A/N: Downfall is often cloaked in revenge.
The two men seated at a table in the visitor's room at the United States Penitentiary at Atwater were a study in contrasts. The older man was disheveled, wearing a three day beard along with prison orange. The younger man was clean-shaven, impeccably groomed and was wearing a three piece suit and tie.
"Dad, I spoke to a criminal attorney, and believe me when I tell you that you won't get your conviction overturned on an ineffective representation charge. You won't even get a new hearing."
The old man was agitated. "Well, what would you suggest, Mr. Big Shot Millionaire Attorney? I don't want to die in this hell hole."
"I don't know what to tell you. He said that judicial error was our best shot at a new trial. But that Agent Howard messed everything up. Now I don't know what can be done."
"Well, think of something else then. I didn't pay all that money for your college and fancy law school degree to be stuck here the rest of my life. Remember what I taught you and come up with another plan."
"Dad, I'm in real estate. I don't know much about criminal law."
"Then stop chasing pussy and learn something. Don't let Agent Howard keep me here for the rest of my life." Calvin was furious.
As he drove south on the 99 toward home, Cole felt the bile of pure hatred filling his being. "Dad is right. Special Agent Fritz Howard is responsible and he's going to get a big dose of his own medicine," Cole vowed.
Brenda juggled the cartons of Tamarind Shrimp, Drunken Noodles, and Pad Phet as she unlocked her back door. She was glad to see Fritz's car in the driveway. Nothing would taste as good if it had to be nuked. And for dessert, she was hoping for some naked play time with Fritz.
As she set the cartons down on the counter she called out to him, "Hey, Fritzi. I brought Thai. How about settin the table while I wash up?"
She wasn't expecting his response. "Honey," he said in a flat tone, "Can you come in here for a minute and sit down? We need to talk."
"What's wrong?" she asked as she walked into the living room and sat beside him on the couch.
Fritz looked at her for a minute, sighed, and then took her hand. "I have some bad news."
Before he could say anything more Brenda stiffened and interrupted him. "Is Daddy all right? Did..."
"No, everyone's fine. Just listen for a minute." Brenda nodded and stared into his sad face so he continued. "I found out this afternoon that I'm about to be indicted..."
Brenda felt her world spinning out of orbit. But she heard herself say, "Indicted? What on earth for?"
"For murder and racketeering."
"WHAT? How can that be?"
"I'm being framed. But the evidence is about to be turned over to a federal grand jury."
Brenda's world had just crashed and her mind was scrambled. She rubbed her face as if to clear the confusion and put everything into reverse gear. "Wait a minute, Fritzi. What evidence? Start at the beginnin."
"There's not a lot to tell. The U.S. Attorney's office received an anonymous tip last week that I had murdered a man named Ken Murdock and had accepted a down payment for the hit. They compared the bullet with my gun and it was a match."
"So you really have been framed." Brenda was having a difficult time assimilating this situation.
"Yes, but Director Walling had to submit everything to the U.S. Attorney's office and they told him that they are convening a federal grand jury to consider the evidence."
"What about the racketeerin charge?"
"Someone deposited $20,000 into my account."
"Which account? We have joint accounts."
"The savings account I had for the money my parents left me. Your name isn't on that account."
"I'm assumin you've traced the deposit?"
"Not yet. It came from the Cayman Islands. So far the Bureau hasn't been able to trace it but we're still working on it."
"Who else would know about that account?"
"No one except us that I know of. It's strange that someone would choose that account since there's virtually no activity with that one and it's the only one that doesn't have your name on it too."
"I'm sure that was no coincidence. When is the grand jury gonna meet?"
"I don't know yet but probably within the next week."
"So there's not much time."
"No. There's a meeting tomorrow morning with Director Walling and the LAPD to try to figure out how best to investigate this."
"What time is the meetin?"
"Brenda, I know what you're thinking. But this is a federal case. You can't be involved."
"Fritzi, I am involved. You're my husband and I'm gonna investigate this. Besides, the LAPD isn't a federal agency, either."
