A/N: Before you read this, be sure that you have read Labyrinth01's latest chapter of Welcome Her Home With Red Roses.
Brenda groaned. She was bone-weary and every cell in her body was demanding to shut down. But she still needed to finish reviewing a box of evidence before sending it over to the DA's office. She hadn't seen her husband in three days and wanted nothing more than to finish up and get home. She picked up her ringing phone anyway and heard Chief Pope's voice talking to Taylor. "Yes, Will," she said impatiently, grabbing his attention.
"Brenda, the wife of an attorney who is the Chief Counsel for the Diamante Movie Studios was just found murdered in her home. I need you and your squad to get over there immediately."
"You do know that we've been workin nonstop for almost three days," Brenda protested.
"I'm sorry but it can't be helped. Get over there now," was the reply.
"I'm sorry Brenda, but you have to get over there now."
"All right," she sighed, "Let me have the address." She wrote it down and walked into the Murder Room.
"Listen up, everyone. Chief Pope has just assigned us a new case so we're rollin out."
Everyone groaned and Sanchez spoke up, "But, Chief. We've worked around the clock for more than two days now. Can't Robbery Homicide take this one?"
"Apparently not, Detective Sanchez. Chief Pope assigned it to us. So let's get movin." And everyone groaned again, put on their jackets, and followed her out of the Murder Room while Flynn observed that Pope was a miserable, heartless bastard. No one disagreed with him.
The crime scene was a mansion in the Hollywood Hills and Hollywood Division had already taped it off and SID was studying the minutiae of the crime scene. Kendall was kneeling beside the body of Marlene VanBuren when Major Crimes put on their booties and gloves and entered the mansion.
"Hello, Kendall. Do we have a cause of death yet?" Brenda asked as her squad fanned out and searched the rest of the house.
"She was shot in the face at close range so that was probably it. I don't see any other wounds," he replied.
"Time of death?"
"Her liver temp indicates she's been dead less than two hours."
"I want a rape kit and a complete tox screen," Brenda told Kendall and then turned to Sgt. Gabriel. "Are there any witnesses?"
"The housekeeper thought she was the only other person here. She doesn't speak much English so Sanchez is interviewing her now."
"All right. Where is she?"
"In the kitchen, down that hallway."
"Thank you, Sargent. Would you please gather up all the computers and cell phones?"
"Sure, Chief," he replied as Brenda turned toward the kitchen.
Sanchez heard her coming and said, "Chief, this is Mrs. DeSantiago. She said that she was cleaning in the laundry room. She heard arguing but thought it was the TV. When she heard a shot she ran into the living room and found Mrs. VanBuren. She said she heard squealing tires but didn't see anyone."
"Do we know yet who lives in the house?"
Sanchez nodded and referred to his notepad. "Marlene and Nolan VanBuren and their nine year old daughter Katrina. Mrs. DeSantiago and her niece, Alise Parado, live in the servants quarters out back. Alise is the daughter's nanny."
"Was Mrs. VanBuren employed outside the home?" Brenda asked.
Det. Sanchez spoke to Mrs. DeSantiago in Spanish and then turned back to Brenda. "No, Chief."
"Ask her if she knows of any arguments or problems either of the VanBurens were havin with anyone else. Work, neighbors, family."
Again Det. Sanchez questioned Mrs. DeSantiago and reported, "No. She's never seen any signs of trouble. She said they didn't seem like a close couple but they were polite and respectful of each other and of their daughter."
"Where is the nanny?"
"Today is her day off. She dropped the daughter off at school this morning and then was going to join friends to go shopping. She won't be back until dinner time."
They heard loud male voices coming from outside so Brenda said, "Thank you, Detective Sanchez. Be sure to get her formal statement," and she left in search of the voices. A man was standing in the driveway and had tried to push past Lt. Flynn. He was being restrained by two officers.
"Sir, Sir! You can't go anywhere right now. I need you to calm down and wait here. You can't leave yet, Mr. VanBuren." Brenda approached the men just as a gurney wheeled Mrs. VanBuren out of the house.
Mr. VanBuren watched them load her into the back of the coroner's van and his body sagged.
"Mr. VanBuren, I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. I'm very sorry for your loss but I need to ask you some questions. Gentlemen, would you please assist Mr. VanBuren to those lawn chairs back there so we can talk? Thank you."
Mr. VanBuren nodded and said, "All right, but we have to hurry. I have to pick up my daughter at school." Then he walked unassisted back to the lawn chairs and sat down.
