A Twist of Fate
Lupe Perez had enjoyed plants since he was a child in Chile. He
seemed to have a magic touch that made them thrive. It was the reason Mister
Garcia had hired him without proof of citizenship, had allowed him to move into
the small single room trailer at the back of the nursery, and helped him get his
green card. Since Lupe had come to Painted Desert Nursery, the tree groves
under his care flourished. Even the sickly little saplings at the edge of the
property had become lush and green.
One of his secrets was to go out at night and sing ancient songs while he sprayed the trees with a supplement his great-grandfather had passed down. He made the spray from plants that used to found outside of Lupe’s jungle village – the jungle, the village, and his family had long ago disappeared. Garcia never asked why Lupe ordered the ingredients, and was willing to pay the price to have them shipped to America.
With over six acres of trees, it took Lupe a month of nights to cover one end to the other. He was always amused at how much the trees changed in that month. Lupe stopped singing when he noticed a mark on one of the trees. He stopped the sprayer and hung it on the hook from his backpack canister. Lupe pulled off his flashlight and shined it on the tree. Something had brushed against the tree so hard it peeled back some of the soft bark. Lupe reached out, touching the wound. He muttered his sympathies to the tree, patting it.
He heard a strange noise and fell silent to listen. He’d heard this noise before, but the memory was old and buried. He turned, shining his flashlight through the darkness. The light beam flashed across something moving on the ground and he slowly swung it back. At the edge of the grove, where a service road ran by the trees, the ground was moving.
He walked toward the area, watching the ground. It was up heaved and disturbed as if someone had dug it up. He noticed two PVC lying discarded on the ground. He hadn’t put those there and Garcia would have told him if there had been work on the drip system that watered the trees. Lupe winced when something stun his ankle. He shined the light down and his breath whisked away. The ground was moving with millions of ants. They covered his feet and were moving up his leg. He started panicking, smacking at his legs as he tried to get away. He stumbled over one of the PVC pipes and fell into the ants.
The ants quickly covered him, injecting venom with each stinging bite. Lupe struggled to his feet and ran screaming into the desert. He fell and began to roll, trying to get the ants off. But the insects that had outlived the dinosaurs were undeterred by the man’s attempt to save himself.
As soon as Greg pulled up to the storage unit building, he knew right away that there was something about this case he was going to hate. Brass was waiting at the entrance of the storage unit building with a large, far-too-happy grin. Brass only smiled like that when he knew the C.S.I. was going to hate the crime scene.
Greg climbed out of his Denali and walked up to him.
“What? What is it?”
Brass’s smile grew. He turned and led Greg.
“The storage manager called it in. That’s him over there.” Brass pointed at a nerdy looking man talking with another officer.
Greg and Brass entered the building, walking down a hall toward an officer guarding an open storage unit.
“He was going to rent this unit today. He and the renter-to-be came in, he opened the door, and found the body. He thought the smell he had was coming from one of the other units, so imagine his surprise.”
The two stopped at the open door and Greg stared.
The body – or at least what he thought was a body – sat on a chair in the center of the unit. It was covered with a black substance and feathers.
Greg sat his kit down and pulled latex gloves out of his pocket. He looked up at Brass, who still wore that irritating smile.
“You’re enjoying this too much.”
Brass shrugged. “I have to find amusement where I can. You always seem to provide me with an ample supply.”
Greg sighed, grabbing his kit. He walked up to the body and timidly poked a finger at it. He pulled his hand back and strings of the black stuff clung to his glove. The further he pulled his hand back, the longer the string from the body to his glove grew. He shook his hand and the strings danced with the movement. He yanked his hand back and that only made the strings longer.
“UGH!” Greg growled.
With his other glove, he pulled off his glove and the substance stuck to his other glove. He dropped them on the floor and backed up next to Brass.
“So… Ace… How are you going to tackle this one?” Brass asked, still grinning.
Greg had no idea.
Nick stood at the edge of a grave, staring down into it with his camera clutched in one hand. The bottom was alive with fire ants. Survival was all they knew, and that meant eating everything that got in their way. Once, in a past he couldn’t forget, that had even meant him.
