Brenda walked into the Murder Room. "Chief, I spoke to the manager of Liaisons. He's a real hardass. Wouldn't give me any information at all," Provenza said.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Give me your notes, please," and when he handed them to her she walked into her office. As she dialed Liaisons she shook off the sadness that she felt from her interviews of Mr. VanBuren and Katrina. The manager, Allen Dornan, adopted the same attitude with her as he had with Provenza.
Brenda had no patience for him and only disgust for his business. "Mr. Dornan, we are investigatin the murder of one of your members. The way I see it, you have a choice to make. You can either come down here with a printout of your entire membership or we can come to your... establishment... with a warrant and do a complete search of the premises, includin interviewin all the members. Which will it be, sir?"
There was a momentary silence at the other end of the line followed by a sigh and Dornan said, "All right, provided that you agree to keep that information confidential."
"If we find the person or persons we're lookin' for we will need to interview them so I can't promise total confidentiality. I will have a warrant ready for you when you arrive. Or, as I said, we'll be glad to bring it to you along with several patrol cars and a batterin ram, if necessary." Brenda's tone was hard.
"No, that won't be necessary. I'll be right there." Dornan was resigned.
"Thank you so much," Brenda said and then walked back into the Murder Room. "Lieutenant Provenza, please obtain a warrant to search the Liaisons premises and all business records, especially their membership rolls. Oh, and any weapons," she ordered. "And when Mr. Dornan arrives, get the printout from him and search for anyone named Billy, Bill, William, Willard. Anythin that could be translated to Billy. Lieutenant Flynn, you can help him. Thank you."
An hour later Mr. Dornan arrived. Flynn advised him of his rights and put him in an interview room. Provenza took the membership printout with him and started looking at it.
"Chief, this printout lists middle names by initials only," he said.
"Well, then we'll just have to include every male with the middle initials B or W."
"Jeez, Louise! That'll take forever," Provenza complained.
"It can't be helped, Lieutenant. When Lieutenant Tao is finished dumpin the phones and computers get him to crosscheck the phone numbers with the cell phones."
Brenda took the VanBurens' photos from the Murder Board then she and Gabriel walked into the interview room, excused Flynn, and greeted Dornan. "Good afternoon, Mr. Dornan. Thank you for bein so prompt. Have you been advised of your rights?"
"Yes, I have. Am I a suspect?"
"I don't know yet, sir. Did Lt. Flynn serve you with our warrant?"
"Yes, he did. This says you're looking for weapons in addition to our records. I thought we had an understanding that you won't come to the club."
"That warrant covers what we're lookin for now, Mr. Dornan. We're hopin not to have to come to Liaisons," Brenda replied as she showed him the VanBurens' photos. Do you know these people?"
He picked up the photos and looked at them. "Yes, that's Marlene VanBuren. I heard on the radio this morning that she was murdered so I suppose that's what this is all about. I don't know the man."
"All right then, sir. What can you tell me about her?"
"She was a member in good standing. Always paid her dues on time and in cash. Preferred heterosexual liaisons. That's about all I know."
"How frequently did she visit Liaisons?"
"Several times a week, I think."
"Did she utilize the services of anyone in particular at Liaisons?"
"There were several men, yes."
"Can you give me their names, sir?"
He hesitated at first. But when Brenda pointed to the warrant he listed the names of several men and Sgt. Gabriel wrote them down.
"I want to emphasize to you, Chief Johnson, that all this information is confidential. Many of these men are married and some of them are very well known. Our club depends on our privacy."
"As I told you on the phone, I can't promise complete confidentiality since this is a murder investigation. But we will not intrude unnecessarily, sir. Can you tell me if Mrs. VanBuren ever argued or fought with anyone at Liaisons?"
"No, never. That's one thing we do not tolerate. If there's any unpleasantness or jealousy, we ask the member to leave immediately."
"Did you ever have to ask Mrs. VanBuren or any man she was with to leave?"
"No, she always obeyed the rules."
