"Odd how?" Sharon asked, knowing that if the Doctor thought it was strange, so much so that he was bringing it to her directly that it must be very unusual.
"Yeah," he rummaged through his bag and pulled out an evidence bag with a crumpled piece of paper, "I found this in our victim's throat. Appears to have been forced down her throat before someone broke her neck. It was safe from the fire, so, well-preserved I guess. It was a real Silence of the Lambs moment, a first for me I think," Morales rambled on.
"So the cause of death was a broke neck," Sharon asked curious about this new piece of information.
"Oh, yes, it was. There was no signs of smoke in her lungs, so she was definitely dead before the car fire, lucky for her," he continued to say.
"What does the paper say?" Sharon asked returning her attention back to the oddity Morales was waving around her office as he gestured.
"Oh it doesn't say anything at least there's no words on it. It's a picture," he handed it to her his face becoming more serious for the first time since stepping into her office.
"Of what?" She asked rhetorically as she took the evidence bag. She turned it around and flattened it on her desk. Her eyes grew wide as the blurry and saliva covered image came into focus, "You're sure this was put down her throat?" She asked incredulously of the Doctor, for some reason hoping that he was playing a trick on her.
Morales frowned at her, "Yes I'm sure," he replied voice filled with annoyance.
Sharon immediately pushed up and out of her chair, taking the evidence bag with her, "Is there anything else?"
"No," he said jumping out of his seat with her.
"Thank you for bringing this over immediately Doctor," she ran out of her side office door and headed to the elevators pushing the button rapidly willing the elevator car to come quicker. When it finally arrived it seemed to take painfully long to move up the two floors to Pope's office, the door creaked open and she flew out of the car and down the hall.
"He's in a meeting," his assistant said she saw Sharon coming towards the office at an alarming pace.
"This is urgent, I need to speak with him NOW!" she shouted moving towards his door.
The assistant got up from her chair and knocked before pushing it open, "Commander Raydor is here, she says it's urgent."
Pope sat at his conference room table with staff, looking around at them for a moment before giving his assistant a nod. The woman turned towards Sharon, and held the door open for her as she stepped through.
Sharon took a deep breath as she took note of senior brass seated at the table, "Chief I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with you urgently. We have received some new information about our case." She willed him with her eyes to not dismiss her right now.
"Right," he turned towards his staff, "Let's take a five minute break shall we?" He waited for them to stand and file out before turning his attention back to Sharon, "Now, what's this all about?"
"This," she said handing him the evidence bag, "Was found in our victim's throat before she died of a broken neck."
He pulled his glasses down and stared at the image, "This was found in your latest victim's throat?"
"Yes, Chief. We've confirmed the identity is Lauren Turner, formerly Hines and she was dead before the fire was set. Morales found this during the autopsy and brought it to me just now," she replied almost out of breath.
"Right," he reached for his phone and punched a few numbers rapidly, "I need you in my office ASAP." He opened the door to his office and turned to his assistant, "When Howard arrives please show him in, also please find out where Lt. Cooper is today and have him report to me immediately. Tell the staff that our meeting will need to be postponed until tomorrow," he didn't wait for her to confirm she understood before closing the door and taking a few long strides back to his desk picking up the bag once more, staring at the picture inside.
"You know what this means," he finally asked.
"I do, she's not going to like it," she muttered back knowing how stubborn THAT woman could be when she dug her heels in about something.
"She's not going to have a choice. I don't need her to like it, I need her to be safe," he voice wavered for a moment. He was more emotional that Sharon expected, not that she should have been surprised given the love he had for her. She knew he needed to have this moment before her husband arrived, it was an awkward situation. His words were also all to familiar to her, she said something like that about Rusty several years ago. Everything has happened before and will happen again, seemed to be a prophecy intent on coming true this summer. Suspects were back. Victims from the past were showing up. And now this, she took a deep breath as she heard the door open.
"Chief," Howard said tentatively, clearly having just spent the last five minutes trying to figure out what bee was in the boss' bonnet.
"Where's Brenda?" Pope asked ignoring any formalities or pleasantries, jumping straight to the point.
Fritz looked at his watch, "Should be leaving the courthouse now. She was wrapping up a case. Why?"
"I need you to locate her and stay with her until we can get a team on her," Pope said handing Howard the evidence bag.
"Why? What's happened?" He looked at the picture, but was still puzzled.
"There was a fire this morning Chief," Sharon said beginning to explain, "A woman in a burnt car. Hands and feet missing."
Howard put his hand up, it was enough information for him to know where this was going, "Croelick is back."
"It seems that way," Pope said, "Morales found that in our victim's throat."
The shudder than went through Howard's body didn't go unnoticed by anyone despite how quickly it came and went. He knew that the asshole fire starter had an obsession with Brenda, he wasn't the first suspect to develop one nor was he the last.
