case files, as usual. I'll work here until 5:30 too. Do you want me to stop for some Cuban chicken on the way home?"
"That sounds good. We haven't had that in awhile. I'm going to have to write up a procedural recommendation for my boss tonight. Either that or I've got to stay here and do it. And I just don't feel like staying late tonight."
"Well, I've still got hundreds of cases to review so I'll be bringin' some home with me too."
"Ahh, the joys of togetherness," Fritz said facetiously.
"Umm hmm. But at least we drown in paperwork under the same roof. See you later," and Brenda hung up the phone and went back to reading.
When she left the parking lot she happened to notice a woman in a beige Chevy watching the parking garage exit. "She must be waitin' to pick someone up," Brenda thought as she put on her turn signal and as soon as her lane was clear, she turned right and headed to Sando's to pick up dinner.
When she came out of the restaurant, she noticed the woman in the beige Chevy parked across the street watching her so she kept an eye on the rear view mirror and headed away from her house. And, sure enough, the beige Chevy made a U-turn and was about two cars behind her so she took some evasive moves and satisfied herself that she was no longer being followed before she drove around the block and headed back towards home.
She heard a car's engine so she peeked out the back window and was relieved to see that it was Fritz.
"Hi, honey." She met him at the door with a kiss and looked up and down the street.
"What's the matter?" Fritz asked.
"I'm not sure. Did you happen to notice a woman drivin' a beige Chevy?"
"No. Why? Was she following you?" Fritz's surprise and concern showed on his face.
"Yes. I saw her when I was pullin' out of the parkin' garage and then she was parked across the street from Sando's. She was definitely followin' me so I lost her before I headed home."
"Did you report it to anyone?"
"No. Like I said, I lost her before headin' home. I hope dinner didn't get cold." She changed the subject but Fritz wasn't so eager to let it go.
"What did she look like," Fritz asked.
"She was white and had medium length dark hair. That was really all I could see."
"If you see her again, you report it. Ok?"
"I don't think I need to. Remember I'm pretty good with the Glock you made me get. Come on. Let's eat before the potatoes are stone cold."
While they ate, Brenda asked Fritz if he knew anyone who might be good to do some investigation training for her staff.
"All I know are FBI trainers. Some of them are pretty good but they train according to FBI protocols."
"If we had to rely on the FBI way we'd never get into court. Don't you know any others?"
"Not here in LA. But, like I said, some of the ones I do know are pretty good. And a couple are also U.S. Attorneys."
Brenda let out a sigh. "I don't think attorneys are the way to go – unless they were investigators first. But I can check them all out. Could you get me some names and contact information?"
"Let me see what I can dig up for you. Do you need it right away, though? Because I'm pretty busy right now."
"No. It's not an emergency. I just need to let my people know there's some trainin' comin' before too much time gets away on me. Some of these people have developed some really bad habits that need breakin'."
After dinner Fritz booted up the computer to work on his project and Brenda settled onto the sofa with her stack of files.
The next morning Brenda looked for the beige Chevy while driving in to her office but didn't see it again. At the end of the day she needed to pick up Fritz's shirts and drop off two suits so she headed to the dry cleaners before going home. Pulling out of the parking lot she again saw the same beige Chevy so she called Fritz.
"Hey, honey, what's up?" Fritz asked.
"Where are you?"
"I'm almost home. Why?"
"The woman in the beige Chevy is followin' me again," Brenda said. "I stopped at the dry cleaners and when I came out she was in the parkin' lot."
"Do you have your gun with you? I'll call the police."
"Yes, I've got my gun, and no, don't call anyone. I think I can lose her again. She doesn't behave like she's trained in surveillance. If you were close by I'd ask you to park and take a look at her as I drive by to see if you recognize her, that's all."
"I just pulled into the driveway. Do you want me to head out and meet you somewhere?"
"No. I'll just lose her again and be home in a few minutes. But don't do anythin' about orderin' dinner until I get there. Ok?"
Fritz was waiting at the door when Brenda pulled up. "This really worries me. Did you get a better look at her today?" He asked.
"Not really. She was wearin' sunglasses so all I saw was part of her face. Listen, I don't think she's a pro. She's just too obvious and very easy to lose."
"Could she be the wife or mother of someone you've arrested?"
