When Brenda walked into the Murder Room the next morning, Det. Sanchez greeted her, "Good morning, Chief. I contacted the Minneapolis PD and they said that Alicia Anderson has no criminal record. They referred me to Children's Services. Apparently she grew up in several foster homes there and one of her foster parents was arrested and charged with abusing her. She had some really bad cuts and bruises and a broken arm." As he handed Brenda some faxed photographs, he continued, "When she aged out of the foster care system she attended a community college before moving to LA."
"Someone really worked that poor kid over. Her face is so messed up and swollen that I would never recognize her," Brenda said as she handed the photos back to Det. Sanchez.
Lt. Tao reported, "We searched her apartment last night and found a tee shirt with blood spatter on it out in the dumpster behind her building. The lab is analyzing the blood now. Also, I'm looking at her computer and it looks like she used a genealogical website. The site is discretely cooperating and they let me into her account. I guessed that she's been looking for her family since she grew up in foster care so I tracked her personal search files. And look what I found." Brenda looked at the screen and asked Lt. Tao to print the document for her.
"Provenza called," Flynn reported, "And he's bringing Alicia Anderson back in for questioning now."
"Thank you, gentlemen. And would someone please talk to SID and get them to hurry up on those golf clubs?" Brenda asked while picking up the document from the printer and walked back to her office to answer her ringing phone.
"Hi, Beautiful," Fritz said putting a smile on Brenda's face. "Would you like to know what my forensic accountants have found?"
"If it concerns my personal checkbook, no. But if it concerns the Wellmans' finances, yes," Brenda replied, still smiling.
"Your checkbook is beyond their realm of knowledge so you're safe," he chuckled. "But I'm talking about the Wellmans' business and personal dealings. It seems that there was trouble in paradise."
"What sort of trouble?"
"Apparently Mrs. Wellman was skimming money from the largest settlements and using it to support her lavish shopping and horse activities."
"Was Bart Wellman involved?"
"It doesn't look like he knew anything about it until just recently."
"That could be the argument that Alicia Anderson walked in on," Brenda said.
"Last week Bart tried to cash in a CD and withdraw $300,000. Apparently he intended to send bank checks to the two most recent victims of Sylvia's skimming but the accounts were all frozen. And it seems they were already scheduled for a routine audit. The auditors were supposed to start next Monday morning. So it seems likely that Wellman wanted to correct the short payment before they arrived."
"Those two clients must be the same ones that Mrs. Brooks mentioned. But didn't the Wellmans know about the Bureau's involvement?"
"Bart Wellman found out about it when he tried to withdraw the money. That was the day before Sylvia left for Phoenix."
"I'll bet all hell broke out at their house that night. A good motive for murder," Brenda commented.
"And it might explain Sylvia's suicide and her brief note," Fritz added.
"Thank you, Fritzi. I've got Alicia Anderson on her way in. I'll let you know if I learn anythin else," Brenda said and ended the phone call.
As soon as she hung up, her phone rang again. Sanchez reported, "Chief, I talked to SID and they're finished with Ed Harper's golf clubs. They didn't find any blood or manure on them, just microscopic traces of dirt and grass residue. I guess he keeps them pretty clean."
"I'm sure he does. Thank you, Detective Sanchez. Would you please see that Mr. Harper's clubs are returned to him as soon as possible? I don't need any more grief from him."
"He's here now, Chief, and he's walking back to your office."
Brenda started to ask Sanchez to stop him when her office door swung open and Ed Harper sauntered in. "Thank you, Detective. Would you please join us?"
"Hello, Brenda. You're lookin happy this mornin," Ed smiled at her.
"That's because I have good news for you. SID is finished with your golf clubs and no evidence was found on them," she replied as Det. Sanchez entered the office. "So you can have them back and you're free to leave Los Angeles."
"What if I'm not ready to leave yet? I'd like to meet your current husband. I feel I owe it to him to give him the benefit of my experience with you. You know, strikin a blow for husbands everywhere," Ed sneered.
She looked at him with the same disgust she would normally reserve for a cockroach. "Now you listen to me, Ed Harper. You're in the clear. You've apparently broken no laws except the laws of civility and good manners. So Detective Sanchez here is gonna assist you in reclaimin your golf clubs and will escort you back to your hotel. And if you attempt to contact me or any member of my family again I will have you arrested for stalkin. Do I make myself clear?"
Ed clenched his teeth but said nothing.
"I said, do I make myself clear?" Brenda repeated in an even harder tone.
"Perfectly, you goddam bitch!" Ed replied through his still-clenched teeth.
"Come on," Det. Sanchez said, grabbing his arm and yanking him toward the door, "You've worn out your welcome, so let's go."
After they left her office Brenda sank into her chair, exhaled and rubbed her forehead. But she had no time to catch her breath or for the knot in her stomach to relax before Will walked in.
"Brenda, how are you coming with the Bart Wellman investigation? I've got reporters hounding me."
"I'm gonna be interviewin my main suspect in a few minutes. I'm hopin to wind it up soon."
"Well, hurry it up. Would you please? I don't want the Mayor and the Police Commissioner on my back too," he barked.
"Of course. It wouldn't do for you to be inconvenienced at all," she replied sarcastically.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that we're workin as hard as we can to solve this crime," she snapped at him. "It means that I can't let politics dictate how I proceed or how fast. Now, if there's nothin else, I need to prepare for this interview."
"No, nothing else." Will retreated to safety wondering what that exchange had been all about.
As she watched him go she wondered how she could have picked three so dissimilar men. How did I ever do that? she asked herself.
She sank back into her chair and thought about the unhappiness Ed Harper's reappearance had brought into her life and a deliciously devious idea took root and blossomed in her mind. She looked up Ed's company's website and clicked on the "Contact Us" link. Then she found the corporate headquarters' number and dialed.
"Hello, this is Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes Division and I'd like to speak to someone in the CEO's office. Thank you so much." When the secretary answered, Brenda reintroduced herself and explained, "I'm investigatin a murder involvin a man who stated that he is the CEO of your firm, an Edward Harper."
"No, he's not the CEO. He's a Senior Securities Analyst."
"In that case, may I please speak with the CEO?"
"That would be Harlan Powell. Please hold," the secretary responded. After she spent a few minutes with Mozart, Mr. Powell came on the line.
Brenda introduced herself for the third time and continued, "I'm sorry to bother you, sir, but I need to clear up an inconsistency concernin a man named Edward Harper. He's involved in a murder we're investigatin, and he told us that he's the CEO of your firm."
"No, he's most definitely not the CEO. He is a Senior Securities Analyst. Apparently you're the second LAPD officer to whom Mr. Harper made that statement. Also, I'm aware of the murder since we received a warrant from the FBI concerning the portfolios of Bart and Sylvia Wellman. May I ask how Mr. Harper is involved?"
"Since the investigation is ongoin I'm not at liberty to say, Mr. Powell. But why do you think Mr. Harper would try to pass himself off as the CEO of your firm?" Brenda asked, with honey dripping from every syllable.
"I don't know, but I can assure you that is the first thing that I will ask him when he returns to the office," Mr. Powell replied with anger in his voice.
"Well, thank you so much for your help, sir. I'm sorry to have bothered you, but it's important that we learn the truth when investigatin a murder."
"It's no bother at all, Deputy Chief Johnson. Since my company's reputation depends on the honesty and integrity of my staff, I'm glad to know when one of my employees apparently is not maintaining our standards of ethical conduct."
"Rest assured I understand how important maintainin high standards of honesty and ethical conduct is to your business. After all, if investors can't trust your employees to be honest, I know that they would have no trouble findin another investment firm to handle their money."
"Well, thank you again, Mr. Powell," Brenda purred and ended the call. She sat there for a moment with a satisfied smile on her face. Ed Harper, you asshole. If you fuck with me I'll fight your lies with my truth, and I'll win every time.
She savored her revenge for a moment. Then, since she saw Provenza return, she walked out into the Murder Room.