"We think that these two cases might be linked," Sharon said, "it's too coincidental that two people from Brenda's past no matter how minor, have showed up dead in the span of two weeks. We don't know if Croelick is good for both of these, but we can't discount that possibility either."
Howard eyed Sharon, "I thought you liked Gabriel for this, he's been arraigned." He knew all about it, Brenda was devastated.
"The evidence did point in his direction, but we had our doubts but no way to prove otherwise," Sharon said trying to let him know that his hands were tied.
Howard dropped the issue for the moment turning his attention back to Pope, "Ok, so you're arranging for a team to stay on her?"
"Yes, I've called in Lieutenant Cooper to pull together a surveillance team to keep an eye on her, I'm not sure if she'd allow us to do anymore than that," Pope was resigned and noticeably frustrated knowing that he couldn't do more.
"I'll arrange for her to leave the state," Howard said matter-of-factly much to the shock of the others, "Charly has been bugging her to come to DC for a visit."
Pope looked at him puzzled, he had just assumed the former troubled teen was still living in the Atlanta area with the rest of her family, "DC," he questioned.
"Yeah, it would appear that Brenda and I had more influence over her than we ever expected. She's gone into the family business as it were," he paused, "NSA."
"Ah," Pope said, "but you think you can get her to agree to go?"
"Yes, she's had a rough time since her dad passed. Gabriel in jail. She just finished up this last case, so yeah I think I can make a good case for her to take a vacation with me to DC," he turned from Sharon to Pope, "assuming I can have the time of course."
Pope waved his hands, "Of course yes, as much time as you need to get her the hell out of LA while this psycho is obsessed with her."
Howard merely nodded, handing the evidence bag back to Sharon and walking towards the door to leave, "Sharon, who was the victim?"
"Lauren Turner, formerly Hines, Brenda might remember her as an almost future Mrs. Provenza," Sharon replied.
"Right," he shook his head and walked out focused to get his wife to safety for the time being.
Sharon turned back to Pope, "Per your request Provenza and Flynn are off the case, sir. With Buzz gone we are quite shorthanded at the moment."
"Call up Orderno, he knows you guys and how you work," he said as a way of trying to help the disabled team.
It wasn't the answer Sharon wanted, she still disagreed with his decision, "Sir, are you sure pulling my Lieutentants off this case is the best course of action?"
"Yes, Commander I think it is. Besides have you considered the possibility that maybe your fiancé wanted to settle a score? He's been riding a desk for months, he's one hangnail from retirement, you don't think he wants to finally put Croelick away? That he wouldn't go into cahoots with his good pal to get rid of one of his ex's" Pope lashed out, his voice growing as the words spilled out.
Sharon took a step back not expecting this sudden outburst from the Chief of Police. There was nothing to say, she nodded and walked out of his office. The hour had grown late and they had taken one step forward and three giant leaps back. Not only would she have to find a serial arsonist that has evaded conviction, hell even arrest, but she'd have to do it with one hand behind her back and a mask over her eyes. Justice may be blind, but she didn't have to find a killer like that.
This time she enjoyed the quiet, slow car ride back down to the 9th floor. She said a silent prayer as she stepped out of the elevator, pleading for patience and guidance. As she stood back into the murder room she immediately stopped when she saw Julio sitting at his desk, "How's Buzz?"
Julio looked up at her, "Uh, no change ma'am. Casey arrived about an hour ago. Her flight was delayed due to fog in Seattle. I stayed with her while the doctor stopped by. He's stable but still unconscious."
The team shared somber looks as they heard the information once more. Sharon nodded, "Okay," she whispered, "Okay." She took a moment to herself and turned towards the murder board and then back to the team, "Julio can you call down to missing persons and ask Robby to come up? Pope has approved his temporary reassignment to Major Crimes." Julio nodded, but looked at the three Lieutenants trying to figure out what he was missing, as he picked up his phone to follow her orders.
Before Sharon could say anything else Nolan and Amy returned to the murder room, "Anything," she asked already knowing the answer.
"Nothing ma'am," Amy answered for the pair.
"Okay," Sharon said trying to regroup, "Let's find out where our good friend Peter Goldman is and see if he knows anything about where his former client could be. She looked at her watch, it was late, "Go home, spend sometime with your family and then come back. We can pick this up in two hours." At this point eating and changing clothes wasn't going to change the outcome of this case, they didn't have anything to go on and what they did have was getting worse by the minute. All she could hope was that a hot shower and some dinner would give her some fresh eyes to come back and dive into this case.
Andy shooed Sharon down the hall when they got home, telling her to get in the shower first. He'd heat up leftovers for dinner. He would come back with her of course, but it was frustrating as hell to know that he couldn't assist with the investigation - nothing but listening in. He shook his head as he grabbed the plates and began dolling out the shrimp scampi from the previous night. The water was boiling to make some extra pasta, as he popped the leftovers into the microwave.
