A month later at the end of the day Fritz was cleaning off his desk anticipating getting out on time when his phone rang. "Special Agent Howard."
"Fritz, could you come to my office before you leave today?" It was Dave Martin, his boss.
"Sure. I'll be right there." As Fritz walked down the hall to the elevator he wondered what was up.
His boss' door was open and he was waved in. "Close the door please, Fritz." Dave's tone was somber.
"What's the matter, Dave?" Fritz hadn't heard anything in the office gossip pipeline which warranted Dave's demeanor so he was confused.
Dave studied him for a moment without speaking, sighed and then said, "John Walling visited me about an hour ago."
Fritz knew that John Walling was Dave's boss.
Dave continued. "You were the subject of his visit."
"Oh?" Fritz was genuinely surprised.
"It seems you were under consideration for a huge promotion. An ASAC appointment. And you were one of the top three under consideration."
"Assistant Special Agent-In-Charge?" Fritz was shocked. That kind of a promotion would be huge. But one word exploded in his mind. "Were?"
"Yes. He asked me if there was anything in your performance that he needed to know about since he was considering you. I told him about your breaking the back of the Alvarez and Gutierrez cartels and he was impressed. But I also had to tell him about the Ben Masters stakeout."
"Oh. I take it that my work on the drug cartels was canceled out by that stakeout," Fritz suddenly understood.
"I think so. He asked for information about staff usage, hours worked on the stakeout. That kind of thing. He left here pretty disappointed, I think."
"Do you know who the other candidates are?"
"No. But he said he was down to his top three. Apparently now it's the top two."
"I don't suppose there's anything I can do now to fix things."
"I don't know of a thing you can do. I'm afraid that this is a lost opportunity. But I have to tell you that if you want to be considered for future promotions there is something you can do."
"Dave, don't go there," Fritz warned. He knew what Dave was going to say and wanted to cut him off. But it didn't work.
"Look, Fritz. You're the best Special Agent in LA. You know that I'm in your corner. I brag about your work all the time at ASAC meetings. But I couldn't cover up the Ben Masters debacle."
Fritz just nodded. He knew that Dave admired his work and wanted to see him promoted.
"Normally my policy is that an agent's private life is his business. But in your case it's holding you back. I've said it before. But I have to say it again. Fix your relationship with Brenda or drop her."
"Dave, I don't want to discuss my personal life with you."
"I know you don't. But she is destroying your chances for promotion. And it's gotten worse. She's now destroying our ability to operate efficiently. She's wasting FBI staff time and money. I can't let it continue."
"Dave, she doesn't work for you. You can't control her investigations. And most of the problem doesn't originate with her. Her boss has a lot to do with it."
"Did Pope order her to misdirect you? Did Pope knowingly allow you to conduct a worthless but expensive stakeout?"
"No." Fritz was miserable.
"She's a liability you can't afford, Fritz. The bottom line is that you either have to fix the problem or watch your career opportunities get flushed down the toilet. I can't make that decision for you. Think about it. Now, go on home. And figure out what you're going to do to fix this. That's an order."
Fritz's commute home was a blur. He knew Dave was right. But he loved Brenda to the depth of his being. There was no way he was going to call off his engagement to her. And talking to her would not insure that she would change her behavior. Maybe he should ask for a transfer to another district. But would Brenda come with him? He didn't honestly think she would give up her job for him. And that thought made him feel worse than losing a great promotion.
He had told Brenda that afternoon that he would stop at Ming's for Chinese take-out on his way home but he had lost his appetite and drove right past the restaurant.
Brenda got home before Fritz. She was basking in the positive publicity her and Fritz's solving the Alvarez kidnapping case had brought. Of course, Pope was grabbing full credit for the LAPD but Brenda had been interviewed by Ricardo Ramos and had been sure to stress that it was a joint LAPD/FBI operation and to give credit to the FBI in general and Fritz in particular. She was sure he would be pleased and fervently hoped that his position at the FBI would no longer be vulnerable.
The truth was that she was still smarting about Fritz's accusation that she deliberately let him set up a worthless stakeout on Ben Masters' home. She knew she had made a serious mistake and, while she had apologized to Fritz for not letting him know that they had picked up the killer and she had justified that this apology should have taken care of it, she knew that wasn't so. She feared she had damaged his position at the FBI and knew that she needed to do something to help him. Hopefully this interview with Ramos helped. After all, the FBI brass were all sure to see the article.
Since Fritz was bringing Chinese all she needed to do was set the table and she was just setting out the plates when he came in the back door, empty handed and with a sad expression.
"Fritz? What's wrong? Where's dinner?"
He put his briefcase down on the counter and dropped his keys in the bowl before answering. "I didn't stop for anything. I'm not hungry."
"Why? What happened?" He looked terrible and Brenda was starting to get alarmed.
"Sit down," Fritz indicated the kitchen table so she sat down and steeled herself for the bad news she knew would follow.
"Do you remember last month when I told you that the Masters misdirect could impact my career?" Fritz asked as he sat down across the table from her.
"Yes, I remember," Brenda replied while dread filled her.