"Thank you, Mr. Dornan, for your cooperation."
"Is that it, then? Am I free to go?"
"Yes, sir, you are. But we may need to speak with you and your security personnel at some point in the future."
"All right. Just, please, don't release anything about us to the press and please don't come to Liaisons."
"Believe me, I won't unless I absolutely have to," Brenda replied as she left the room.
That evening Fritz had brought The Happy Family, Brenda's favorite Chinese dish. And he had made sure they didn't forget the hot mustard. As they ate he said, "Jerry told me about a great house for sale about two blocks from where he lives. It's got three bedrooms, a nice yard, and it's priced to sell."
Brenda was surprised because he hadn't mentioned house hunting in quite awhile. "Is it within our price range?"
"Well, he doesn't know the asking price. But the owner is a friend of his and he says that he's being transferred so he's eager to sell. He thinks he'll be open to any reasonable offer."
"Do we need three bedrooms? We're doin fine with just two here," Brenda said.
"Well... We could make one bedroom into a nursery," Fritz said tentatively.
Brenda swallowed hard and put down her chopsticks. "Fritz, I know you want a child more than anythin. And I wish I could give you one. But I can't."
"You don't know that, Brenda. Your PCOS doesn't necessarily mean that we can't get pregnant. And lots of people our age have babies. Why don't we go to see Dr. Dioli and see what she has to say?"
"No, no. It's not the PCOS, or my age."
"What is it, then?"
"I'm workin a case of a murdered woman who had a 9 year old daughter. She didn't want to have the baby but was talked out of an abortion by her husband. He really wanted a baby." Brenda stopped for a minute because her emotions were about to get the best of her and she needed to speak clearly.
She regained control quickly and continued, "The thin is, he married her so he could have this child to raise. And he's been a wonderful father. He's done everythin for this little girl and he loves her with all his heart. But the mother never changed. She wasn't mean to the girl but she never wanted to be a mother and she didn't love the child."
"Let me explain this, Fritz. Despite her daddy's love, this child knows her mother didn't love her. And nothin the father can do can make up for that. Fritz, that woman is me. I don't want to be a mother. And you're that father. I know you'd make the most wonderful father in the world and you would love a child with everythin you have and everythin you are. But even your wonderful love wouldn't be able to make up for the fact that I won't be able to be a good mother."
"Brenda, you don't know that. I know that you'd love our child as much as I would."
"That's what Mr. VanBuren thought. But he was wrong, Fritzi. Marlene had a lot of problems but she wasn't a bad person. She just wasn't cut out to be a mother. Neither am I." She saw Fritz's face fall and tears fill his eyes.
"I love you with all my heart and I want to make you happy. But I can't give you a child. Not because of me, but because of the child. I would be destroyin a child's life and I just can't do that." She saw Fritz's immense sadness and tears filled her eyes.
Fritz turned his head away and stared out the window. Finally he nodded and got up from the table. "I'm going to take a walk. I need some fresh air," he said quietly and walked out the back door.
Brenda stared at her plate. The Happy Family now tasted like ashes so she put everything away and washed the dishes. As she worked she fought tears and her emotions forced her to keep swallowing hard. She had never seen so much sadness in Fritz's eyes and those eyes were burning holes into her soul.
Fritz didn't know where he was going. He could barely see through the tears but he didn't try to wipe them away. His heart was in free fall. He had wanted children his entire adult life. Even though Brenda had told him before they married that she didn't want children he had not been able to quell his hopes for a family. No, it had taken Brenda to do that. But he couldn't be angry with her. He had seen the pain in her face as she explained how she felt and he knew she was right. Nothing he could do for a child could overcome the lack of a mother's love.
"How could this have happened to me? I have always wanted children. Why did I have to fall in love with the one woman who doesn't have a maternal bone in her body? But I did fall. No, fall is such a trite word. I plummeted head first in love with Brenda. I know that everyone dreams of that kind of love, but they don't know the pain that comes with it."
As he walked past the housing complex he was distracted by a mother yelling and a child crying. He wondered about that family. Had that mother wanted children? Had she gotten into something that she couldn't handle? Was she just stressed out at the moment? Did she have all the help she needed from the child's father or was she a single parent? He knew that not every family was a happy one. Was parenting as painful as building a great marriage?
But weren't children the whole point of marriage? Weren't all women supposed to want children? Wasn't raising children supposed to be every woman's dream job? He had always accepted that version of how lives were supposed to progress. And even though Brenda had made her feelings clear, he had been confident that she would come to want the same thing that every woman is supposed to want.
But she hadn't. So he had to face a childless life. "It would be so easy if I would have broken the engagement and found a normal woman," he thought bitterly. "But I could never have left Brenda. I love her too much." As he walked his eyes cleared. "I knew what I was doing." And he knew that he wouldn't give up the happy marriage they had finally achieved. They had gone through too much pain and frustration to give up on each other and the result of going through the fires had been a strong, loving marriage. And, as much as he wanted children, he knew he would never give up marriage to Brenda.
He stopped at a light and realized that he had walked almost three miles so he turned around and walked home. By the time he arrived it was after midnight. Brenda was sound asleep and Joel was sleeping on his side of the bed. He didn't want to disturb her so he picked up his pillow and walked quietly to the couch.
Brenda never heard him come in. The next morning she found him asleep on the sofa. She tiptoed up to him, stopped and listened. His slow and rhythmical breathing told her that he was still asleep. So very quietly she bent over him and sniffed. No telltale smell of alcohol. "Thank goodness," she sighed in relief and tiptoed out the back door.
When Brenda entered the Murder Room, Lt. Tao stood up and said, "Chief, I've finished dumping the phones and I'm cross-checking the numbers against the membership lists. I'm not finished yet but I've got several calls to and from a cell phone belonging to a William Hadley who is also a member of Liaisons. The last three calls received from that phone lasted only two or three seconds. I'm guessing they were hang-ups."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Tao. Please continue workin on those lists. Detective Sanchez, would you bring Mr. Hadley in to pay us a visit?"
When Sanchez brought Hadley in and had Mirandized him, Brenda went in to interview him. "Good mornin, Mr. Hadley. I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson."
"Why am I here?" he demanded.
"I brought you in to talk about your relationship with Marlene VanBuren," Brenda explained.
"Oh, come now, Mr. Hadley. Surely you remember her," Brenda said as she showed him Mrs. VanBuren's picture.
Mr. Hadley looked at the picture and then at the wall and said, "No, I don't know her."
"Do you have memory problems, Mr. Hadley? Because you called Mrs. VanBuren several times the other day." She saw a flicker cross his eyes so Brenda knew she was on the right track. "And we know that you visited Marlene VanBuren at her home about a week ago. We have an eye witness who described an argument the two of you had."
When he heard that, his body stiffened and he clenched and unclenched his fists but he said nothing.
"Why didn't Mrs. VanBuren want you in her home?" Brenda saw that she was beginning to bore into his defenses.
"Umm. Well, I guess I did know her. We both belong to a club."
"Yes, I know you both were members of Liaisons."
When he heard that, his body slumped and he said, "She was someone I... met... at the club a few times."
"I see. Why don't you tell me in your own words about why you went to her home? And remember. I've got an eye witness so I'll know if you're not bein truthful."
"Marlene had told me she was pregnant and that I could be the father. She wanted money for an abortion because her husband is a bigwig in the movie industry and she didn't want the news to get out."
"And why was that, sir?"
"I guess she was afraid the bad publicity would be bad for his career. I went to her house to tell her that I didn't have any money because I didn't want my wife to find out. She doesn't know I go to Liaisons."
"Mr. Hadley, I'm sure by now you've heard that Marlene was murdered about a week after your little visit."
"I didn't kill her," he insisted. "I have an alibi."
"All right, what is it?" Brenda asked.