Sharon was grateful that Andy let her go first, she needed a minute to herself to just stand under the hot shower. The steam filled the bathroom and she felt herself fraying. She wasn't one to break, but all of this was definitely causing her edges to tater. After a few minutes she had to drag herself back out, knowing that they only had an hour before they had to get back to the squad room. Reluctantly she turned the water off and grabbed a towel to dry off. As she wrapped up her damp hair in the towel she felt her stomach grumble, she realized it had been hours since she last ate anything and now she was starving. She sighed, her doctor got on her case at her last appointment for not maintaining a regular eating schedule, these large gaps between meals let alone snacks were giving her some issues. She needed to be more mindful, careful even. Andy tried to help, putting granola into her purse and even giving her reminders, but it didn't always help. If she was stressed she didn't eat, couldn't really, and these two cases had been nothing but stressful. She took a deep breath for what felt like the millionth time that day, if she was honest with herself things were stressful before these cases. Planning a wedding at her age was not as much fun as she remembered. She pulled her robe on and walked back into her bedroom. She'd get dressed later, for now she settled on yoga pants and one of Andy's white undershirts. She toweled her hair and tossed the damp towel over the hamper, running her fingers through her hair before walking down the hall to the kitchen. Her stomach grumbling again at the smells of dinner nearly ready.
"Better?" Andy pressed a kiss to her forehead as he set her plate down at the table.
"A bit, yes, thank you," she said settling into her seat.
Andy took a moment to finish rinsing the dishes he used to make dinner, so she wouldn't have to deal with it while he took a shower, before taking his plate to the table to join her.
They ate in silence for several minutes. Andy kept glancing up at Sharon waiting for her to say something, but she didn't.
"So what did Morales have to say?" He asked a bit tentatively.
Sharon glared at him, he knew better than to ask. He was off the case, and to top it off they were home. She wanted just two minutes to not think about this mess, "I believe you're off the case if you recall."
Andy shrugged, "Yeah, but that doesn't mean I can't overhear details about the case. Besides whatever he said caused you to run out of there like a bat out of hell and you were gone for almost an hour."
Sharon debated about telling Andy about the photograph of Brenda. It would certainly cause his blood pressure to rise, and he'd immediately jump to conclusions. She stayed silent for another minute weighing the pros and cons.
"Geez Sharon, it isn't like I'm asking you to give up state secrets or anything? What's the big deal, it's not like I won't hear about it eventually," he grumbled and stared at her, "It isn't like I had anything to do with it you know."
She didn't know what to say to that, "I think we should postpone the wedding," she blurted out. Her eyes darted back and forth as her hand flew to her mouth. It wasn't what she was planning to say, well she didn't know what she was going to say but certainly that wasn't it.
"You what?" Andy barked.
Sharon stumbled as she tried to pull the words back into her mouth, "Andy, that's er—"
"Postpone the wedding? Why? And what does that have to do with Morales and this case?" His hands waved around as his face turned red.
"Nothing, it doesn't have to do with Morales or this case. It's just I think, that well, I've been thinking about the timing of it all, and —" she was still grasping for the right words to explain what just slipped out of her mouth.
"And what Sharon? You don't want to be married to me anymore or what?" He barked.
"Yes of course, I do Andy," she placed one of her hands on his trying to calm him down, "I love you, you know that."
"I do, but I can't understand what brought this on. How long have you been feeling like this Sharon?" He asked trying to take a few deep breaths to reign himself in.
"It just feels like it would be better if we waited, until after the baby is born, and for things to get settled," she stammered, not wanting to tell him just how long she's been thinking about postponing the ceremony. They had an appointment in a few weeks to get their license, it would be "legal" they could always have the church service and reception later.
"Sharon, sweetheart, there is always going to be something, nothing is ever settled around here if you haven't noticed," he said trying to give her some reassurances.
All she could do at this point was nod, he was right of course, but his words of comfort didn't seem to have their usual effect in reassuring her that all would be well. Andy looked at the clock, time was not on their side, as usual, he hated walking away from this conversation but they needed to get back.
"I'm going to take a shower, you finish up and we can talk about this some more later, okay?" He asked wanting her to look him in the eyes before he left, wanting to see for himself that she was okay, that they were going to be okay.
She looked up at him, "Okay," but the usual light in her eyes wasn't there. He took her on her word for the moment, knowing that this wasn't a feeling that she was going to let go of right away. He sighed and kissed her head before walking down the hall. He turned back and looked at her once more, her shoulders were slumped forward and her head was in her hands. There was definitely more to this than just the pending birth of their first granddaughter. Reluctantly he pulled himself away from staring at her and stepped into the bedroom, work came first.
"I can't wait for the day when I can say family comes first," he muttered to himself as he stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower.