Author's Notes: This story is being written as part of The Closer Forum's 1st Annual Valentine's Day Fanfic Challenge. It is in honor of the fact that, if the show were still on, this would be the first Valentine's Day Brenda might actually spend with Fritz instead of leaning over a corpse!
February 14, 1997
Fritz Howard stood in the hallway of the DC Metro Police Department and wished it were any other day but Valentine's Day. He wasn't one of those guys who hated the holiday in fact, he was a bit of a romantic. It was just that his girlfriend, Cindy, had such high expectations for the holiday, and if Fritz didn't fulfill each and every one, there would be a minimum of one week's silent treatment followed by a tearful fight in which she accused him of being all kinds of horrible.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead, reviewing the list. Reservations at a romantic restaurant: meeting her at Palena in 45 minutes, check. Chocolate: heart-shaped box of Godiva milk chocolate sitting on his desk, check. Flowers: need to be picked up on the way to the restaurant, soon to be checked. Card: oh crap, he thought, I forgot to get a card. In light of everything else he might get away with this oversight as a misdemeanor, but he didn't want to risk it. He needed to stop and buy a card on his way to dinner too, and there will probably be nothing but the really cheesy ones left. Just great.
He was scowling at his forgetfulness when his partner, Mike, walked up to him, carrying a cup of coffee he had just procured from the break room. "What's up, Fritz, you look like someone just ran over your puppy," Mike said. He took a swig of his beverage and raised his eyebrows.
Fritz shook his head. "I just remembered that I didn't get Cindy a Valentine's Day card. I have to stop on the way to dinner and pick one up, after I go to the florist. February 14 is such a pain in the butt."
"More like a pain in the wallet," he said. "Didn't you get her a huge box of chocolate too? And you're taking her to dinner? You sure she's gonna be upset over a silly little card?"
"Yup," Fritz said glumly.
Mike shook his head. "I am so glad I'm single. While you're eating your overpriced meal I'm gonna be sitting on my couch in sweats, scarfing down pizza and watching the game."
"Any game," Mike said, and they both laughed.
Fritz lowered his voice. "I envy you your pizza and sports, but Cindy told me she got some special Valentine's Day lingerie. So if I play my cards right, the wining and dining will all be worth it." Fritz winked and nodded his head.
Fritz expected Mike to laugh, but instead his face turned serious. "Hey listen Fritz, speaking of wine...take it easy with the drinking tonight, will you, buddy? I know you and Cindy like to drink pretty heavy when you go out, but you had one hell of a hangover last week when you came to work. And it wasn't the first time. I just don't want the brass to see you like that and get concerned, you know?"
Fritz felt a blush of shame creeping over him and quickly looked away from Mike. He had been drinking more heavily than usual lately, and Cindy was all too willing to join him, and then coddling them both next day when they were hung over. Fritz knew their relationship wasn't the healthiest, there was too much drinking and far more of a focus on sex than love, but he didn't want Mike to know that.
Fritz was saved from thinking of something to say to Mike by the appearance of an unfamiliar woman walking down the hall. At first all he saw of her was the top of her head, because she was looking down and furiously digging through her oversized black purse. Without glancing up, she walked a few feet, stopped, rummaged through her bag with great enthusiasm, made a small sound of frustration, walked a few more feet and foraged again. After watching several rounds of this, Fritz heard what he interpreted as a noise of triumph as she pulled out a candy bar, slung the enormous bag over her shoulder, and started walking in a normal pace toward the elevator. Before she hit the Down button and turned her back to him, Fritz got a good look at the stranger, and he felt like the world had stopped suddenly on its axis.
She was beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. She was petite, downright tiny, with long, very curly, nearly out-of-control blonde hair. She had delicate features that looked like they were sculpted by an artist who worked in only the finest mediums. But what struck him the most was, despite her small stature and almost angelic appearance, she radiated strength. This woman, whomever she was, was clearly not someone to mess with.
He elbowed Mike, who had his back to the woman the whole time she was making her way down the corridor. "Hey Mike, do you know who she is?" Fritz inclined his head toward the elevators.
Mike turned halfway around, and then back at Fritz, a half smile on his face. "Yea, Deputy Chief Pope was showing her around the other day and brought her by our office, but you were out interviewing that witness in Northwest. That's the new CIA/DCPD liaison. Brenda something."
"That woman works for the CIA? Really? She doesn't look like a spook."
"I think that's the point, Fritz. And now can you roll your tongue back in your mouth, because if you may remember, you have a girlfriend. A hot girlfriend. So please leave a few ladies for us single guys, please."