"My boss and I had driven down to San Diego to pick up some equipment and some parts to repair an arc welder. We were gone all day. Call my boss at Harkins Tool and Die. He'll confirm that."
"All right, Mr. Hadley, we'll check that out." And then Brenda changed tack. "Mr. Hadley, what kind of car do you drive?"
"A Tacoma pickup. Why?"
"Are there any other cars registered to anyone in your family?"
"My wife has a Chevy Malibu. Why are you interested in our cars?"
Brenda ignored his questions. "Tell me, Mr. Hadley, do you own a 9 millimeter handgun?"
He looked surprised. "Yes, I do. Just like millions of other citizens. It's my right and I have a permit."
"Well, Mr. Hadley we don't want to step on the Second Amendment, but we would like to test that gun so Detective Sanchez here is gonna drive you home and bring back that gun for testin. Is that all right with you?"
"Why not? As long as I get it back. That'll prove that I didn't kill Marlene."
"If it's not the murder weapon and your alibi checks out, then you're in the clear. But first I need to ask you who else knows that you have that gun?"
"My wife knows I have it. And my brother-in-law was with me when I bought it. I don't think anyone else knows about it."
"Thank you for helpin us out this mornin," Brenda said and they all left the room.
"Detective Flynn, would you please call Harkins Tool and Die and find out if Mr. Hadley really was on a trip to San Diego all day on the day of the murder?" Brenda asked. "Thank you."
Later that day, Tao's phone rang. "Thank you, Phil. That puts us closer." Then he turned to Brenda and said, "That was Phil in Ballistics. Mr. Hadley's gun was definitely the murder weapon."
"But Hadley's alibi checks out. He was definitely with his boss that day. They left around 9:30 and didn't get home until after 5:00. Hadley even signed the receipt for the parts so his boss wasn't covering for him," Flynn added.
"But someone used that gun. And Mr. Hadley said that only two people knew he had it. So let's start there. Lieutenants Provenza and Flynn would you please pick up the wife and the brother-in-law and bring them in? And, Lieutenant Tao, since we now have the murder weapon that earns us a search warrant of the Hadley home. Be sure to include all vehicles in our request. Thank you."
Later, Sanchez knocked on Brenda's office door and said, "Chief, Carol Hadley is in Interview Room 1 and Rick White, the brother-in-law, is in Interview Room 2."
"Thank you, Detective," and she got up, asked Provenza to follow her, and went into Interview Room 2. "Good afternoon, Mr. White. I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson and I believe you've already met Lieutenant Provenza."
"More like evening. Why did you drag me away from my dinner in front of my wife and kids?"
"Well, I'm sorry about the timin but I need to talk to you about a gun."
"Gun? What gun? I've got several guns, all unloaded and properly locked away. I have kids too, you know."
"The gun I'm interested in isn't yours, Mr. White. It belongs to your brother-in-law. Have you ever seen it?"
"Yeah, a 9 mil. I was with him when he bought it. What about it?"
"This particular weapon was used to kill this woman." Brenda showed him the picture of Marlene VanBuren. "Does she look familiar to you?"
"Her picture has been in the news. But I've never met her."
"Do you know if your brother-in-law knows her?"
"No. At least he's never mentioned her."
"All right, sir. There were finger prints on the gun so we'd like to roll your prints to see if they're a match."
"Fine. I've got nothing to hide."
"One last thing. Can you tell me the make and model of all the cars in your family?"
"I drive a Dodge Ram pickup, my wife has a Toyota Camry, and my son has a Toyota Corolla."
"Thank you, sir. Lieutenant Provenza, would you please get Mr. White's prints and give them to Lieutenant Tao to process? Thank you."
Brenda then left and walked into Interview Room 1 where Sgt. Gabriel was sitting with Carol Hadley.
"Good evenin, Mrs. Hadley, I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. Thank you for comin in to talk to us today. Have you been advised of your rights?"
"Yes, but your officers didn't give me any information. What's this all about?"