"Probably not a mother, unless her child is a teenager. She looks too young. Wife? Maybe. Do you want me to get out the menus? I don't think I want to order anythin' for myself. I'll just pop some popcorn. But you get whatever you want."
"In that case I think I'll just open a can of soup and have some popcorn too."
Another evening of paperwork interrupted by a call from Clay asking about the new job, and Brenda was ready for bed. She was sound asleep by the time Fritz called it a night. As he got into his pajamas, he looked at his wife and smiled. He loved how peaceful and beautiful she looked when she was sleeping. He just couldn't get enough of her.
The next morning at breakfast, Brenda said "I think I'll knock off work a little early today and go to the firing range for some practice."
"Worried about your stalker?" Fritz asked.
"Not really. But I don't want to lose my shootin' ability, either. Do you want me to pick up somethin' for dinner on my way home?"
"I'm not sure. I think Jerry is going to try to get a FISA warrant to search the Mondrano's mansion today so I might be late finishing up tonight. I'll call you this afternoon and we can decide then. Ok?"
"Ok," Brenda said. She put her dishes in the dishwasher, kissed Fritz goodbye, and headed off for work. Again, she did not see the beige Chevy.
After leaving work early and blowing the bullseye out of about fifty targets, she left the firing range. Fritz had called to say he would be leaving work soon so she headed straight home keeping an eye out for the beige Chevy.
Brenda had been home only a few minutes when the front doorbell rang. Since there was no peephole in the solid wood door she had no way of checking to see who was on the other side so she took the precaution of tucking her Glock in the back of her skirt's waistband so it wouldn't be visible under her jacket.
When she opened the door she immediately recognized the beautiful dark-haired woman as the one driving the beige Chevy. With one hand on the Glock, Brenda smiled and said "May I help you?"
"Are you Mrs. Fritz Howard?"
"In a manner of speakin'. May I help you?" she asked again.
"My name is Cindy Jordan. I was once married to Fritz. May I come in?"
Brenda just stared at her. After a minute she relaxed, moved her hand away from her gun, and opened the door wider and said "Please. Come in." She motioned for the woman to take a seat.
"Thank you. I..."
"Why have you been followin' me for the past three days?" Brenda demanded, interrupting her.
"I'm sorry if I frightened you. I mean you no harm. I was just trying to find out where Fritz is living now. I have some business with him."
Brenda did not think this woman was dangerous so she continued to relax. "May I offer you a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee?"
"Coffee would be fine. Thank you."
"I'll put it on and be right back."
As she served the coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, Brenda said "He's not home from work yet but I expect him soon."
Cindy took a sip of hot coffee and smiled. "This is good coffee."
"Thank you. But if it's Fritz you want to talk to, why were you followin' me? Surely you know how to contact him directly."
"My business with him is personal so I didn't want to contact him at the FBI. And since your number is unlisted I couldn't get the address from the phone book, either. I didn't even know he had moved out to LA until about three months ago."
"How did you find us, then?"
"I keep in touch with some of our old friends from DC. Jackie and Ray Miles. Do you know them?" When Brenda nodded in the affirmative Cindy continued. "They told me that he moved out here eleven years ago so I googled him. Nothing came up until about two months ago. There was an article in the LA Times about you moving from LAPD to the DA's office and the article mentioned that you two were married."
"Yes. I would rather that information hadn't made it to the paper but my old friend Ricardo Ramos sometimes gets carried away," Brenda replied.
Cindy smiled. "Well, I'm glad he did. I was ready to hire a private investigator but I really preferred to handle things myself. I haven't been in LA in years and had forgotten how bad the traffic can be."
"It can be a nightmare in rush hour, that's for sure," Brenda replied. Small talk always got on her nerves. She wished Fritz would hurry up and get home.
"But it's not as smoggy as I remember," Cindy continued.
"California has strict exhaust standards," Brenda replied.
Fritz turned the corner and immediately spotted the beige Chevy parked in front of the duplex and Brenda's car in the driveway. He pulled in behind his wife's Prius, pulled out his gun and unlocked the back door. He immediately heard Brenda's voice.
"Fritz, I'm in the livin' room. We've got company."
Nothing sounded wrong. There was no stress in Brenda's voice so he holstered his gun and moved to the living room. There, sitting with a coffee mug on her lap and smiling up at him, was his ex-wife.