Cindy was hot, Fritz thought to himself. Tall and model thin, people always told them they made a beautiful couple, because they had similar coloring and were both attractive. Cindy knew she was pretty and loved to play up her good looks, wearing heavy makeup and short skirts. This woman Brenda, he corrected himself was dressed in a long skirt and a floral top, and had a hot pink coat folded over her arm, which had nearly slipped off and fell to the ground during her furious search of her purse's interior. She had a nice body too, but there was something unassuming about her looks. He supposed it came from working in the CIA, where drawing attention to yourself was not encouraged.
"Is she single?" Fritz asked.
"Not that you need to know, Fritz, but rumor has it that she is. She's been asked out by a ton of guys at Metro already, and she's only been here a week. I've heard, though, that she turns everyone down with a very polite Southern smile and 'thank yew.' But if a guy is persistent, she verbally castrates them and leaves them in tears. She's an interrogator for the Company, so she knows just how to bring a man to his knees."
I'd fall on my knees for her any time, he thought to himself. And he mentally shook himself. Easy boy. You are dating Cindy, and you don't need the complication of a breakup over another woman. Cindy would come after you with a butcher knife. As his brain was issuing warnings about his interest in the small blonde standing 20 feet away, the elevator arrived, and Brenda stepped on. Fritz sprang in motion.
"Catch you later, Mike," he said, and before his partner could answer, her hurdled himself forward and towards the elevator, barely squeezing through the closing doors and hitting the back wall with a "thump." Thankfully, Brenda was the only other person in the elevator, and she looked at Fritz with minor annoyance.
And she checked him out.
Fritz Howard knew he was a handsome man. He never had a problem attracting women, although he never used his good looks to be manipulative or exploit women for sex. He wasn't a player. However, he knew darn well when he was being appreciated by a member of the opposite sex, and he had to admit it never failed to puff him up a bit. And the fact that this beautiful creature was doing it, this woman who walked down the hall and made him careen into the elevator like an idiot, well, it felt like Christmas day.
When she reached his eyes, she quickly looked away and busied herself with unwrapping her Snickers bar, as if she were embarrassed at being caught staring at him. He cleared his throat.
"Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself. You met my partner, Mike Berinowski, the other day, but I was out of the office. I'm Detective Fritz Howard." Fritz smiled his best charm smile and extended his hand toward her.
She reached out and completed the shake, meeting his eyes again, all signs of embarrassment gone, her grip surprising strong and sure. "Nice to meet you," she said, in a Southern accent so thick he could have cut it with a knife. "I'm Brenda Leigh Johnson. I'm the new CIA/Metro PD liaison officer." He hated to let go of her small, sure hand when she pulled away.
"Oh, you're from the South," he said, amused at her accent. She made Scarlett O'Hara sound like a Boston Brahmin. Her Southern drawl brought to mind sweet, thick molasses and hot, swampy Southern nights where everything moved extra slow and bodies in close proximity stuck together with sweat.
"Why, you really are quite the detective," she said sarcastically.
Fritz cringed. He sounded like an idiot. Way to make a great first impression, he thought.
He looked at her beautiful brown eyes and felt like he was a pinned insect, the sharpness and intelligence behind them as keen as a knife. Who is this woman? He was grateful they had several floors to travel, because he was desperate for a clue, no matter how small.
"I just meant, I mean, where exactly in the South are you from?" There, hopefully that was a save.
"Atlanta," she said, turning back to her candy bar, unwrapping it and taking a large bite.
"Oh. DC winters must have taken awhile to get used to," he said, trying to keep her engaged, because from the look on her face when she bit into her Snickers, he had very stiff competition from the candy for her attention. He had only seen a look like that on a woman's face in bed, and he was the one putting it there.
He felt dismissed, but he wasn't ready to go yet. He wanted to hear more of that sweet Southern lilt of hers, stare a little more into those drown eyes, be the focus again of her laser-sharp attention. He said the firs thing that came to mind. "So, do you have any plans for Valentine's Day?"
Brenda stopped mid-bite, and then continued with determined movements, bringing the candy bar to her lips covered in pink gloss, taking a small nibble, chewing slowly, than swallowing. Fritz had the feeling that she was biding her time before...what? Meting out some punishment? He knew he had said something wrong, but he wasn't sure what. He waited silently, barely breathing. If he were completely honest with himself, he would admit he was a little scared.
"That seems to be a very popular question to ask to see if I have a boyfriend," Brenda said, an edge to her voice. She turned to face him, closing the distance between them so he had a hard time looking away. Not that he wanted to. "You are the third man today who asked me that."
Oh crap. She thought he was hitting on her. "I wasn't-"
"Not that you should be askin' me if I'm available anyways, because you clearly aren't," she said, with venom in her voice.
"How did you-"
"You are headin' out to Valentine's dinner right now," she said, looking at her watch. "My guess is you have 7:00 reservations but have to pick up flowers on your way, because you are empty-handed."