Brenda said, "All right, sir. Is there anyone you know of who might want to hurt your wife?"
"I don't know of anyone. But she led her own life. I don't know most of her friends."
Brenda thought that was odd and asked him to explain.
"My wife and I were... estranged. We pretty much just shared the house for the sake of our daughter," he said. "She had her life and I had mine."
"I see. Did you and your wife fight?"
"No. Once we decided on our relationship we actually got along better than most couples I know."
"And can you account for your whereabouts today?"
"Yes, I've been in studio meetings all day. I just came home to change my clothes and then pick up Katrina at school and take her to her piano lesson. You can check it out."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, we will."
"Chief Johnson, I will answer any questions you have but I have to pick up my child at school first." Mr. VanBuren was adamant.
"No, you can't leave yet, sir. I'm gonna have one of my detectives call the school and ask that Katrina be held there for awhile. They can tell her that you're in a meetin so she won't be upset."
He nodded and gave the name of the school to Lt. Provenza.
When Lt. Provenza turned to leave, Brenda got up and spoke softly to him, "While you're at it see if you can confirm Mr. VanBuren's alibi. Thank you."
Mr. VanBuren overheard her and said, "If it will help I can give you a list of people who were in the meetings."
Provenza turned back to Mr. VanBuren and wrote down the names before leaving to call the school. A few minutes later he returned and stood just out of earshot. Brenda walked over to him. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"Chief, his story checked out. He was at the studio in a series of meetings with executives and directors all day long. And the school can only hold Katrina for an hour."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. The housekeeper reported tires squealin after hearin the shot. Would you check and see if there are any tread marks in the street or driveway?" Brenda replied and walked back to where Mr. VanBuren was seated.
"Mr. VanBuren, my lieutenant tells me that the school can only hold your daughter for an hour so I have to make a decision. I can send a squad car to pick her up or you can get her, provided you agree to bring her to my office tomorrow. I'll need to interview both of you."
"No, a strange police officer picking her up would scare her. I'll get her. And I'll be down to your office in the morning."
"Thank you, Mr. VanBuren." Brenda walked back to her squad.
"Chief, there doesn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary in the house," Lt. Tao said, "But we won't know for sure until SID finishes.
Brenda nodded and said, "SID has the scene so I'm goin back to the office. Why don't you all go home and get a good night's sleep? We'll pick up tomorrow mornin."
"Are you sure, Chief?" Sgt. Gabriel asked. This was unusual, to say the least.
"Yes. We're all exhausted and bleary-eyed. I'm too tired to think straight. So, yes. Let's get a good night's sleep and we'll all perform better tomorrow."
When she got back to the office, Will met her in the Murder Room. "Where is everyone?" he asked.
"I sent them home for the night."
"You did what? Why?"
"We're not machines, Will," Brenda snapped at him. "We've worked around the clock for three days now. We're too tired to think. And if we don't get some sleep we're gonna make stupid mistakes. Do you want that?"
Will was fuming but he couldn't deny her logic.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna call Fritz and then I'm goin home. We'll all be back workin tomorrow mornin." And, without waiting for an answer, Brenda turned and walked into her office, picked up the phone and dialed Fritz. When she heard his voice she said, "Hi, honey."
"Hi, yourself. But I don't recognize the voice. Do I know you?"
Brenda chuckled, "That's why I'm callin. Is there any chance you could come pick me up and drive me home? I'm too tired to drive."
"Sure. But I have to finish something here first. I'll meet you in the parking garage in an hour."
"Ok, thanks," she replied and sank back into her chair. She kicked off her shoes, put her feet up on the desk, and closed her eyes. The next thing she knew her phone was ringing. It was Fritz saying he was waiting for her.
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry. I dozed off. I'll be right down." She hung up the phone, put her shoes back on, grabbed her purse and left.
When she opened the door to the parking garage she saw Fritz standing there waiting for her. "Thank you, Fritzi. I'm so tired I don't know if I could keep my eyes open long enough to drive home."
"How about we go through a drive-thru and get something quick. Then you can just crash when we get home?"
"That sounds good. How about Buster's?" Buster's was Fritz's favorite burger joint so he was fine with that suggestion.
Brenda munched her fries as Fritz drove. When they stopped at a light, Fritz's attention was drawn to a ball field. He was watching some Little Leaguers practicing. As tired as she was, Brenda couldn't help but notice his longing gaze lingering on the ball field. She knew how deeply he missed having a child of his own but she also knew deep down that she couldn't help him with those feelings. So she said nothing.
