"Morning," Rusty said as he grabbed his freshly made omelet and sat at the table.
"Morning," grumbled Andy. He was target fixated on the coffee. Rusty chuckled, he learned quickly last year when Andy moved in that he should never stand in the way between that man and his coffee. It was even worse now that Sharon was limiting his daily intake.
Andy poured a cup for himself and for Sharon. He lifted the mug and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes and then taking a sip of the hot, dark, bitter liquid. Andy had given up a lot of things in his life, alcohol, cigarettes, ice cream, meat, the list went on but he drew the line at losing coffee from his life. Next to Sharon it was a necessity. A life blood.
Sharon turned the corner into the kitchen, fixing the clasp to her watch and smiled at Andy. Shaking her head she shared a look with Rusty, it was a never ending source of amusement how that man seemed to take pleasure from the simplest things life had to offer. If she was honest with herself, it was something that she could learn to do a bit more, it can be hard to appreciate life when you're surrounded by death every day.
She leaned up and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he handed her the other cup, "Morning."
"There's more eggs in the pan if you're interested. I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I started whipping them. I guess I got into an egg cracking frenzy," Rusty said biting into a piece of the whole grain toast that was coated with so much jam the health benefits were essentially lost.
"Thanks Rusty, I might just take you up on that," Andy replied knowing that Sharon rarely had more than a piece of toast and some fruit for breakfast. He peered into the pan, "What did you put in it?" He asked cautiously wondering if there was meat hidden in the skillet.
Sensing the concern Rusty laughed, "Don't worry it's chalk full of bacon!"
Andy dropped the spatula causing both Sharon and Rusty to laugh, "Andy I think you can relax you know we haven't had bacon in the condo since your heart attack."
He merely nodded and continued to poke the eggs inquisitively. Rusty finally put him out of his misery, "There's a little cheese, spinach, and some tomato. It's safe."
Andy grabbed a plate and helped himself to the remainder of the eggs and sat across from Rusty, leaving the head of the table open for Sharon. He loved how no matter how busy she was she always made time to sit, even for just a few minutes, and enjoy breakfast. She didn't eat much which made it seem all the more strange, but he nonetheless enjoyed the company. It was one meal, one moment in the day that they usually were able to share together.
Just as Sharon sat down and began nibbling on a piece of toast the phone rang. Andy looked up trying to discern whose it was, "It's me," Sharon replied.
She stood up and answered the call at her desk. Andy couldn't hear the conversation, and decided to turn his attention to his youngest "son" who despite laughing moments ago had returned to his morose state.
"So have you heard from Gus?" He inquired cautiously.
"Yeah, we talked late last night after his shift ended. It's going to be hard when the semester starts, our schedules are totally backwards," he said pushing his eggs around.
"Well if it's a relationship worth having you'll find away to make the time, even though it's hard," he looked at Rusty, but the Kid kept his eyes down on his plate, "Have you found a time to reschedule your visit?"
"Not exactly," he said finally lifting his eyes, the frustration evident, "He's got a few days off, but they're not in a row. So if I go up there I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do when he's busy working."
Andy took a bite of toast, mostly to give the conversation a pause before he responded, "There's a lot to do in Northern California. Maybe you could find a cool museum to check out."
Rusty gave a noncommittal shrug, "I guess, but I'd rather spend my time with Gus. I mean if I'm going all the way up there then I should be able to be with him, you know?"
"I do," Andy smiled, "Trust me I get it. But the thing is Rusty, it might be good for you to get to know the area on your own. Feel it out. I know you're still not sure about whether you want to move up there and the whole quarter versus semester thing makes sense, but you're not far off from law school. Maybe you'd like to go to school at Berkeley or even Stanford. Why not use the time to check things out for yourself? Then when Gus is free you can explore other things together," he paused as he watched Rusty turn things over in his mind, "Just a thought."
Rusty merely nodded. Andy knew he wouldn't get any response now, he was a lot like Sharon in that regard he needed time to process. For his part at least he managed to plant a little seed in his mind, a moment for him to feel like he was contributing to raise the Kid.
Sharon stepped back into the dining room, noting the sudden silence. She chose to ignore it for the moment knowing she'd find out from Andy later if everything was alright. She slid back into her seat and took another sip of coffee, "We better take these to go."
"Movement?" He asked.
"That was Sykes, looks like they may have found our connection between Ann and Hickman." It was mixed news, on one hand she was glad they had something to go with, but the name Hickman made it hard not to clench her jaw at the minefield they were lurking around.
"Okay, what do we have?" Sharon asked taking her stance at the back of the room near Julio's desk.
Amy took lead on the briefing. It was clear that with her past missteps with Mark Hickman that she wanted to redeem herself in the eyes of the team and her commanding officer. No one else thought it was necessary, no one had any allusions that Hickman didn't lead her right down the grey path, but still she felt the need to learn from her past mistakes. From day one her weakness was naivety, she was eager to please and overly excited. Despite Provenza taking her under his wing, she still had a lot to learn about being a homicide detective, it was only now that she finally understood that she was still growing.
She slid a magnet over a document on the white board, "In May of 2015, when Ann was still working with Madeline Morgan it appears that Hickman worked a case for James Corbett. Their firms are in the same building. The connection is thin, but it's the only one we can find."
Amy set the file down and Wes turned to the rest of the group, "It is possible that during the three months Hickman was doing background for Corbett that they ran into each other, what if anything came of it is our best guess."
Sharon had to admit the connection was tenuous at best, it certainly wasn't enough for a search warrant let alone an arrest warrant to bring Hickman in for more formal questioning. Her gut gnawed at her, Hickman was as slimy as they came and she certainly couldn't put it past him to be drawn to Ann. She was a beautiful woman, smart, and maybe a bit eager — she was a lot like Amy which seemed to fit Hickman's interests. She thought about it for a moment and decided that covering every base was the order of the day, "Mike I want you to work with Amy and Paige. See what you can track down from his movements before and after the murder. Also let's see if we can find any connection to EV Limited."
Sharon spun around and faced the other members of her team, "In the meantime, let's get David Phillips down here, I want to find out what he knows about our victim."
"Don't forget the mysterious political fundraiser," Andy interjected with his usual amount of sarcasm, "You know how well politics and murder go together."
It took several hours for Andy to finally locate Mr. Phillips. His assistant was as useless today as she had been the night before with Buzz. He gave a light knuckling to her open door before walking in, "Patrol spotted his car in West Hollywood at La Boheme. I sent Wes down there to inform our Mister Phillips that we'd like to speak with him." His phone dinged, "That's Wes, as you might imagine he wasn't happy that we made a bit of a fuss at the restaurant in front of potential clients, but they're on their way."
Sharon nodded and leaned back in her chair letting out a sigh. Her back was stiff from sitting at her desk all day. With half the team on Hickman detail and the other half tracking down Phillips, there wasn't much for her to do except catch up on paperwork that she'd been procrastinating. While in general Sharon was most definitely not a procrastinator, the last few weeks, prior to this case, she'd found her mind drifting. Mostly to wedding details, well and if she was entirely honest with herself, the honeymoon. It had taken the better part of a month for him to convince her, but when she finally agreed he jumped to by the tickets before she could change her mind. They rented a small villa in Tuscany, Siena to be specific. She let out a little chuckle as she recalled how for days after she said yes, Andy serenaded her to Italian songs while he moved about the condo. It was no surprise that he was happy to pay his motherland a visit, but she had found herself equally excited. Italy was one country she sadly missed on her college trip. She ended up spending so much time in London and Paris on her free days that when her study abroad was done she realized she missed seeing so much. She wouldn't trade her time away for anything, she knew she was lucky to have had the opportunity at all. One of her closest friends at the time, Angela, didn't go at all citing the need to work to pay next quarter's tuition. They hadn't stayed close after graduation, but she did know that it was something she regretted with earnest. When her kids reached college, she practically pushed them on the plane. They were worried about the money, and it was true things were a bit tight with two kids in college, but it was too important. She sold the house that year and downsized to the condo, while it wasn't the reason she couldn't deny the extra money did help make it possible for them to go.
Sharon looked up when she heard a throat clearing.
"Where did you go?" Andy asked, now sitting in a chair across from her.
She hadn't even realized he came in or even sat down as she took a trip down memory lane. She smiled at him, "Italy."
Andy grinned widely at her, "Mmm, so are you going to agree that it is a great idea?"
"I believe I already did, but I suppose the proof will come once we're there," she said a bit coyly knowing what he wanted her to say.
"Ah yes, you did say it was a good idea, but you didn't give me the credit for coming up with it. I believe I'm still waiting for you to pay up on that account," he said leaning forward on her desk. His voice dropped an octave, "Are you sure you're going to be okay being away for two weeks?" He wasn't worried that she couldn't leave work for a few days, he knew that she was confident in the team and even Provenza. What he was worried about was whether Mama Bear could stand to leave Rusty while he was in the midst of his first real heart break. Well, that wasn't even the real concern, he knew she worried about him and Gus, but her panic and honestly his was on Stroh. Leaving the country for two weeks while his whereabouts were still unknown. Leaving Rusty here while his defenses were down, he knew it frightened her, hell it freaked him out. They hadn't really discussed it, except for her comment after agreeing to go — At some point we all have to be able to live. He agreed, he just hoped that taking a moment to live didn't mean coming home to darkness.
He shook the morbid thoughts from his head, "So, when are you going to pay up lady?"
She let out a snort, which made him smile. She didn't do it often, usually it was reserved for moments when he caught her off guard, like now or when she was laughing uncontrollably. She was self conscious by it, but he found it adorable. Sharon covered her mouth after the sound came out, hoping no one else in the office heard the noise. She appreciated that Andy didn't tease her about it, Jack did, there wasn't anything he didn't poke her about. She shook him out of her head and remembered after they started dating how Andy pulled up a video of Sandra Bullock making a similar sound. He told her, If she can get paid millions of dollars to do this in a movie and look cute as hell doing it, I don't think you have any need to be embarrassed sweetheart. It was the first time he ever called her sweetheart, which made the moment even more touching and sentimental.
Before she could give him a cheeky response she looked up and saw Wes walking in with a tall, slenderly built man in his early 40s. Andy caught her eyes and followed them out of her office, taking her cue he stood up, "That must be our Mr. Phillips."
Sharon grabbed the coat from behind her chair and put it on as she followed Andy out of her office. The other members of her squad gave Phillips a hard look, trying to get a read on him. Sometimes it was easy to tell if someone was involved, Phillips seemed calm and collected. Sharon decided she was going to interview him, she gave a nod to Amy who pushed back from her desk and stood up.
Wes walked him down the hall to interview room 2 while the rest of the team headed for electronics. "Thank you," Sharon said softly to Wes as he held open the door for her and Amy to step through.
"Mr. Phillips, I'm Commander Sharon Raydor of Major Crimes," she said as she finally stood directly across from where he sat.
"Nice to meet you I'm sure, however, I think it would have been far more pleasant of an introduction over cocktails and appetizers back at La Boheme," he replied his words oozing with overconfident charm. It was easy to tell how Ann might have found herself interested in him. He was well-built, square jawed, and charming. Unfortunately for him it was lost on Sharon.
"Perhaps, but I prefer to dine at La Boheme with my fiancé, besides their cameras don't have any sound and I want to be able to play this back later," she replied dryly. She knew Andy would have a smirk on his face from some macho sense of "that's my girl" thing, and while she normally hated that sort of thing right now she needed to get Phillips off the charm and onto giving up information.
"Fair enough, can you point out where they are? I just want to make sure you're getting my good side," he said snarkly.
Neither bothered to respond as Amy began questioning their latest potential suspect, "Can you tell us where you were last Thursday?"
The man pulled out his cell phone, "Hollywood Hills at an event."
"At Logan Seager's residence?" Amy asked as follow-up.
"Yes, we use his property often. It's a good size and the location is convenient for many of my clients," his answers continued to give up the bare minimum.
Sharon continued to sit quietly watching him intently, letting Amy continue to engage, "Can you tell us what event brought you to the Seager residence?"
"Uh a political fundraiser I believe," he leaned back in his chair and winked at the wall where he thought the cameras might be placed.
"Did you happen to meet a young woman while you were at the Seager residence?" Amy probed trying to get him to give a deeper response.
"I meet a lot of young women in my line of business. Weddings, dinner parties, and the like." He turned towards Sharon, "I could probably throw you the best bachelorette party, you might even blush when it's over."
Amy hit the table with her hand to get his attention, "Hey, answer the question. Did you meet a young woman and invite her to the party last week?"
He turned his face towards Amy, but continued leaning in Sharon's direction, "I think you'll have to be more specific, as I said I meet lots of young women every day."
Sharon opened the folder and pulled out Ann's picture, "This woman."
His reaction was immediate and visceral, he glanced at the picture not expecting it to be of a dead woman. He shoved it back to Sharon and gagged, "I certainly didn't invite a dead woman to any of my events!"
"Ah, but you see Mr. Phillips, she wasn't dead when you invited her," Sharon replied.
He looked at her stunned as she pulled out another picture. He flinched expecting another gruesome crime scene photo, but instead it was her DMV photo. He lightly touched the corner and nodded. Sharon gave Amy a look, he wasn't there guy, but he still might know something about who did it.
"I think her name was Ann. She lived across the street from the house my company was renting. I ran into her a few times and thought she was cute," he said staring at the picture in front of him, clearly in shock.
"And did you invite her to the party?" Amy asked wanting to get what they could out of him before emotion fully took over.
He nodded, "Yes, she seemed to fit the demographic of the party, and I thought maybe she would get along with the other guests."
"Why did you tell her that you were an actuary?" Sharon asked, it was a piece of the puzzle that made no sense to her.
Phillips finally looked up, "I didn't. She knew I was in the event business. I even gave her my card in case she ever wanted to throw a party."
Sharon and Amy shared another look, it was another lie that Ann had given her family. It was beginning to get hard to take anything in this case at face value with the number of lies and false leads they had uncovered thus far. Amy pressed on, "Did you see her on Thursday?"
"No, she never showed up to the party. She sent me a text like an hour before saying that she was planning on stopping by, but then I didn't hear anything from her after that. I just figured she changed her mind, it wasn't a big deal there were plenty of guests and we hit our donation mark for the night, all in all the night was a success," he replied all the charm and smugness finally gone.
Sharon circled back to one of their earlier questions which he never fully answered, "Who was the politician you were hosting the event for?"
"He's not yet, he's running for the 44th Congressional District. The incumbent died and there's a run off. Nice guy actually, a bit young, but seems committed to the cause from what I can tell. He works for the DA's office, David Gabriel," he said not having a clue of the magnitude of what he just shared.
Sharon immediately stood up and excused herself from the room, leaving Amy to wrap up the interview. The door closed behind her and she felt the overwhelming sensation of dread sweep over her at the realization that he had been in the area when their victim died. Not just in the area but across the street around the time of death. There could be no more delaying it, they'd need to bring him in. Andy and Provenza stepped out of electronics and started towards her, but she waved them off. Before they did anything she needed to share this latest bomb shell with the Chiefs. As she head down the hall, she wondered who would get the unpleasant task of letting Brenda know what was going on. She felt like she was back in IA again and she was investigating one of their own, in a way she would be now. She felt the pit in her stomach grow with each step she took. Hesitating for a moment, she finally raised her hand to Mason's door and knocked. It was late, but she knew he was still here, "Come in," she heard as she took a deep breath and opened the door.