"This afternoon I was called into Dave's office and was told I had probably just lost the chance for a huge promotion. It was an ASAC position.
"What is an ASAC position?" Brenda didn't know.
"It's like going from Captain to Deputy Chief in one move. But it's gone now. And all because of the Masters stakeout."
"Oh, no!" Brenda's eyes filled with tears and her hand reached to Fritz's but he didn't allow her to touch him. "Fritzi, I am so sorry. I never knew somethin' like this could happen."
"And that was not the worst of it," he continued. "Dave ordered me to fix the problem or watch my career get flushed down the toilet."
Fritz was looking at her but Brenda couldn't meet his gaze.
"What does 'fix the problem' mean, Fritz?" Even though Brenda asked the question she was terrified of the answer.
"In his mind fixing the problem is breaking up with you."
All Brenda's defenses dissolved and sobs welled up within her.
"Honey, I am not breaking up with you. I love you. But we have to find a way to fix this problem." Even through his frustration and sadness he tried to reassure her.
Brenda fought to regain control. Finally she gulped. "Fritzi, I... I'm tryin', Fritzi. I haven't called you for help or involved you in any of my cases for a month now," she stammered.
"I know. And I appreciate it. But we both know that's only a temporary fix. There will come a time when we're competing again. It's bound to happen."
"What if we didn't? Compete, I mean," Brenda had stopped crying and was now fully engaged.
"What are you thinking?" Fritz placed his hand over her wrist.
"Maybe there's someone else at the FBI I could work with."
"I don't know," Fritz said simply. He knew no one would work with her. No one wanted his career damaged because of her obsessive competitiveness.
"I know. Everyone in the FBI hates me." She started to cry again.
"They don't hate you, Brenda. But they don't want the hassles that come with trying to work with you, either."
Brenda stopped crying and wiped her face. She looked at Fritz. He looked like he might cry too. "Are you sure the promotion is gone?" She was hoping against hope.
"Walling hasn't made an announcement yet but, yes. Dave says it's gone."
"Fritzi, I'm so sorry. Listen, I can fix this. I will fix it. I promise," she resolved. "Just don't leave me. I couldn't stand it if you left me." And her eyes filled with tears again.
Fritz saw fear in her eyes and heard the desperation in her voice. "I'm not going to leave you, honey. I love you more than any promotion."
Brenda blew her nose and smiled at him through her tears. "Where should I start? I'll do anythin' to fix this. Whatever it takes. I'm so sorry."
"Well, to start with, you could talk with me about joint cases instead of just charging ahead on your own. We could come up with a joint plan."
Brenda let out a sigh. "Well, I promise I won't do anythin' without talkin' to you first. We'll figure out a way for both of us to get what we need. But I need you to listen to my side of things too."
"I'm listening," Fritz replied.
"You know that the FBI loves to let me do all the work and then come swoopin' in and stealin' my suspects. And don't deny it. They do."
"How often has that happened, Brenda?"
"It happens a lot. Remember how Jackson didn't tell me he already had a federal warrant until after I'd done all the interviewin' and gotten the confession? Then he barged into the interview room and stole both my suspects, not just the one he had the warrant for. And Horlacher lied about that Jonathan Darnell suspect bein' a national security risk and stole him right out from underneath my investigation. And Blackburn and Simms lied about Nick Koslov bein' in protective custody when he murdered those teenage girls. And Manning did the same thing. He lied about Aaron Brandeis bein' in FBI custody when he murdered Sue Carmichael just so he could take him away from me. It happens all the time and I'm sick of it." Brenda was getting a head of steam up.
"I know it happens. But I've never done that to you. Have I ever lied to you or used your investigation to steal your suspect?"
"Just once. The Ben Masters murder."
"But I didn't lie to you. You knew exactly what I was doing at every step."
"Yes, I did," Brenda admitted. Actually that was why she was able to misdirect him so easily. "I already promised you that I would try to remember to talk to you first and try to find a way for us to work together. And I meant it, Fritzi. I don't want to do anythin' that will hurt your career ever again. But I want you to help me with the FBI too. We have to help each other."
"I'll see what I can do to help you," Fritz promised.
The next day, Fritz went up to Dave's office and knocked on the door. When he was waved in, he sat down opposite his boss.
"I had a long talk with Brenda last night," Fritz began.
"Well, did you fix things with her?" Dave asked, his doubt obvious in his voice.
"We worked out an agreement on how we would proceed on joint cases," he replied, "But there are other issues we need to discuss."
"What other issues?"
"Brenda has some problems with the way she's been treated by the Bureau. She gave me a list of cases where she feels that the Bureau deliberately abused the LAPD." Fritz saw an annoyed expression take over Dave's face.
"Really. And how, exactly, have we 'abused' the LAPD?" Dave's tone made it clear that he didn't believe it.
Fritz went through Brenda's list. Dave's expression turned to surprise.
"She has an excellent point, Dave. Brenda has a mandate too. The FBI can't expect to have LAPD support if we're going to actively sabotage their cases. There needs to be a better protocol on both our parts if we're going to work on the same cases."