When they got home, Brenda was still so exhausted that she took a shower and went right to bed while Fritz turned on the TV, found a baseball game, and ate his burger. His thoughts, though, weren't on the game. They were on the kids he saw practicing with such intensity and the parents he saw sitting in the bleachers supporting their children.
The next morning, greatly refreshed, Brenda walked into the murder room and greeted her squad.
"Chief," Sgt. Gabriel said, "Dr. Morales called. He'll be ready for us by the time we can get there."
Lt. Tao reported, "SID found a tire print in the road that comes from a tire which was standard on every Chevy Malibu sold in southern California from 2008 through 2010."
"Well, that doesn't narrow down the field to a manageable level yet, Lieutenant Tao. When Mr. VanBuren and his daughter arrive please put Mr. VanBuren in an interview room. Oh, and dump the phones and computers we picked up yesterday. And, Detective Sanchez, would you please take Katrina to the break room and keep her there? Thank you."
Brenda and Gabriel knocked and entered Dr. Morales' autopsy room. Dr. Morales greeted them but continued working on Marlene VanBuren. "I have some information for you, Chief Johnson. The bullet was a 9 millimeter and that was most likely the cause of death but I won't be able to say definitively until her tox screen comes back."
"Were there signs of a struggle, doctor?" Brenda asked.
"No defensive wounds. And given the stippling pattern, I'd say she was shot at close range but not close enough for there to have been a struggle. Oh, a couple more things. There was no sign of rape but she was six weeks pregnant."
"Thank you, doctor."
When she arrived back in the murder room she saw that the rest of her squad had already assembled the murder board. Lt. Provenza turned and said, "Chief, Mr. VanBuren is in Interview Room 2 and Sanchez has the kid in the break room."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," and she continued to her office where she called Pope. "Will, since you want this investigation fast-tracked, I need authorization for expedited blood work on Marlene VanBuren."
"Do you have any leads?" he asked in response.
"No, not yet. We don't even have a definitive cause of death. That's why I need the blood work as quickly as possible."
"All right. I'll authorize that. But, please. We need a speedy resolution to this case. Taylor is already being besieged by the press."
"Thank you, Will. I'm about to interview the husband again now. Maybe he can help us," and she walked into the interview room.
"Good morning, Mr. VanBuren. Thank you for comin in this mornin to talk to us."
"This gentleman read me my rights. Am I a suspect?" Mr. VanBuren sounded alarmed.
"Your alibi has been confirmed, sir. We asked you here this mornin hopin you could help us find the person who murdered your wife," Brenda replied. "Sargent Gabriel advises everyone we talk to here of their rights. It's standard procedure."
"All right. But what about Katrina? What's happening to her?" He was even more agitated.
"She's in our break room with our child care specialist. Don't worry about her, sir. She's completely safe. But I will need to speak with her before you can leave."
"Without me present?"
"If you don't mind, sir. We find that children are more inclined to talk to us if they're not afraid that their parents would disapprove of what they tell us. But let's get our interview out of the way first, shall we?"
"Fine. How can I help you?"
"Let's start at the beginnin. How did you meet your wife?"
"We met in Boston over ten years ago. I had just finished Harvard Law School and I met her in a bar." Mr. VanBuren then told of having a "friends with benefits" relationship with Marlene. After about four months, she told him that she was pregnant. He described her as a sex addict and said that he knew that she had also been sleeping with other men and that she did not know the identity of the father of her unborn child.
She told him that she had already had two abortions and that she was planning a third. Because he could possibly be the father and because of his own feelings about abortion, he had begged her not to go through with it. He asked her to marry him even though they were not in love. He promised to give her a good home, and all the trappings an up-and-coming attorney's wife could expect. All he asked in return was that she be discrete and that she permit him to raise the baby.
"I knew she did not want the baby but I really thought that she would love her when she arrived. But I was wrong. She never cared about Katrina so I became a single parent," he said sadly. "I'm the one who stayed up all night with her when she was sick. I'm the one who goes to all her teacher conferences, to her piano recitals and soccer games. Marlene always kept her at arm's length. She led an unconventional life but she was a good person. She was never abusive, or anything like that. She just never cared about Katrina."
"You said when you married her that she was a sex addict. Did she ever get treatment for that addiction or was that still a problem?" Brenda asked.
"She never got treatment for it but it was never a problem. At least it wasn't a problem for her. One condition of our getting married was her promise that she would be discrete and not embarrass me. And she kept that promise."