"I'm gonna figure this out, Fritzi. Would you rather I be out there investigatin alone or with the knowledge and support of the LAPD and the Bureau?"
"They're not going to let you do a thing, honey."
"What time is the meetin?"
Fritz saw the set to her jaw and knew she'd crash the meeting somehow. "10:00. But what will DA Corning say about you investigating a federal case?"
"I guess we'll find out. Come on. I'll nuke dinner."
"I'm not hungry."
Brenda took his hand and looked into his eyes, "Honey, you know that I'll figure this out. You don't have anythin to worry about."
While they both picked at their nuked Drunken Noodles, Brenda said, "Your gun was used to shoot a man last week. Think hard. Did anythin unusual happen in the days leadin up to the murder?"
"No, nothing. Wait a minute. Maybe there was something. It had to have been a week ago Thursday. You had just left for Atlanta for the weekend and I was getting ready to go to Emilio's game. I took a shower and when I got out, something was strange. I thought I smelled something different. Something spicy."
"Like cookin spicy?"
"No, like cologne or aftershave spicy. I walked around and checked everything but nothing was missing. The doors were both locked and I didn't smell it anymore so I sort of dismissed it. But Joel was going nuts. At first he wouldn't come out of the closet. And then he just paced around, meowing. It took him several minutes to settle down. And I smelled it again Saturday morning when I got back from picking up the dry cleaning. Joel was in the closet then, too."
"That's strange. Well, Joel doesn't lie. Somethin happened while you were in the shower. That may have been when your gun was taken."
"But it wasn't taken. I took it with me and locked it in the trunk of the car."
"What about Saturday mornin?"
"It was locked in the trunk of my car."
"Hmmm. But I still think that it has somethin to do with your gun," Brenda mused.
For the rest of the evening Fritz was uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. Brenda decided that talking to him was not what he needed so she just held his hand as they both tried to concentrate on the TV.
Brenda arrived at Fritz's office a few minutes early and was met at the door with a kiss. "I told Dave that you would be coming to the meeting. For the record, he said that you are definitely not invited. And he said he was calling DA Corning's office to explain the situation to him."
"Well, also for the record, I'm here. So I'm assumin that someone from the DA's office will be comin too?"
"I don't know," he replied as he opened the door, "I guess we'll find out in a minute. Come on. This way." They walked toward the conference room just as DA Corning got off the elevator.
"Chief Johnson, may I have a word with you, please?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir," she replied and walked up to him observing anger on his normally placid face.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Steve, my husband is bein framed. I'm gonna investigate this and catch whoever is tryin to destroy him."
"The DA's Office has no jurisdiction in this case. You are exceeding the parameters of your office. Not only that, your involvement is a clear conflict of interest."
"I'm not investigatin this case on behalf of the DA's office. I'm doin it as a private citizen."
"How do you plan to justify your use of agency time for this?"
"I'm salaried, Steve. I can work odd hours or use benefit time. Whichever works best. But I'm gonna investigate this case. Fritz is my husband. If I have to resign in order to have the time to conduct my investigation, I will."
"No, no, I don't want you to resign. How long do you think it will take you?"
"I can't say for sure but in the past, most of my investigations have usually wrapped up in under a week."
"If you can finish up in a week or less and agree to give up the same number of days that you'd take to go to Atlanta, then you'll have my permission. But you won't be able to use the DA office's resources.
"Thank you. I can agree to that. Daddy is doin much better and if I have to skip a month, or even two, he'll be ok. And I'll get the resources I need. So, shall we crash the meetin?"
Steve answered wryly, "I'm not really comfortable appearing when I know my presence is unwelcome."
Brenda flashed him a wicked grin. "It's a learned skill and I'm a master at it, so you're in good hands. Just follow me."
DA Corning wasn't quite sure what to expect but he followed her into the conference room. Fritz pulled out a chair next to his own for her just as Chief Taylor and Sharon Raydor entered the room. Brenda noticed that, even though there was a fresh pot of coffee, no one had poured a cup. And the pastry tray was untouched, as well. "Acknowledgments of the severity of the situation," she thought.