"Do you honestly think that the LAPD will work collaboratively with us under any circumstances?"
"I don't honestly know, Dave," Fritz sighed, "but it can't hurt. Look, the reason the Alvarez and Gutierrez cartels are dead is because we developed a plan together where we shared information and we both got what we need. It can't hurt to try to continue that paradigm."
Dave stared at Fritz. "Would that paradigm have worked if you two weren't in bed together? Literally?"
"I won't deny that our personal relationship had some bearing on it," he admitted, "But unless you have a better idea on how we can improve working relationships with the LAPD..."
Dave turned to answer his ringing phone and waved him away. So Fritz went back to his office.
At dinner Fritz told Brenda that he had talked to Dave about the cases she'd told him about.
"What did he say?"
"Not much. I don't think he'd ever realized that you had a legitimate reason to be distrustful of us."
"Huh. Guess he doesn't spend much time reviewin' his agents' case records," she replied sarcastically.
"Brenda, the point is that he listened to me. He heard your complaints."
"Yeah, but will he do anythin'?" Brenda was skeptical.
"I don't know. But I'm sure he'll think about it."
That evening Fritz decided to take advantage of Brenda's new motivation to be helpful. He reasoned that since he didn't know how long her cooperative frame of mind would last that he ought to take full advantage of it before she lapsed back into her hyper-focused, competitive mode. "Since I helped you today there is another thing you could do to help me," Fritz suggested to her, "You could go with me to some of those cocktail parties and dinners that you hide from."
Brenda smiled because he was right. She always had an excuse not to go because she was hiding. "But everyone hates me and..."
"They don't hate you, Brenda. But they only see one side of you. You need to show them that there's more than the obsessed work side to Brenda Leigh Johnson. Let them see the wonderful woman that you are."
She smiled weakly. "I'm willin' to do anythin' you think will help."
"Remember I told you about a big dinner coming up in six weeks?"
"A big dinner?" Her expression told him that she'd completely pushed this dinner from her mind.
"It's to honor John Walling for his anti-terrorism work. Both the Directors of the FBI and Homeland Security are flying in from Washington for it and the Governor will also be there, along with a lot of other high-powered, important people. I told you about it a month ago. It's a command appearance for me, and it's important for my career."
"I'll go, Fritzi. Of course, I'll go. I was always gonna go," she lied. "I just don't like goin' to those things when I don't have anythin' to wear."
"Well, Cinderella, maybe it's time to buy yourself some new glad rags," Fritz smiled at her.
But Brenda shook her head. "No. The other women there will all be wearin' dresses that are too expensive for me. I can't afford anythin' nice enough and I'll feel even more out of my league. And I don't want to embarrass you or hurt your chances for advancement."
"There will be lots of wives there whose husbands don't make as much as I make. And you make more money than I do. Besides you're so beautiful that you'd make a gunny sack look great."
Brenda laughed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. But I'll figure somethin' out. And you need a new suit, too. Or do you need a tux?"
"Not a tux. But I've got a good suit. That's one good thing about being a guy. We get to wear the same suit more than once."
"You can say that again. Women's dresses are so expensive and, believe me, every woman there will remember if someone wears a dress more than once." She was feeling much more sure of herself. "But I'll find somethin' affordable. Don't worry, Fritzi. I won't let you down."
"That's my girl." Fritz got up from his chair and walked around the table, leaned over and kissed Brenda. "Now, what kind of supper can we rustle up here?"
"There's not much here. I can cook some eggs or we can order a pizza."
"How about going out for a burger? I'm hungry for a burger and fries."
"Ok. I'm not very hungry so I won't order anythin'. But I'll go with you."
"Oh, no. You always say that and then you wind up stealing all my fries. You get your own order of fries, woman."
Brenda laughed, grabbed her sweater and tossed Fritz his keys.
They sat in the car watching the car hops on skates while they ate their burgers. And while Brenda stole Fritz's fries she asked, "Would it help or hurt if I called Dave next time the FBI should be involved in one of my cases? I could ask him to assign someone else to work with me."
"No. He'd only assign me."
"Well, I already promised that I'll try to discuss our joint cases with you and try to come up with a plan that will help us both."
"I know you'll do your best. But right now I need you to understand what a dangerous position you're in."
"What danger?" Brenda was surprised.
"If you steal one more fry I'm going to squirt ketchup all over your hands," Fritz tried to sound menacing.
Brenda giggled. "No you won't. You're bluffin'. You won't risk gettin' ketchup all over the upholstery of your precious car."
"You're right. So, if you steal one more fry I'm going to order more and you'll have to eat all of them."
"Actually, I've had enough fries. But there's a Cold Stone Creamery right over there. I want a Chocolate Devotion. And to show you that I can be a good fiancée I'll even split it with you."
Brenda was using her most seductive voice. She always got what she wanted from him when she used that voice. Fritz knew when he heard that voice that if he gave in, eventually he'd get what he wanted too. Since resistance was not only futile, it was counterproductive, he put the car in reverse and backed out of their parking spot and then headed out in order to put his fiancée in touch with her first love – chocolate ice cream.