A/N: This story takes place right after "Live Wire" ends. The lack of resolution to a very intense argument always bothered me so, of course, I had to try to resolve it. As usual, feedback is requested. Thanks.
Fritz slammed the door as he stalked out of the apartment. Brenda had never seen him this angry. He had accused her of knowingly trading useless information for everything he had on a major drug cartel and then talking the mid-level operative into serving a life sentence for murder instead of taking the FBI's deal. Fritz accused her of sending him on a wild goose chase, causing him to waste FBI time and resources, and worst of all, making him very vulnerable at the FBI, just so she could close her case.
His explosion took her breath away. She hadn't expected the intensity of his reaction. Why couldn't he see that a confessed murderer should do life in prison instead of striking a deal with the FBI that would net him a short sentence and the witness protection program? Which is more important, after all? Putting a confessed, cold-blooded murderer in prison for life or rolling up part of a drug cartel? She could not believe that he couldn't see it her way. He was wrong. Of course he was wrong. When it came to competition between their cases he was always wrong.
But. This was the first time that he had said it could effect his career. "Did that make him right?" Brenda wondered out loud. "Should I have given him more to help him protect his career?" She had to admit that she hadn't thought about that. "But I don't know what I could have done differently," she rationalized.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the incessant ringing of her cell phone. It was Will. "Brenda, I'm sorry to interrupt your day off, but this is important." Will's voice sounded stressed.
"That's ok, Will. What's up?" Brenda asked, relieved to not have to consider whether her actions had been the best.
"We've got a kidnapping that I need you to handle."
"This is Priority Homicide, Will. We don't normally handle kidnappin's. What's so special about this one?"
"It's the nine year old daughter of Jorge Alvarez."
Brenda knew that name. While she didn't know anything much about him, she remembered that Fritz had mentioned that this was someone he was tracking. "Isn't this an FBI case?" she asked.
"Yes, but a failure to find this kid will incite every Latino gang in LA. We have to be involved too."
"Have you cleared this with the FBI? I have the feelin' they are not gonna want us pokin' our nose into their case." Brenda just knew Fritz would blow another gasket if she investigated this kidnapping.
"Not yet. I'll talk to David Martin. But I want you and your squad to start the investigation now. That's a direct order."
"All right," Brenda sighed. "But I'm probably gonna need SIS backup."
"Whatever you need on this one. We can't risk two thirds of LA's gangs in an uproar. But, Brenda, we can't go storming in and risking the life of this child."
"Don't you think that I know that, Will?" Her tone made her irritation with him perfectly clear. "Ok. I'll notify my squad and head into the office. I'll need more information on Alvarez than I have now, though."
"I've already instructed Taylor to tell the drug and gang units to give you everything they've got."
Brenda called Sgt. Gabriel and told him to get the squad into the murder room. And as Brenda changed her clothes she decided what needed to be the first step in dealing with this situation and Fritz's wrath. She picked up her cell phone again and called Fritz.
He looked at his cell phone. It was Brenda interrupting his conversation with his AA sponsor. "Well, she's just going to have to wait," he thought as he turned off his cell phone and returned to his conversation. He was in turmoil and acutely aware that the only reason he was talking to his sponsor instead of in a bar drinking himself into oblivion was that the bars weren't open yet. He needed to regain some perspective on how best to handle this urge and she was the last person he wanted to talk to right now.
Brenda fumed at Fritz's refusal to answer his phone. When his voice mail kicked on she left a message. "Fritz, I know you're mad but you have to listen to me. Will called and said that the daughter of Jorge Alvarez was kidnapped and that he wants me to investigate. Please call me back right away."
As she was walking to her car she called again. He still wasn't picking up. So, as she drove she kept calling and leaving messages. And she kept trying until she reached her parking space. "He must really be pissed if he's deliberately not even checkin' his messages. How am I gonna deal with this?" But she had no more time to think about Fritz's wounded ego. She had to dig in to try to find this child so she turned her attention to the information her squad was already organizing on the murder board.
Fritz was determined to ignore Brenda's calls. "If I talk to her now she'll just rationalize her actions and that will definitely drive me into a bar," he thought. "No. Better I save her excuses until I'm calmer."