"Chief, she's been reminded of her rights and she's waiting in Interview Room 2. She knows we searched her place and she's extremely nervous."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Lieutenant Tao, may I have the crime scene photographs, please?" As she put the photos into her purse she continued, "Sargent Gabriel, let's go."
When they entered the Interview Room, Alicia asked, "Why did I have to come back here? I already told you everything I know."
"Not everythin, Ms. Anderson. For instance, where were you the afternoon and night that Bart Wellman was murdered?"
"I already told you. I was in Phoenix working at a horse show."
"None of the Wellmans' horses were entered in a show that day," Brenda countered.
"I was helping some friends of the Wellmans. One of their horses had thrown a shoe and they needed help grooming the other animals while they took that mare to the farrier."
"All right. Give me the names of these friends and Sargent Gabriel will confirm that right now."
On cue, David withdrew his phone from his pocket and held it expectantly.
"No. I didn't want to tell you this but Sylvia sent me back to LA that morning."
"Why did she do that?"
"She forgot a pair of boots that she wanted to wear for the next day's show."
"Ok, Sargent Gabriel, please call the housekeeper right now and…"
"She wasn't there. She had taken the day off," Alicia said.
Brenda countered, "The housekeeper told us she was in the house workin all day. Look, Alicia, if you're gonna lie to us, this isn't gonna go well for you at all. You need to stop lyin and start tellin us the truth."
"I'm not lying. Sylvia did send me back to LA."
"Again, why did she do that?"
Alicia sighed and admitted, "She wanted me to talk to her husband."
"About what?" When Alicia hung her head and didn't answer, Brenda asked, "Did it have somethin to do with the fact that you grew up in foster care? It must have been rough growin up without a family of your own." Brenda's tone had turned sympathetic.
Alicia looked up in surprise, "It was. The foster homes were ok. Well, some of them were. But none of them was my home, my family. I always wondered why everyone else in school had parents and I didn't."
"That had to be terribly lonely for you," Brenda said softly.
Alicia nodded, "Holidays were the roughest. Oh, I always got presents at Christmas and birthdays but they were never as nice as the foster parents' own kids got. And every time I did something wrong I would be moved. As soon as I saw the black trash bags come out I knew I was moving to a new foster home. Every time I moved I lost my school and all my friends. I even lost my dog, and he was the only thing I had that loved me back," she said bitterly.
"So when you finally got out on your own you decided to search for your family?"
"Yes. I had some memories of people and places. And different foster parents and caseworkers had told me small things. It wasn't much to go on but I searched the library for records and went online and was able to put the pieces together."
"Is that why you moved to Los Angeles and got the job with the Wellman firm? Because of all those searches?"
Alicia nodded yes and Brenda pulled out the printout of the Family Tree that Tao had found on the website and placed it in front of her.
When Alicia saw it she was silent for a moment, then she spoke very softly. "I discovered that my mother died of an overdose when I was eleven. And she was living only about three blocks away from me. She never tried to contact me, even once." Alicia paused for a moment as if trying to absorb the greater truth of what she'd just said. Then she continued, "Bart Wellman was my biological father. When I learned that, I moved to LA and got the job so I could learn more about him first. But I was too afraid to tell him, so I finally told Sylvia in the car on the way to Phoenix, instead."
"Didn't she take it well?" Gabriel asked.
"Yes, she did. She was happy and actually hugged me. And she said that if she'd had a daughter she would have wanted her to be just like me." Alicia was smiling through tears.
"Havin your stepmother accept you so readily must have made you feel good. It must have been such a relief," Brenda said.
"You have no idea. I was so afraid that she would toss me out. That's why I told her in the car. I figured she couldn't do anything while we were traveling down the road at 70 miles per hour."
"What happened when you got back to LA?"
"I saw his truck parked near the barns so I parked beside it and went in to find him. He was in a terrible mood. Maybe it wasn't a good time, but it was never a good time with him, so I just went ahead and told him."
"So he wasn't as accepting?" David asked.
Alicia started to cry and dropped her head.
Brenda softly encouraged her. "Go on, Alicia. I know this is hard, but we need to hear the whole story."
"He just laughed at me and said that no little bastard showing up on his doorstep was going to cash in at his expense." Alicia spoke haltingly, her body racked with sobs.
Brenda moved around to her side of the table and put her arm around Alicia's shoulder as she handed her a tissue. "Take a minute to compose yourself," she told her.
After a minute of gulping for air Alicia continued, "I told him that I wasn't trying to cash in but he didn't believe me. He said that he would never have a nothing daughter like me and that I'd never get a dime from him. Then he said that I was nothing but a piece of shit trying to get his money. Then he fired me and turned to walk away. It made me so mad. I picked up a shovel and hit him in the back of the head."
"Why did you drag him out to the manure pile?" Brenda asked softly, still with her arm around Alicia's shoulder. With her other hand she withdrew the crime scene photos from her purse and placed them in front of her.
Alicia looked at the photos and then at Brenda and said, "Because I knew he was dead so I dragged him out to the manure pile."
Gabriel interrupted, "But he…" Brenda cut him off with a wave of her hand.
"I thought that, after all I'd been through, after what he'd called me, that the manure pile was the proper burial place for him. But you have to believe me. I never intended to kill him. I don't know what happened. He just made me so furious that I couldn't think straight. I tried to explain that I didn't want his money. I just wanted a family. My family," she sobbed. "I tried to explain how much having a family meant to me. But he called me a worthless piece of shit. And then I drove back to Phoenix that night. And the next day when I got back from the show grounds I found Sylvia's body." Alicia looked at Brenda and continued, "I didn't kill Sylvia. She really cared about me. But she committed suicide."
"Because she took money from clients?" Brenda asked.
"I think so. I think that's what she and Mr. Wellman were arguing about. You have to believe me. I didn't have anything to do with taking any money and I never wanted to hurt anybody, especially not Sylvia. She was the only person in the world who ever cared about me." Alicia was pleading with Brenda.
"I understand," Brenda said, "And I'm terribly sorry to tell you that you're under arrest for the murder of Bart Wellman."
"It doesn't matter. I have nowhere to go. There's no one left," Alicia said dully.
Brenda looked at Gabriel and said, "Sargent."
Gabriel nodded, stood up and released his handcuffs as Brenda softly told him, "Suicide watch."
As she walked into the Murder Room, her detectives were coming back from the Electronics Room. All of them looked emotionally drained. Provenza saw her expression and spoke for them all, "Chief, we all know from experience that families often don't live up to expectations. But we have to do the best with the hand we're dealt."
"I know, Lieutenant," Brenda nodded. "We're all responsible for our choices in life. It's just that some people don't have much of a chance to make good choices." She turned and walked back to her office.
Brenda was uncharacteristically quiet during dinner so Fritz asked, "Honey, is something wrong?"
"I just had a bad day, is all."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Brenda told him about her interview with Alicia and then said, "This whole case has been emotionally exhaustin. But it also made me so glad that I have the family that I have."
"Does that mean that you've changed your mind about letting your parents come when they want to?"
She reached across the table and took his hand. "No. But it does mean that I love you more tonight than I did this mornin."
Fritz smiled and kissed her hand.
She smiled back at him and said, "And it means that I'm gonna call Mama and Daddy and explain that we won't be home over the Fourth because we need some time to ourselves. But that we really do want to see them so we hope that they can come in August." When she saw Fritz smile again, she continued. "Can you take more than just a couple of days off from work? I'd like more alone time with you than just a weekend. It's gonna take more than a couple of days for me to properly thank you for bein the man that you are."
He didn't reply. He just kissed her hand once more.
"And, on a happier note, Ed Harper is finally gone."
"Did you have to deal with him again?"
"He gave me a little more grief." Brenda saw Fritz's angry expression and added, "But he got his precious golf clubs back so he's gone. I'm sure we've seen the last of Ed Harper."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that. But, I have to admit that I wish I could have taught him a lesson."
"Oh, don't worry about him. Karma has a way of catchin up with people. Ed Harper will get his, I'm sure," Brenda said and took a most satisfying sip of her wine.
A/N: And now please, please, please review. Thank you.