FBI Dir. Walling began the meeting by saying, "Agent Howard, I believe we all know that you are being framed. But I just got off the phone with the U.S. Attorney. A grand jury is being convened Monday morning and your case has been added to the case list for consideration. He feels that the evidence against you is substantial enough that the grand jury will probably return an indictment on the murder charge. Unfortunately, if that happens, I will have to place you on paid administrative leave. In the meantime you cannot be directly involved in this case. The racketeering charge is a little less certain unless someone can come forward with evidence that the $20,000 deposited to your bank account was directly related to this case."
"We need to get a handle on that bank deposit. Any luck there?" Chief Taylor asked.
"Nothing yet. The Caymans are not known for their cooperative spirit," Fritz replied.
Dir. Walling nodded and turned his attention to Brenda. "Chief Johnson, I understand your reason for wanting to be involved, but I cannot stress enough that your involvement would be a conflict of interest."
"Yes, Director Walling, I realize that no one is pleased that I am here, but I must say that I am gonna be involved. I intend to clear my husband. And, as far as a conflict of interest is concerned, I am not here as a member of the DA's office. I am only here as Fritz's wife."
"Everyone here understands why you want to investigate this case but your involvement might slow us down," Fritz's immediate supervisor, Dave Martin, added.
"No, Dave. My involvement will mean that this case will be solved sooner. And time here is critical. It has to be solved before the grand jury meets because we all know that if Fritz is indicted, even if he's found not guilty at trial, his career is over. And none of us wants to see the best agent in Los Angeles sidelined." Brenda looked around the room but saw no cooperation in the faces at the table. "Besides, can anyone here give me the name of anyone, in any agency, who has a better track record of solvin difficult cases quickly?"
Sharon shook her head. "Chief Johnson is right. She was an extremely successful law enforcement officer. But she's no longer with the LAPD. And, Chief Johnson, I just don't see how you can investigate this on your own."
"I'm hopin I won't have to. I'm hopin that the LAPD and the FBI will give me support and backup if I need it." Brenda still didn't see much encouragement or support from any of the faces seated at the table. "If I have to go it alone I will, but I think it's in y'all's best interest to help me."
The table was quiet for a minute while they considered if they could possibly work with her and what, if any, support they could offer. They knew that she was right. She was the best hope for solving this case and for clearing Fritz's name faster than anyone else. But they wondered what kind of risks they'd be assuming.
Finally Dave spoke. "No one here wants to see Agent Howard indicted. Not only would that be a personal tragedy for him and a huge loss for the Bureau, but it would also be a huge loss for the people of Los Angeles. But, Brenda, I need to be frank. Everyone here knows of your history working with us. It hasn't been easy."
"I'm not gonna work against the FBI, Dave. There's no turf war here. I'm gonna work to clear Fritz's name. I don't see why we can't all work together on that. It is what we all want, isn't it?" Brenda thought she was beginning to see expressions soften and, hoping that support would follow, she continued. "I'm askin again. Can anyone here give me the name of anyone, in any agency here in LA, who has a better track record? Because we don't have time for an extensive search for additional personnel right now."
"I suppose we could work with you, Chief Johnson. But you'd have to be deputized into the FBI," Dir. Walling said.
"Thank you, Director Walling, but I don't think that would be a good idea. I think I'll do better as an independent operative."
"Why?" Dir. Walling was surprised.
"Because the FBI operates in a different manner. All of my trainin and experience has been in a different modality. And I don't have time to learn new techniques."
"In other words..." Dave Martin said.
"In other words, the FBI has to be truthful when interrogatin suspects. I don't work that way."
Dir. Walling expressed the FBI's misgivings, "But if you lie then we will get our case thrown out of federal court."
"Wouldn't that only be true if I were deputized? As an independent I'm free of FBI restrictions."
"Since Brenda is part of the DA's office, I don't think she can be deputized into the FBI," DA Corning said.
Chief Taylor interjected, "I think the LAPD can offer you support, Chief Johnson. Of course, if Major Crimes is going to be involved, it will depend on who has been murdered. Their own work has to come first."
"Understood, Chief Taylor. I am not sure what kind of manpower support I'll need since I don't yet know how the investigation will unfold. But I know I need ballistics support right now. Forensics and detectives may come later."
"What do you need from ballistics?" Dir. Walling asked. "Our own ballistics confirms that Agent Howard's gun fired the shot that killed Ken Murdock."
"When the FBI made the match did they actually test Fritz's gun?" Brenda asked.
"No." Dave explained, "We test every weapon before we issue it so we compared the ballistics report from the bullet to the test that we had on record. And Agent Howard's gun's serial number is the same so we know it's the same gun that we issued to him."
"I'd like his gun to be tested again." Brenda's request sounded more like a demand, leaving no doubt who would be in control of this investigation. And, surprisingly, this time no one seemed to object to her usurping authority.
Sharon Raydor caught on and said, "Because someone could have switched the barrels." She remembered how her own FID detective had switched barrels to avoid detection when she had killed her husband.
"Exactly," Brenda nodded.
"We can test Agent Howard's gun," Chief Taylor said, "Anything else?"
"Not right now. But I'd appreciate it if you could see your way to expedite anythin I need from Ballistics or Forensics. I'll figure out how to cover the extra costs." Brenda was encouraged.
"Since a fellow law enforcement officer is apparently being framed, I think we can work it out, Chief," Taylor said.
"And since Agent Howard is one of ours, we can also provide any necessary lab work, forensics, or ballistics support that you need," Dave added.
"But we might have a problem. Has the gun been sent over to the U.S. Attorney's Office yet?" Dir. Walling asked.
"Not yet. It's in Evidence and is due to be sent over this afternoon," Dave replied.
"Since it's in the FBI evidence chain, it needs to stay with us," Dir. Walling said firmly.
Dave nodded. "We can pull it out this morning and test it. And if you'll give me your cell phone number, Chief Johnson, I'll call you with the results as soon as I get them."
"Thank you. I want to give everyone my cell phone number. Good communication is gonna be essential. We don't have any time to waste," Brenda said and they all exchanged cell phone numbers.
"I think we'd better send that gun to D.C for testing," Dir. Walling said.
"But won't that take more time?" Brenda asked.
"Maybe a little. But it will eliminate the chance of the defense counsel arguing that we falsified the test results to save one of our own." When he saw that Brenda was still apprehensive he continued. "We can get it on the plane this afternoon and we should get the results tomorrow."
"What now, Chief Johnson?" Sharon asked.
"Well, first I'd like to hear that anonymous phone call. And I need to know everythin I can about Ken Murdock. So if anyone has a file on him or knows anythin at all about him, I'd like to know it."
"That phone tip went to the U.S. Attorney's office and, since it's part of their case, they won't give us a copy," Dave said.
"The name Ken Murdock doesn't ring any bells with me for anything other than his murder investigation, but I'll look him up when I get back to the office," Chief Taylor said.
"I've already looked him up and the Bureau has no history on him," Fritz said.
"I need next of kin, and that should be in the record."
"I can get that for you and I'm available to go with you if you want to interview someone today," Capt. Raydor volunteered.
"Thank you, Sharon. Yes, I want to head out to his home right away. Thank you, everyone. And, now, let's see if we can catch this guy," Brenda said as everyone rose.
Fritz walked with them to the elevator. "I just hate not being able to investigate this."
"If you want to help me, go through your old cases and pull out the files of anyone who might have had a grudge against you. Oh, and anyone who might have gotten out of prison within the past year. We can go through them when I get back."
"Ok. I guess that's better than just sitting around waiting for someone else to conduct this case."
Brenda gave him a quick hug, then turned to Capt. Raydor and said, "Let's go."