"Cindy! What are you doing here?"
"It's nice seeing you again too, Fritz," Cindy smiled at him.
"I'm sorry. It's just that you were the last person I'd expect to see here."
"She came to see you," Brenda told him before turning to Cindy, "So I'll leave you two to talk. Would you please excuse me? I've got some work to do. It was nice meetin' you." And she turned and left the room. Brenda barely had time to grab a stack of case files, head into the bedroom, kick her shoes off and lay down on the bed before Fritz appeared in the doorway.
"What's wrong, honey," Brenda asked him.
"Nothing, but I'd like you to be a part of this conversation. It concerns you too."
"All right." Brenda got up, put her shoes back on and rejoined Fritz and Cindy in the living room.
Cindy turned to Brenda and explained "My father passed away several months ago and I'm the executor of his estate. My father adored Fritz. Sometimes I think he liked Fritz more than he liked me," she laughed. "And whenever Fritz came to DC he always made a point of going to see my Dad. Believe me, nothing pleased him more."
Fritz smiled and said "He was a wonderful man. I really loved him. Cindy, I didn't know he had passed away until I went to DC about two months ago and called the nursing home. I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. And I really appreciated your kind donation to The Sunshine Kids in his memory." Cindy reached into her purse, pulled out an envelope and handed it to Fritz. "My father considered you to be his son so he remembered you in his will." As Fritz opened the papers and began reading, Cindy turned to Brenda. "I had an older brother who died of leukemia when I was a preschooler so I don't remember him. My dad told me later on that he had hoped that my brother would have been as good a man as Fritz is.
Fritz was holding the will in one hand and a check in the other. He was staring at Cindy dumbfounded. When he started to speak he had to clear his throat because no words were coming out. "Cindy, are you sure this is right?" He handed the check to Brenda.
"Eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars? WOW!" Brenda whispered. She was just as dumbfounded as Fritz.
"Yes, I'm sure," Cindy replied. "And all the taxes have been paid so you don't have to declare it." Turning back to the issue at hand, she explained "There was a large donation to The Sunshine Kids in memory of my brother. And that's one third of his remaining financial assets. I inherited the rest as well as his house and art work. But there was one more thing that he willed to you. It's in the trunk of my car. Will you help me bring it in?" She stood up.
Brenda and Fritz just stared at each other. Finally Fritz handed the will to Brenda and opened the front door for Cindy and they went out to the trunk of her car. Brenda began reading the will but was interrupted when she heard Fritz's voice asking her to open the door for them.
Fritz was carrying a wooden crate, about three feet long and about two feet wide. He sat it down in the living room and Fritz went to get the hammer and a screw driver to pry it open. As he worked he said "I bet I know what this is. His viking ship." He turned to Brenda and explained, "He loved building models of sailing ships and the viking ship was his pride and joy. He made every single piece by hand. And I worked on it with him from time to time."
"I think that's when you two really bonded," Cindy observed.
"Yes, that's true. But I think I got more out of it than he did. We had many great, long conversations while we worked on that ship," Fritz said as he lifted the hand made mahogany replica of a viking ship from the crate and set it on the floor.
"It's beautiful," Brenda observed moving closer to look at the exquisite detail. "I'll move everythin' off the buffet. It'll fit on that." She moved the wine rack and the large fruit bowl they'd brought back from their Italian honeymoon to the dining room table. As Fritz started to lift up the ship, Brenda stopped him saying "Wait. Let me put a runner down first." When the runner was in place, she helped Fritz place the ship on the buffet.
All three sat back down in the living room and Cindy asked "How did you two end up here?"
Fritz said, "I transferred to LA about 11 years ago. I had worked with Brenda back in DC and when she accepted a job here I worked with her again on some cases and we got married in February of 2009. That's pretty much it for my life. Tell me about yours."
"Well, I don't want to bore you with too many details but I've been married twice since you and I divorced. My second marriage was a total disaster. I think I married just to prove to you that everything that happened between us was your fault. So, of course, it wasn't going to work. But there was a silver lining. It got me into rehab and I've been sober for almost six years now. My third marriage was the charm. He was older but I was incredibly happy. But he died of a stroke a year and a half ago."
"Cindy, I'm sorry," Fritz said.
"Since Bob died I've kept busy with all sorts of charities. Now that the estate is finally settled I'm moving to the house in Bethesda. That's pretty much it."
"Cindy, because of our work hours I don't do a lot of cooking. We're just going to order a pizza. Would you like to share it with us?" Brenda asked, catching sight of Fritz's surprised expression and ignoring it.
"Oh, that's very kind of you, but no, thank you. Dairy and I don't get along. Besides, I need to get back to the hotel and pack. I'm flying home early tomorrow morning. My contact information is in that paperwork so if you think of any questions, just let me know. If I can't answer them, I'll have one of my father's attorneys contact you."
"Well, thank you for coming all the way out here to give this to us, Cindy. I'm glad to have finally met you."
Cindy smiled at them both and Fritz said "Have a safe trip home and thank you. This will certainly change our lives."
After she left, Fritz wrapped his arms around his wife and just held her, saying nothing. Finally he let her go and picked up the check, looked at Brenda and said "Do you know what this is? This is our house."
"Let's not do anything with it right away. Let's just bank it and take our time decidin' what to do with it."
"Don't you want a house?" Fritz asked in surprise.
"Yes, if we're sure we're gonna stay in LA for the next ten years or more. But if you're gonna be offered another chance at a promotion, we could be movin' and..."
Fritz interrupted her. "We have no way of knowing that, Brenda."
"I know. But tryin' to sell a house in this market? Wouldn't you feel better about movin' if we didn't have a house we had to sell? Wouldn't it be easier? Besides, I like this duplex. It's comfortable and it's the right size for us."
"You've had enough change for awhile, haven't you?" Fritz cut right to the heart of the issue.
"Yes." Brenda admitted.
"Ok. We can find a financial adviser and invest it short term. But I really would like a house, honey."
"It's your money so..."
Fritz interrupted her again. "Oh, no. It's our money. Whatever we do, we decide together and we do it together."
After the pizza arrived, Brenda wanted to talk some more. "Fritz, I never thought I wanted to ask this, but would you please tell me what happened to your marriage to Cindy?"
Fritz let out his breath and said "Well, Cindy was drinking very heavily. That was before I started over doing it. She was extremely depressed. We got into marriage counseling but the issues weren't really our marriage. She was diagnosed as bipolar and was actually hospitalized twice because she became suicidal. Although the hospital staff said I wasn't to blame, Cindy blamed me just the same and demanded a divorce. I tried to do what I could but after awhile I was just hanging on to a memory of the woman she had been. So, when she filed for divorce, I threw in the towel and didn't fight it."
"She certainly seemed stable to me," Brenda said.
"Yes, she seemed completely normal today. Of course I don't know about her present life, but I'll bet that she's found some medication that really works for her. But, even with medication, she probably still has serious bouts of depression. There is no cure for bipolar disorder."
That brought up another part of Fritz's past that Brenda was now ready to learn about. "Is that what made you drink too much? Was it the divorce?"
"Not exactly. I think it was a combination of things. When my marriage fell apart, even though the doctors assured me that there was nothing I could do to salvage the situation and that I couldn't make Cindy well, I still felt like a failure as a husband. And it brought up all the old feelings I had when my family died. I felt like I was going through that horrible experience all over again. I wasn't in control of anything in my life. I was losing everyone important to me, except Claire. And I couldn't handle it. The alcohol deadened the pain and it meant I didn't have to handle it. So I just kept drinking more and more and telling myself that I was still functioning. It wasn't until I shot up my car and got the two DUIs that I realized that I wasn't functioning at all and checked myself into rehab.
Fritz looked exhausted so Brenda just took his hand and held it. "You did somethin' about your problem. And that took courage. And it put you back in control," she said quietly as she continued to hold his hand. After a minute she thought of something to lighten the mood. "And there is one other thing for you to be happy about today. I'll never call her 'Elaine' again."
"I love you," Fritz laughed and kissed her. "And now I'd like to do a little experimenting."
"Experimentin'? What kind of experimentin'?"
"I want to see if coming in to a lot of money makes my beautiful wife a better lover."
"Better than what?" Brenda feigned indignation. "You seemed pretty satisfied the other night," Brenda reminded him.
Fritz didn't answer. He just took her hand and walked with her into the bedroom.