"What makes you-"
"The men here dress casually, and you are wearin' a suit, and from the smell," she paused and sniffed the air, "it is one you just had dry-cleaned, so you don't wear it too often. My guess is, from how expensive it looks, that it's your goin' out suit. That makes me think the dinner reservations are somewhere nice, a fancy restaurant. Which means you have a girlfriend and aren't married, because men usually don't bother to take their wives to really nice places, especially for Valentine's Day."
"That a little unfair-"
"Plus you don't have a weddin' ring on, and even if you were one of those men who took it off a lot, you would at least have a tan line or somethin'." She nodded toward his hand.
"And since your girlfriend is high-maintenance, and I am guessin' that from you havin' to take her somewhere really nice on Valentines Day when we know they inflate the prices at those places and it's just a silly, made-up commercial holiday anyways, she would probably be furious to know you were inquirin' about the datin' status of another woman. So, Detective Howard, I am goin' to do you a big favor and not divulge any of that information to you, lest it interfere with your current relationship." She lowered her voice and leaned so close to him he could smell her floral perfume. "I would just hate to be a homewrecker."
With that, the elevator lurched to a stop, the doors opened to the first floor, and Brenda Leigh Johnson turned . and walked out, leaving Fritz mute and frozen in place. Several people boarded and someone nudged him and asked, "man, you getting off or what?" This roused him from his stupor and he pushed his way through the crowd and into the first floor hallway. Outside, he could see Brenda's hot pink coat and long blonde hair swinging side to side as she walked briskly through the chilly DC evening. He watched her small form until she disappeared into a mixture of crowds and twilight, and only then, when she was no longer in his sight, was he able to think.
He had never met anyone like her. She was like a snake, with energy coiled underneath her skin, undulating and crackling, strength belying her size and biding its time until she could pounce. Her mind was a machete, whip-sharp and able to slice through him with a single blow, finding out things mere minutes after meeting that he had no intention of telling her. He was a little intimidated by her, and he found this to be strangely exciting. He understood how Ms. Brenda Leigh Johnson, with her curly blonde hair and Southern drawl, could be a lethal force for the CIA. She could dig anything out of anyone.
As shell-shocked as he was, as much as he felt he had just gone a few rounds in the mental ring and lost, badly, he was sure of one thing: he wanted more. Fritz was pretty sure that, even if he were single, and even though she found him attractive, she wouldn't go out with him. He imagined she didn't date men at work, that she believed entangling herself romantically with the men she was competing with professionally would be seen by her as a potential path to downfall, a risk she would never be willing to take And he had Cindy, and it was as Mike said, he shouldn't be looking around anyways. But he had to get to know this woman. He needed to be in her presence, watch her turn that steely mind of hers toward a problem, a criminal, a crisis, and watch it in action. He wanted to hear her voice again, with its confidence and unapologetic dismissal of him; he admired her chutzpah, her balls, so to speak. She was a whirling dervish, and although he felt a little beat up, at the same time he felt invigorated, like she had transferred some of her spark into him, and for a moment he felt more alive than he had in years.
Forgetting that he had no outercoat, he started walking towards the restaurant half-dazed, his mind filled with ways he could befriend Brenda Leigh Johnson. I have to volunteer for the CIA/DCPD Joint Task Force, he thought to himself, replaying the scene in the elevator over again and hearing the sass in her voice as she dressed him down for supposedly hitting on her. In his mind he watched her rich pink lips open as she took a bite of her candy bar, over and over again. Candy... he stopped in the middle of the crosswalk and smacked himself on the forehead. He was two blocks from Palena and he was so busy thinking about Brenda he didn't stop to pick up flowers and a card. And crap.
He left the heart-shaped box of chocolates on his desk.
Brenda was three blocks away from the DCPD headquarters before she slowed her pace, her new high heels insufficiently broken in to move quickly without discomfort. She took a few deep breaths and shoved the last of the Snickers in her mouth, barely tasting the chocolate. She pulled her coat tighter and headed toward the bus stop that would take her to her Georgetown apartment.
Her first week at her new job had been...interesting. She was glad to be away from the intensity of the CIA politics, from the drama and intrigue and always being lectured on seeing "the big picture" whenever she questioned perceived injustices she felt she was perpetuating as her role as interrogator. She had grown tired of her conscious constantly whispering to her in the middle of the night, and she felt like the job had eroded something fundamental in her. She wasn't sure what that was, whether it was her compassion or her sense of right or wrong or her morality or something else intangible that had some holier-than-thou name. All she knew was that she was different than she used to be, and she felt a lot older than 30 years old. She felt threadbare, and was sure it showed when people looked at her. When Andrew gently suggested she apply for the Liaison Officer position, she knew he saw it too. She was grateful to him for stepping in and, while allowing her to save face by taking this far less draining position, Andrew also was helping her save herself. From what, she wasn't exactly sure, but she had seen men (and they were always men) who had been in the CIA during the Cold War, and there was a look in their eyes that made her blood ran cold. She didn't want to be turn into someone like that one day, soulless and hollow. So off to the DCPD she went, a fresh start, she told herself.