His phone was still for awhile. And after a long heart to heart with his sponsor he regained control and he headed for his car. "I'd better listen to her messages before I get home so I know what I'm heading into," he thought. But he was surprised to see that the last call wasn't from Brenda. It was from his boss, Dave Martin. He returned that call first and was told about the kidnapping and that Will Pope had involved PHD before even notifying the FBI.
"Did you tell him that his action could jeopardize things?" Fritz asked.
"Of course. But you know Pope. He refused to listen. I think he loves to hurt the FBI whenever he can."
"And I'm pretty sure I know why," Fritz thought to himself.
"But regardless of the conflict, the life of a child is at stake and we have to save her. If it's not too late," Dave continued. "Oh, and a heads up. Deputy Chief Johnson is conducting the LAPD's investigation."
"Yeah, I figured that when you said that PHD was involved."
"Well I just wanted you to know that up front."
Fritz replied, "I'm on my way." He wanted to short circuit a discussion of Brenda and her faults.
Dave sighed, "I don't know why you're insisting on marrying that woman. I know she's beautiful. But this is LA. It's filled with beautiful women who wouldn't constantly mess up the FBI's work." Fritz's stoney silence made him realize that he had wandered into forbidden territory so he returned to the case at hand. "I guess you have no choice but to work with her on this one. Call me if you need me."
"Oh, God," Fritz thought trying to wipe Dave's comments about Brenda from his mind. "Could anything be worse? I hate Will Pope," he grumbled as he headed toward his office. He then punched Brenda's number.
She glanced down from the murder board to see that it was Fritz finally returning her calls. "Excuse me. I need to take this." She headed into her office and closed the door before answering.
"Did you listen to my messages?" she asked without greeting him first.
"Yes. And I've already talked to Dave Martin, too."
"Then you know that I have to investigate this kidnappin'. Are you willin' to work with me or am I on my own?" Brenda demanded, her voice infused with her irritation.
"Of course I'm willing to work with you, Brenda. But are you willing to work with me, or are you going to try to sideline me just so you can close your case?" Fritz's irritation matched hers.
"I'm willin' to do whatever I have to do to find this little girl, Fritz. I shouldn't have to explain that to you."
"Ok, then let's work together."
"How long will it take you to get over here?" Brenda asked.
"I'm heading to my office to pick up some information I think we can use. I'll get there as quick as I can."
"Thank you," Brenda replied and hung up the phone and walked back into the murder room.
"Sgt. Gabriel and Det. Sanchez, talk to Juanita's teachers and get all the information you can about her, her friends, her family, anything you can," Brenda ordered, "And Lt. Tao, check with the school and area businesses for security camera footage. Check red light cameras, too."
When Fritz arrived he saw the information displayed on the murder board and was impressed with how much information they'd found in such a short period of time. But he also realized critical pieces were missing. "You've done a great job assembling the facts but I think I can help you fill in some of the gaps."
"Oh, like what?" Flynn challenged him.
Brenda cut Flynn off. "Do you think this could be a custody battle?"
"No. Family, or rather Jorge Alvarez's version of it, is very important to him. Besides Juanita, he has two grown sons from a previous relationship. They are both his second in command. But here's the thing. Both Juanita's mother and his sons' mother disappeared under similar but mysterious circumstances in Mexico. According to the Federales both women were last seen in Jorge's presence. And in both cases they were never seen again either in Mexico or here. The Federales assume that both women are dead but they have no clues as to what actually happened. They both vanished without any trace.
"Also, this little girl is the apple of Jorge's eye. Our informants say he dotes on her and always goes to great lengths to protect her. He even has two armed guards drive her to and from school every day."
"We know she didn't disappear on her way to school. I guess that's why," Brenda mused.
"No. She disappeared while at school. She asked for a bathroom break and didn't return to class."
"If he felt the need for armed guards, did he think a rival gang would try to kidnap her?" Brenda asked.
"Probably. And when I heard that she'd been abducted my first thought was that a rival drug cartel was responsible."
"Do you have any idea which one?" If that was true, Brenda didn't know nearly enough about LA's drug cartels to get very far in this investigation. She was beginning to be thankful that Fritz was involved, although she wasn't ready to tell him that.