"Mr. VanBuren, did you know that your wife was six weeks pregnant?"
Mr. VanBuren looked surprised. "No, I didn't. But I can tell you that the baby was not mine."
"How can you say that definitively, sir?"
"Because several years ago Marlene gave me two STDs. After the second one I moved her into another bedroom and we have not had anything resembling a normal marriage since."
"Well, your wife obviously has had at least one other sexual partner since. Do you have any idea who that might have been?"
"No. As I said, she always was careful. I can tell you, though, that she belonged to a sex club that meets somewhere in Hollywood and that it's called 'Liaisons'."
"Do you know anythin about this club, where it meets, any of the members?"
"No. I didn't want to know about it."
"Mr. VanBuren, why did you tolerate that situation?" Gabriel asked.
"Because when you meet Katrina it will be obvious that I am not her biological father. Even though I have it in writing that I would raise Katrina, I know that the law always sides with the biological parent. I was afraid that if we divorced she would take Katrina away from me. And I love that child more than anyone else on earth." Mr. VanBuren was tearing up for the first time that Brenda had seen.
"And have you had any other sexual partners durin your marriage? Anyone who might have been jealous of your wife?"
"No, no one. It was a terrible price to pay but my position with the studio and my being able to raise Katrina were at stake."
"All right, sir. One last question before I talk to Katrina. What does she know about her mother's death?"
"I told her that someone, a bad man, shot her mother and that she died and that the police are trying very hard to find that person. That's why we can't go home for a few days. She took the news very hard. She cried all night long. Even though Marlene never loved her, she loved her mother."
"All right, Mr. VanBuren. I'm gonna go talk to Katrina now. You can wait here. Sargent Gabriel will wait with you. Can we get you somethin to drink? Coffee or soda, perhaps?"
"Maybe some water, if you don't mind. Please, be careful with Katrina. She's only nine years old. And she's very upset and scared right now. I don't want her to be further traumatized."
"Yes, of course, Mr. VanBuren. I'll be very gentle with her," Brenda replied as she rose.
Back in the Murder Room, Brenda spoke to Lt. Provenza. "Mr. VanBuren said his wife was a member of a private sex club called Liaisons and that it meets somewhere in Hollywood. See what you can find out about it."
"I'll be glad to," Provenza said with more enthusiasm than Brenda normally saw him exhibit.
She then walked into the break room where she saw a pretty little girl of Asian-American descent. She and Det. Sanchez were playing tic tac toe. He looked up and said, "Katrina, this is Chief Johnson, the lady I was telling you about. Chief, this is Katrina and she's been killing me at tic tac toe."
Brenda laughed and said, "Hello, Katrina. You must be a very good player."
"Yes, I am. But I think Julio let me win. If he's a detective he must be smarter than that," Katrina said confidently.
Both Sanchez and Brenda laughed at that and Sanchez said, "She's really smart, Chief."
"So I see. You'll make a great detective someday," Brenda smiled and then got down to business. "Katrina, do you know why your father brought you down here this mornin?"
"A bad man murdered my mom yesterday and you think we did it," Katrina replied tearing up.
"No, honey, no. You were in school so you couldn't have done it and your dad was at work too. But we are tryin very hard to find the person who killed your mom so we want to ask you some questions. Would you help us?" Brenda asked gently as she handed Katrina a tissue.
"I guess," Katrina again replied sadly.
"Thank you. Do you know if your mom was unhappy about anythin? Was she fightin with anyone?"
"A man came to the house last week and she fought with him. But I don't know who he was."
"Do you remember what they said?"
"The man said he couldn't give her any money and my mom yelled at him for coming to the house. That was all."
"Was their fightin just arguin or did either of them do any hittin?"
"No, they didn't hit each other."
"Did you see him or hear the man's name?"
"Mom called him Billy. But I didn't see him. I was listening at the top of the stairs."
"Do you know what they were arguin about?"
"Just what I told you. That's all I heard."
"Did your parents have any other friends that came to the house?"
"No. Just my friends that come to play and for sleep-overs."
"Did your mom go out a lot?"
"I guess. Lots of times it was just Dad and me at home."
"Well, thank you, Katrina. You were a big help. Detective Sanchez is gonna take you to your dad now."
Brenda entered the Electronics Room where she watched Mr. VanBuren hug his daughter tightly before they left together.
A/N: The broken record continues... Please don't forget to leave your review.