"I want to talk to you about these people," and she put the VanBuren's photos on the table.
Carol Hadley looked at them briefly and said, "What about them?"
Brenda pushed Marlene's picture forward and said, "This is Marlene VanBuren and I'm investigatin her murder. I'm wonderin how well you knew her."
She looked surprised and responded, "Who says I knew her?"
"I know you knew her, Mrs. Hadley. Did you know her well?"
"How did you meet her?" Mrs. Hadley said nothing so Brenda continued, "Did your husband introduce her to you?"
"No." Brenda heard disgust in Carol Hadley's voice.
"Then let me ask why you went to her home three days ago." When she didn't reply, Brenda said, "We know you were there. You're not helpin yourself by not talkin to me, Mrs. Hadley."
She hesitated for a minute then replied, "I went to tell her to leave my husband alone."
"Was she botherin your husband?"
"They were having an affair. So I told her that she'd better leave Billy alone."
"What did she say?"
"She just laughed. She said that Billy was a grown man and that he could make his own decisions."
"What did you do then?" Again, Carol said nothing so Brenda switched tactics. "I know that if my husband was havin an affair I would be furious and I'm sure I'd tell the other woman to back off, too."
Carol nodded. "I did but she just laughed at me."
"Oh, no. How awful. Did you fight with her?"
"No, I left."
"I'll bet you were furious. But why did you go back?"
Carol looked surprised. "I was furious. I went back because I needed to make her leave Billy alone."
"So you argued with her again."
"And did she agree to back off when she saw how angry you were?"
"No," Carol started to cry. "She told me that what she and Billy did together was none of my business. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Billy is my husband."
"So you shot her." Brenda added.
"Yes, she told me their affair wasn't any of my business. It made me so mad that I shot her. You can understand that, can't you?"
"Yes, Mrs. Hadley, I certainly do understand that. But I also understand that you brought your husband's gun with you. And that's premeditated murder so you're under arrest. Sargent Gabriel, please take Mrs. Hadley to bookin."
When she walked back into her office she grabbed her cell phone to call Fritz but she saw that she had a voice mail message from him so she picked it up.
"Hi, honey. I'm going to be meeting with someone after work tonight so I'll probably be home late. You'd better pick up dinner for yourself. I'll grab something on my way home."
Brenda was finishing up her barbecued chicken takeout when Fritz walked through the door. "Hi, honey. I've got some extra chicken here. Would you like some?" She anxiously scanned his face for signs of his emotional state.
"No thanks. I already ate." He put his brief case down on the table and withdrew some brochures and papers from it and handed them to Brenda.
"What is all this?" she asked as she retrieved her reading glasses from her purse.
"I've been thinking about what you said last night and I know you can't change your mind. So I met with a man after work. He works with the Big Brother program here in LA. I'm thinking that maybe I'd like to become a Big Brother to a kid."
"Oh, Fritzi, that's a wonderful idea. You'd be a fantastic Big Brother."
"I signed the papers so they could do a background check but you have to sign them too."
"Of course I will. I'll do anythin I can to help. How long does it take?"
"Since we're both law enforcement it should only take a few days."
"Did you pick out a child?"
"No. They won't match me with anyone until I've been approved. But we talked about the kind of kid I think I could help. I think I'd like a boy around 8 or 9 and there are plenty of them available."
Brenda stopped reading the material and looked up into Fritz's face. With emotion cracking her voice she took his hand and said, "I know this isn't what you really want. But you'll be amazin for a child who needs a great role model. This makes me so happy." And she leaned forward and lovingly kissed her husband.
A month later, on Saturday morning, Fritz came through the door beaming and accompanied by a young boy. "Brenda, I'd like to introduce you to Emilio Hernandez. He's a crack pitcher for the Rockets."
Emilio entered and said, "Hello." Then he turned to Fritz and said, "You sure have a pretty wife."
Brenda laughed and said, "Well, thank you, Emilio. I am really happy to meet you."
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