"Alvarez's organization is small but they're expanding their influence in LA so they are stepping on a lot of high powered toes. And any one of the rival cartels are capable of this kind of thing. But the most intense rivalry Alvarez has is with the Gutierrez Cartel. That's where I think we should start so I brought organizational charts for both cartels," Fritz replied as he pulled the charts from his briefcase and put them up on the far end of the murder board.
Their conversation was interrupted by Gabriel and Sanchez.
"Chief," Gabriel replied, "Her teachers all say that she has no problems with school that they know of. But they did say that she definitely misses her mother and after her disappearance last year Juanita isolated herself from her classmates. And they also said that there is good communication with her father. He always attends parent-teacher conferences, that sort of thing."
"Did they ever notice anyone lurkin' around who obviously didn't belong?" Brenda asked.
"No. And no registered sex offenders either," Sanchez replied.
"Nothin' out of the ordinary this mornin'?"
Sanchez replied, "Nothing, Chief."
"Ok. Thank you, gentlemen." She turned back to Fritz. "What about some kind of internal cartel conflict?"
"It's possible but not likely. The two sons, Eduardo and Conception, keep hands-on control and they fend off any internal rivalries by handsomely rewarding their underlings for tips on any conflicts within the organization. So they have an almost fanatically loyal base."
"Is there anyone in either cartel who will talk to us? Help us in any way?" Brenda asked even though she already knew the answer.
"No. If they suspect anyone they will handle this themselves. And it'll be bloody," Fritz replied.
"But someone in one of the gangs they operate through might help us, Chief," Sanchez commented, "But it would have to be someone we can bargain with."
Brenda nodded, "Someone who has somethin' to lose if he doesn't help us. See if you can find someone." And with that, Sanchez turned back to his computer.
Det. Daniels volunteered, "I've contacted ICE and Customs and they're searching their video footage to see if anyone from Alvarez's organization crossed the border within the past 24 hours."
"Good idea. Make sure they have all the names from Special Agent Howard's chart and give them the names of the people in the Gutierrez organization as well." And with that, Det. Daniels nodded and turned to her computer as well.
Fritz was impressed with the way each member of Brenda's unit worked together. He had to admit that he didn't see the internal rivalries here that so often bogged down FBI investigations. He turned back to Brenda who was studying the board intently and gave her more information on the key players of both organizations. He also suggested where SIS stakeouts might prove useful.
Lt. Provenza had been studying the board and asked, "Has anyone tried interviewing the help? One of these guys might have an illegal nanny or housekeeper who might have heard something."
"That is an excellent suggestion, Lieutenant. Why don't you take Lt. Flynn with you and see if you can round up some of them and get them in here for interviews?" Brenda ordered.
"Come on, Flynn," Provenza said as he grabbed his jacket. "You've had enough coffee for one morning." Flynn nodded, put down his coffee mug, and both men left the Murder Room.
Capt. Taylor entered the room. "I've alerted both the gang and drug people and told them to cooperate with you, Chief Johnson. Do you want the press involved? Usually we get them involved as soon as we can on child abductions."
"Thank you, Capt. Taylor. But I think we need to hold off a little while longer on the press. We just might have an advantage if the kidnappers don't think we know anythin' about this right now."
Pope entered the room as Brenda spoke. "Well, I disagree. Capt. Taylor, please alert the media. The last thing we need is for the press to think the LAPD isn't doing everything possible to find this child."
"I don't think that's a good move right now, Will." Fritz interjected.
"Well, you're not in charge of this investigation. I am," Pope replied.
Brenda intervened, "But we could be givin' away our only advantage if we announce this too soon, Will. At least let's wait until after we've done some preliminary interviews." The last thing she needed was to get in the middle of a pissing contest between Will and Fritz, and she needed to maintain as much control as she could. "We're bringin' in some possible informants right now. We need to interview them first."
Will hesitated and looked both at Fritz and Brenda. "Ok. But I won't wait much longer," he warned.
"It won't take us long," Brenda promised even though she had no idea how many people Provenza and Flynn would bring in or how long it would take to interview them.
They brought in five housekeepers and nannies. Brenda interviewed them all with Sanchez over Fritz's objections. Even though she understood his wanting to be included she explained that three interviewers would be too intimidating and she needed Sanchez to help overcome language barriers. Fritz reluctantly accepted this and was relegated to watching the interviews in the electronics room. Even so, he had to admit that Brenda did a very thorough job and that she elicited more information than he probably would have gotten.
One of the interviews yielded significant information about a second home in the Hollywood district which her employer would occasionally use. The housekeeper described the location but did not know why her boss felt he needed a second house, especially since no one seemed to live there.
As soon as Fritz heard this he called his boss and arranged for surveillance on the house. He soon received confirmation that Ronaldo Gutierrez had been observed taking what looked like a fast food order into the house. Since Brenda was still interviewing, he asked Buzz to notify her through her earwig.
With this information, Brenda and Fritz went to Pope's office to discuss their options. Pope was predictably concerned with Latino reaction should the child not be in the house. And Fritz predictably felt that the FBI information was reliable and that they needed to act quickly. Brenda, once again caught in the middle, sided with Fritz and watched Pope's jaw twitch. Again predictably, Pope ordered Brenda to wait for confirmation of the Alvarez girl's presence in the house.
"Will, we are going to go to that house and get that little girl before something else can happen. The FBI is going to act – with or without the LAPD." And Fritz turned to leave Pope's office.
Pope did not enjoy losing control of an investigation but he knew that he had no choice but to go along. "All right. But if anything happens to that child, it's on the FBI."
"Get SIS backup, Will," Brenda practically ordered and Pope nodded his compliance.
"All right, but get a warrant first," Will responded. "I want all the i's dotted and t's crossed on this one."
Brenda nodded and she and Fritz left. Pope scowled as he watched them leave. Then he sighed and picked up the phone to arrange for SIS coverage.
Two hours later, Brenda was sitting in the back seat of an unmarked FBI car holding a crying but very much alive Juanita Alvarez in her arms. Fritz drove them back to Parker Center where Brenda ordered Det. Daniels to see to it that Juanita was checked by a doctor. She also ordered that no one notify Jorge until she authorized it.
After Juanita's physical exam, Brenda and Det. Daniels fed the little girl and obtained as much information as they could on the kidnapping. She next conferred with Fritz and they decided that since the FBI was working on the Gutierrez cartel, he would arrest the remaining involved cartel members. The LAPD would keep custody of the two men they had arrested when they rescued the child. And Fritz left to handle his end of the case.
It took several more hours to process everyone involved and then she told Det. Sanchez to call Jorge Alvarez and tell him to come to Parker Center to retrieve his child. Despite Brenda's interview Alvarez gave no additional information that would help either the FBI or the LAPD. So at this point she was finally free to go home.
During a Merlot and popcorn late night supper, Fritz finally came through the door. He no longer seemed angry, just exhausted. He sat next to Brenda and put one arm around her shoulder while he helped himself to some popcorn. They sat silently for several minutes.
Finally Brenda spoke. "Are you really not gonna accept my apology?"
Fritz sighed but said nothing.
"Because you're wrong, Fritz. You know I'm not out to hurt your career."
"I know you're not deliberately trying to sabotage my career, Brenda. But when you're on a case nothing else matters to you. Are you capable of considering what I need too? Can you stop for a minute and consider how your actions affect me?"
"You know that I have a job to do and I can't stop workin' my cases."
"I'm not asking you to stop working your cases. But can you stop and think about something other than your own need to win once in awhile?" He was getting irritated all over again.
"Didn't I do that very thing today? Didn't I include you in just about everythin' I did? You got your arrests too, didn't you?" Brenda was offended.
"Yes, today we worked well together. But I can't help but think it was only because we fought this morning that you gave any thought at all to what I need."
Brenda knew he was right about that. "I'm sorry Fritz. I know I get too focused sometime."
That made her smile. "But you didn't accept my apology, either."
"I'll tell you what I'm willing to do. I'm willing to accept your apology if you're willing to share more of that popcorn."
So, of course, that provoked a popcorn fight which progressed to laughter. Which progressed to them picking popcorn out of each other's hair. Which progressed to a lot of caresses and kisses. And that suited Brenda just fine. As long as she could be on top. And that suited Fritz just fine. Eventually he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom and laid her down on the bed. So she was no longer on top. But since he was unbuttoning her blouse that suited her just fine.