“Nick,” Catherine’s voice said. It almost sounded like it came from the grave. “Hey, Nicky.”
Nick looked at her. She stared at him with open concern.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“You seem distracted.”
“Just working the crime scene. What’s up?”
“Did you remember to bring your Epi tonight?”
Nick patted the vest pocket the epinephrine filled Epipens were stored.
“Just checking. Don’t go near that box until they clear it, okay? I’ll be over with the other body if you need me.”
She grabbed his arm, digging her fingers into him. “Nick, don’t you dare go macho on me. If you run into problems, get out of here, use your Epi, and call me. Got it? Your allergy isn’t something to mess with tonight.”
“No macho, macho man. Got it.”
She chuckled as she walked away. Nick watched her go. She hadn’t wanted him to take this case because of his allergy. He argued back that a few fire ants would not be the death of him. He knew hazmat would kill them before they’d let him near the body.
Nick crouched down, looking at the soil sitting to the left of the grave. Hazmat had been careful to dig it up and put it aside for him, but not so careful digging up the rest of the dirt and piling it to the right. He glanced at the three men around the closed wood box. They were fending off the flow of fire ants coming from the two holes in the box, most likely where the two 4-inch PVC pipes that lay nearby had fitted in. But why had they been fitted into the box? What purpose had they served in this crime?
Nick came to another realization. All these fire ants and no visible mound. That didn’t make much sense either. He pulled his Maglight off his belt and began searching for the mound.
“The coffin’s clear,” a hazmat man called out to him.
Nick turned, walking back to them.
The man told him, “There’s a few still squirming, so be careful reaching in. An exterminator is coming with some more powerful stuff to deal with the ones in the grave.”
“Thanks,” Nick told him.
The three men started up the road to their truck. Nick walked over to the box and began photographing.
In darkness, the dead man sat alone. The silence he sat in made it easy to hear the faint sound of footsteps crunching gravel approaching overhead. Overhead there was a loud scraping and then light burst into the darkness. More sounds could be heard now – the sharp, distinct notes of a morning bird, a couple dogs barking, somewhere in the distance a rooster crowed and there was the soft lowing of cows asking to be fed. Almost sixty feet above four faces were silhouetted against a sky full of colors – Warrick, coroner David, State Patrolman Kevin Shoemaker, and Farmer Dell. They stared at the mummified corpse sitting at the bottom of the dry well. Like the sides of the well, it covered with limestone residue that has leached through the walls of the well with water and solidified as the water evaporated.
“See. I gotta mummy in my well,” Farmer Dell told them.
Warrick, David, and the Patrolman Shoemaker looked at him. The old farmer chewed on the end of his toothpick, staring at the corpse at the bottom.
Warrick moved his flashlight and it glinted across residue on the skin of the body.
“That’s not a mummy,” Warrick told Farmer Dell.
“Looks like one.”
Warrick didn’t argue that it wasn’t a mummy.
“We’ll have to see what created it,” Warrick commented. “David, see if you can get us a biohazard bag for transport, or it’ll fall apart once we get it out of there.”
David trotted off toward the coroner’s van.
“I don’t care if you carry him out in pieces. I want him out of my well!”
“Even if we remove him, the well is still considered a crime scene until I can clear it,” Warrick told him.
“I want my well back and I want it back pronto. Can your nigger ears understand that?”
Warrick and Patrolman Shoemaker both looked up at Farmer Dell. He didn’t show any remorse for his racial slur.
“Yeah. I heard you,” Warrick snapped.
“Wow…” Patrolman Shoemaker watched the old man walk away, quietly adding, “Some people are just out of date!”
Warrick leaned over, bracing a hand against one knee. He saw something else at the bottom of the well.
“Is that money?”
Patrolman Shoemaker leaned over, bracing his hands on his knees.
“Sure looks like money.”
Warrick stood up. “Great!”
“I’m not all too excited about going into a small hole in the ground.”
Patrolman Shoemaker smiled, patting him solidly on the shoulder. “Ain’t it great being a C.S.I.? You get all the fun jobs.”
Warrick smiled. “Yeah. Right.”
The two headed back to their vehicles.