"How is he?" Sharon asked as she stepped into Buzz's hospital room.
"Stable. CT showed a major concussion, which caused the unconsciousness, but no signs of bleeding. He has a few broken ribs from the blast, but otherwise he seems ok," replied Julio who kept vigil over his friend for the last few hours.
"Do they know when he'll wake up?" She asked softly moving closer to his bed, reflecting on a familiar phrase while keeping her attention focused on Buzz.
"Hard to say. Could be a few hours, could be a few days," he replied with a melancholy shrug.
Sharon hummed, it was what she expected after she spoke with Provenza. There was no real way to rush head trauma, the brain would take how long it takes to heal.
"Did you call his sister?" Julio asked knowing that Buzz would hate having worried his mother or sister over this.
"I had to, she's listed as his emergency contact. She was going to catch the next flight down from Seattle," she finally turned towards Julio and then looked at her watch, "she should be here in two hours or so."
"I can wait with him until she shows up," he stated it like a question but they both knew it was more of a rhetorical statement, she nodded her approval.
"First though, I need you to catch me up. You're the only one that spoke to the arson investigator before the explosion. The fire is out now, but LAFD isn't giving us any details yet. They lost one of their own during the blast," her voice dipped low as she thought about the causalities piling up today.
"Ah, yes, ma'am," Julio pulled out his notebook. He had time while Buzz was having tests run to write down his notes about the case so far, he didn't want to forget any details. He flipped it open, "Captain Mike Daniels, LAFD, he said it appeared that the vehicle was the point of origin, but with the hot, dry Santa Ana's"
"It quickly spread to the building," she finished his thought which confirmed their suspicions as well.
"Right," he nodded, "They suspected accelerant was used to torch the car. It didn't smell like gasoline at the scene, so he figured it was most likely alcohol."
"That fits. Mike saw a bottle of gin under the car, but was unable to recover it before the explosion. Our suspect most likely poured it around the car and our victim and then threw it under the car before lighting it," she moved towards the window, "We found the lighter near the car as well," she added.
Julio nodded, "I guess that throws out the theory that it was just someone sleeping one off, or some homeless living in their car. What does Morales say?"
Sharon turned on her heel voice barely hiding her frustration, "He only just received the body. The scene wasn't declared safe for the team to return until two hours ago. It'll be a few hours before we have the prelim results back on our victim."
"Was Mike able to recover anything on the camera?" Julio asked looking to change the subject.
She hummed again, "Bits and pieces at the moment. The camera took quite a hit when Buzz fell some of the data appears to be damaged. Tao is working with some of Mason's old guys to recover what they can," Sharon paused for a moment letting out a soft sigh, "Do we have any idea why he was so far away from the rest of the team? What did he see?"
Julio shook his head, "I don't know ma'am. He was behind the car when I left to talk to the arson investigator. Tao was talking to him about melting points of various compounds or something like that—"
Sharon turned and gave another look back towards Buzz, "Let me know the minute you hear something," she said before heading towards the door.
"Does Rusty know?" Julio asked the million dollar question wondering where the kid was and how he was taking the news of his "big brother" being injured.
"Not yet," Sharon said noticing Julio's immediate shocked reaction before he schooled his expression, "Gus came down late last night to surprise him. I haven't heard from him since this morning. As soon as Casey gets here I will let Rusty know."
It was clear that Julio was surprised by the Commander's stance on notifying Rusty, although being a parent now himself was giving him greater insight into why parents do what they do. He gave her a nod, "I'll let you know."
"Thank you Detective," she tapped her hand on the doorframe before stepping out of the hospital room. When she reached the officer standing by the nurses station she walked towards him, "He's in room 315." The officer nodded and moved down the hall to stand guard. Sharon waited until he was in place before walking away. She didn't know exactly who they were dealing with or what Buzz saw, but her gut was screaming at her to be vigilant. It was perhaps the real reason why she hadn't told Rusty the news yet, she wanted him as far away from the hospital or PAB as possible until she could figure out exactly what was going on.
"Well, what do we have?" Provenza barked at the team, his frustration was reaching critical limits.
"There are no fingerprints on the lighter, and while it's fancier than what you might find at a liquor store it isn't nice enough to be traceable," Nolan said as he placed a picture of the lighter on the board.
"Well tell me something we didn't already know," he barked again getting impatient with the team.
Amy looked around, there wasn't much of a team at the moment. Julio and the Commander were at the hospital with Buzz. Paige had been called in, but wasn't here yet. Mike was downstairs with the Intelligence squad, and Andy well no one was really sure where he was at the moment.
"The bottle we recovered from under the car was a bottle of Martin Miller's Gin, a bit more pricey that your average bottle of gin and certainly too pricey to waste as accelerant," Amy said posting the picture of the burnt bottle to the board.
Before Provenza could huff about that Nolan jumped in, "And we are running our car through the DMV database now. The plates were removed, maybe stolen, but Mike managed to get a partial on the vin before the explosion. It's hard to tell what color the car was before the fire, but we do know it was a 2015 Jaguar XF, which should help narrow things down a little."
"We knew all this before the tank exploded, I said tell me what we don't already know!" he yelled as he flopped down into his chair torn between resignation that they didn't have much to go on yet and spooled up because one of their own lay in the hospital.
It wasn't true that they knew all this before the explosion, he knew that, they knew that it was best to just go back to their desks and work as quickly as possible to solve the case. The phone ringing cut through the momentary silence, "What?" Provenza replied harshly as he answered.
"Good Afternoon to you too sunshine," Morales snidely replied.
"Do you have something for us?" Provenza replied shortly, ignoring the doctor's infamous sarcasm.
"I might, but I think it would be best if you, Flynn and the Commander came down to autopsy. I tried to get a hold of her, but she isn't picking up," his voice was tinged with annoyance that he was having to chase down the very people that were usually chasing him for information.
"Well that's because she's been at the hospital with Buzz, or maybe you haven't heard," he said curtly. He didn't give him an opportunity to respond, "We'll be there in a half an hour."
Provenza slammed the phone down and flipped the sleeves of his coat onto his arms and hastily got up from his car, "You" he pointed towards Nolan, "Find that car. And you," pointing at Amy, "give me something I can work with." Both detectives nodded but smartly kept their mouths shut as they heard him pull out his phone and grumble, "Flynn where the hell are you?"
He kept files from all his unsolved cases at home, but when he moved in with Sharon there wasn't room in the condo. Initially the storage unit was meant to just be a temporary solution until they bought a house together. When the heart attack happened and then everything else, it ended up being more of a permanent necessity. He shoved boxes out of the way to make room to walk towards the back of the unit. He purposefully paid for a unit at an indoor facility, temperature controlled, with a lower risk of water or some other kind of damage. It wasn't just to protect his case files though, he had baseball memorabilia along with family heirlooms stashed away that meant more to him in memories than they did in any monetary sense. One day soon he hoped he and Sharon could revisit the whole house situation. Even with the possibility of Rusty moving out and off to college in the not too distant future, the condo wasn't really enough space. Some days it felt more like her place still, than theirs. She had tried to give him some space of his own to make it feel like his home too, but it was always in the back of his mind that it was her place. Technically it was, her name was the only one listed on the deed. They talked about changing it when they decided to postpone (indefinitely it would appear) the house hunt, but he shrugged it off saying it was more hassle and he didn't need it in order for it to feel like home. Any where with her in it felt like home to him — at least most of the time.
He finally reached the back of the unit and pulled up a box dated 2002, "Anna" on the side. Next to it was another box dated 2005 "Lisa." He pushed that box aside, technically it was closed and it did turn out that they had that one wrong, but his gut was convinced that he had the right guy 15 years ago. He flipped the lid and began pulling out files about the missing woman Anna Tanda, from 2000. Body found in a burnt out car in June 2002.
The moment he got the call from Provenza he knew it was him, back after all these years. He knew when he told Just Plain Brenda that he was going to take his $4 million dollar settlement and leave her jurisdiction that it would just be a matter of time before he came back. None of his alerts had gone off about this creep since they worked that wildfire case back in '08 but he knew that didn't mean much. The man did spend three years in jail before they let him out because of that stupid psychiatrist. Justice was served and they had the right guy for that job, but they still had Anna. He pounded his fist against the side of the metal unit, flexing his knuckles at the pain he felt.
Andy couldn't figure out why he would come back now, after all this time and start up again. The victim's hands and feet were gone. She was burnt in a car. An ID was found near the body and a steel lighter — he looked down at a picture of the lighter used years ago now and wondered if it was the same one. It had to be him, the why didn't matter right now just finding the SOB before he killed again.
He lifted the box and carried back through the maze of other items in the locker before setting it down. He pulled the door down and knelt to the floor to put the lock back on when his cell rang.
"Flynn where the hell are you?" yelled an annoyed Provenza.
"Would you calm down, I had to get some files from my locker. Any news? How's Buzz?" Andy asked putting the lock in place before standing up.
"Out of the woods, but still unconscious. Listen, while you were down there going through memory lane," he scoffed, "we've been here trying to solve this murder!"
"Will you calm down old man, you're going to give yourself a coronary—" he instantly regretted the reference knowing it would get used against him. He winced as he braced for the comeback.
"You should know!" he sniped back.
"Yeah, yeah," he immediately cut him off, "I'll be back to the office in 20 minutes."
"Don't bother. Morales called. He wants you, me and the Captain, err" he groaned at the slip once again he was finding that when he was frustrated she was still the Captain in his mind, "the Commander" he finished through gritted teeth, "at the morgue."
"Okay, I'll be there—" he started to say when he heard the line go dead. He shook his head, he knew his partner was thrown through a loop with the driver's license they found at the scene, but this was over the top even for him. He lifted the box, with his knees, and made his way back to his car. If this turned out to be what he was expecting they were all in for a very, very long ride. He shuddered at the revelation as it flashed across his eyes once he put the box in his trunk, someone would have the unenviable task of telling Brenda that Bill was back in town. God he hoped he would be spared this time, Gabriel was bad enough, but he really valued his life and wanted to be a million miles away when she got that news.
When Sharon arrived in the morgue she found both Andy and Provenza pacing the halls outside of autopsy. Andy was the first to hear the unmistakeable clicking of her heels across the brown tiled floor and paced his way to meet her.
"How's Buzz?" He asked, Provenza following in tow.
"Stable. I've left Julio there for now until his sister arrives," she offered a weak smile hoping to convey that everything was going to be okay, but when it didn't meet her eyes Andy knew otherwise. Buzz would be okay, but they all knew there was more to this case and the fact that Morales wanted the three of them to come together was a red flag of concern.
As if his ears were burning, he opened the door and silently gestured the trio into his office.
The smell of burnt flesh was thick and filled the air. They pulled on their blue gowns and put on a mask to help avoid breathing in the noxious fumes. There was no doubt that the woman was badly burned, the seatbelt was seared onto her flesh along with whatever she was wearing.
They looked at Morales, waiting for him to begin, no one wanting to ask the question.
"Chat bunch this afternoon," he put his hands up, "I know, Kendall told me about Buzz I hope he's okay."
Sharon nodded, "He will be. Thank you Doctor." She gestured to the body and gave a curt hum to move along.
"Yes, well. Your victim is female as originally suggested. She's never given birth and I put her between 40-50 years old. Bone structure appears Caucasian. She's had some work done, silicone implants melted with the rest of the tissue, unfortunately it means the serial numbers are gone and can't help us with the ID." He moved to the other side of the body before continuing, "As you can see," he lifted the sheet, "her hands and feet were removed. It's hard to tell, but the cuts appear smooth and precise. The tissue is too damaged to tell whether she was alive when it happened."
"Was she dead when the car burned up?" Andy asked wanting to know whether or not they were dealing with Bill or just another fire obsessed psychopath.
"That's the funny, well not funny really, but odd thing," he put up an x-ray on the Lightbox, "It appears that her lungs exploded, so there's nothing for me to check for smoke inhalation. I can try taking some of the vitreous humor from her eye and checking for signs that way, but considering the state the body is in I'd say it's a long shot."
Andy pushed himself up against the wall, it was like a bad dream or the worst case of deja vu one could have. Her lungs exploded. He let out a groan as he bent in half trying to process what the doc just said. Sharon turned around, concerned she touched his shoulder, "Andy are you alright?"
He looked up at Provenza who was having the same revelation that he was, "It's him."
Andy nodded, "He's back."
"Croelick?" Sharon asked. She knew the M.O. sounded familiar from the settlement case she worked years ago, and from Andy's comments over the years but she wasn't sure how they could be so certain already.
"The lungs, they exploded. That's exactly what he told Brenda in that last case we worked where he showed up - you know the one with the fire at Griffith's Park. Said he poured alcohol down the girl's throat and then lit her on fire, causes the body to burn from the inside out." His body shook at the thought, and he hoped for their sakes that the girls were already dead before he bestowed that treatment to their bodies.
Sharon turned back to Morales as she quickly caught up to her senior Lieutenants, "Doctor, do you think you can get an ID on our victim?"
He shrugged, "No hands to print makes it harder. Her teeth seem to be in good condition, so that might help. If you had a missing person to compare to that would be even better," he offered up. He wasn't quite following the rest of the team on their long journey into history, but figured he'd find out soon enough if it was necessary for him to know.
"We will look into missing person's although given that the incident happened last night it may take a few more days for someone to report her," Sharon replied.
"I'll put a flag out in case anyone contact the morgue looking for your Jane Doe," he said scribbling away into the file notes. He looked up, "Kendall mentioned you found an ID at the scene, do you think that could belong to our crispy critter here?"
His callous tone went unappreciated today. They all understood the necessity for gallows humor in their line of work, but today was just not the day for it. Sharon shook her head, "No, we aren't sharing that information with anyone at this time. It may be a false lead, so please work the case as you normally would with a Jane Doe."
Morales shrugged, he didn't get detectives sometimes, but then again he supposed they really didn't understand him either, "Suit yourself, I'll have the prelim up to you tonight."
They knew that was their cue to leave, not that they minded. Provenza had been trying to hold his breath nearly the entire time they were in there, it was one of two things he could never get used to in his career. The first was anything with kids. The second was burnt flesh. Another reason why he didn't become a fireman.
They shed their blue gowns and threw them into the trash before leaning up against the wall sharing the same thought once more, but this time not daring to say it alive as if he were Rumpelstiltskin and the mere mention of his name again would bring him back — if he wasn't already lurking in the flames.