Her first week would have gone okay, if the men at Metro would just leave her the hell alone. At the Company, there was a strict "no fraternizing" policy, and people knew not to violate it. Well, it was violated all the time, but since it was violated by CIA operatives, they knew how to not to get caught. But a woman could send out a message, loud and clear, to be left alone or else, and men slowly backed away, afraid for their career if their advances became known to the hire-ups. And whereas Brenda had to suffer through lascivious stares and stage-whispered comments from men she came into contact with, she quickly learned a few biting words and scathing glances withered them, and they left her alone. She soon got a reputation as an ice-cold bitch, but it came along with a begrudging respect, and she learned to coexist with her male colleagues.
Now she had to start all over again and tame the boys at the DCPD, who had no manners whatsoever. She was annoyed by the inane comments the officers she met made to her about how someone as pretty as her couldn't possibly be in the CIA. Others unabashedly scanned her body and stared at her breasts instead of meeting her eyes. In these situations, over the years she had developed a cadre of scathing remarks that left the offender embarrassed, humiliated, and with their manhood called into question. Her new colleagues might call her a bitch behind her back; in fact, she was sure they would, but she bet they wouldn't be so disrespectful the next time she interacted with them. When it came down to whether to earn respect or command fear, she often went the fear route when dealing with unruly boys. Earning respect took time and effort, whereas verbally castrating a sexist pig and handing their balls back to them as they cried for their mother could be done pretty quickly. After that, she was usually given a wide berth, and no more comments were made about why a sweet Georgia Peach would want to hang out at a police department. To show up misogynist idiots like you, she thought.
On top of the usual sexist crap heaped on her, the younger officers were badgering her for dates. She had been there for one week and had been asked out seven times. Seven! It was like these men hadn't seen a woman in years before she showed up. She had a policy of polite refusal the first time, citing her personal policy of not dating anyone she worked with. If the guy pushed it, then went the "instilling fear" route. She could almost hear her mother in her head, chiding her for alienating so many people her first week at work. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," Willie Rae had said many times. Brenda rolled her eyes every time she heard that. Yea, well, you tend to get stuck in honey and can't get yourself out, she told herself. No thanks. Out of the seven men she had declined a date with, there was not one she would actually consider dating. They were all rough around the edges, loud, crude cops who would, in her opinion, never be able to appreciate her for anything but her looks. If she wanted to have a beer-guzzling boyfriend who thought a night out at Hooters was a special treat, she would have stayed in Atlanta.
But there was one man that stood out from the others...Detective Howard. Fritz. What kind of name is Fritz, anyways? He was drop-dead gorgeous, with those big brown eyes, that movie-star face, and that body, whoa, that body. She was so embarrassed he caught her checking him out, but she couldn't help it, he was fine. Beyond his looks, Fritz gave off a gentle, respectful air, and she sensed he was a kind person. Gentle, that was it, a rare quality in a profession that makes you form a hard shell to protect from all the human ugliness you are forced to look at. I'd like to know his secret, how he's preserved himself despite being a cop in DC, she thought. I'd like to get to know him. Not to date him, no dating in the workplace! But I think he would be a good work friend. Of course, she might have scared the crap out of him by rattling off details of his personal life. She admitted to herself she might have been a little harsh. Looking at him, although he seemed shell-shocked by her Blitz attack, he also seemed...bemused. Intrigued. Could she actually have found a man who was interested in her brains and not her body? Yes, she was curious about Fritz Howard, and wanted to be this man's friend, she decided, if that was at all possible.
There was another man at the DCPD she found attractive, and she was taken by surprise by this. Deputy Chief Will Pope was by no means handsome. He was older than her, and was balding. But his confidence was incredible, he exuded power, and in front of crowds he commanded attention like a pro. His deep voice and self-assured, confident movements spoke of a man sure of himself and of his position, and Brenda wanted to study him, to learn from him. Her mind made up, she was determined to spend as much time observing Will Pope as possible. This shouldn't be a problem, seeing that he led the Joint Task Force and they were going to be spending a lot of time working together.
Brenda had reached the bus stop and was impatiently scanning the streets for a sign her bus was coming. Nothing. In boredom she watched men rush down the street carrying flowers and couples with arms entwined walking closely together dressed up for dinner. Brenda rolled her eyes. Valentine's day was so silly. It was just an excuse to sell cards and flowers. And chocolate. Oh, chocolate! Her eyes brightened. She remembered the upside of Valentine's day. Tomorrow, large boxes of expensive chocolate will be half price, and she can get herself a really nice treat.
Visions of discount boxes of chocolate creams filled her head as her bus pulled up, and Brenda stepped on, heading to her little apartment. Alone.
Feedback, please! And thanks for reading!