“Hodges,” Sara said.
He turned, watching her come through the opposite door.
“I’m off to an interview with Dean Nolan’s parents. When I’m done, you’re going to the Nolan house with me. We need to go back and see if anything can tell us where Alice Nolan might be.”
Hodges stood up. “W-We? You and me? Why me?”
Her cell phone beeped to alert her to a text message. She read it and headed for the door.
“Because Nick can’t and I want a fresh pair of eyes.”
“What about Ray?” Hodges asked.
She stopped, looking back at him. “He’s working the Mindy Bimms case. For Wendy. Remember?”
“Greg is gone until next Monday. It’s either you or Wendy. What’s it going to be? And you know what shape she’s in right now.”
Hodges mouthed a few replies. “Text me when we’re leaving.”
She left. Hodges turned back to his work with a heavy sigh. Oh, the things he did for love!
Sara left the interview room with the Nolan’s following her. Derek Nolan was a short, rotund, balding man. He looked a lot like Danny Devito. He wore the world’s ugliest suit, and mentioned he was a plastic surgeon. His wife, Monica Nolan, was a fake blond with lots of jewelry. She wore tight clothes that no woman her age should wear and a shirt cut low to show off her husband’s handiwork.
They turned at the corner and headed down the hall.
“When can we see our son?” Monica asked. She had a strong South Carolina accent that accentuated words that didn’t need accentuated.
“Are you okay identifying the body tonight?” Sara asked.
“Yes,” the couple answered.
Down the hall, Catherine and a lab tech came around the corner. Catherine looked down the hall at Sara and the Nolan’s. Sara saw her, but didn’t say anything. Suddenly Catherine stopped walking and looked to her left. Sara’s eyes followed.
Nick was standing near the window, reading printouts. He was oblivious to anything else. Sara suddenly stopped in front of the two.
“You know… Let’s go this way,” she said, motioning down the hall. “I forgot they’re cleaning down here.”
The couple turned and for a moment, Sara thought disaster was avoided.
Then Monica stopped.
Sara and Derek both looked at her. She stared at her husband with wide eyes as color faded from her face.
“Ma’am?” Sara said.
She slowly turned and stared at Nick.
“Honey?” Derek said with a mellow South Carolina drawl. He hadn’t seen Nick yet.
Monica didn’t move or take her eyes off the man that could have been her son.
“Who…” Monica couldn’t get past that word.
Derek looked down the hall at Catherine. She started toward them, preparing for the worst. The seconds before Derek would see Nick drug out. He finally saw Nick.
Nick saw Catherine pass and then he noticed Sara and the Nolans. The minute he locked eyes with Derek, the man screamed.
And then fainted.
If anyone had walked into Catherine’s office, there was no way they could have ignored the tension.
The Nolan’s sat on the couch close to one another, their hands tightly wound around each other’s, and stared at Nick. He was considerably more relaxed but stared back at the couple.
The door opened and Catherine came in with a gel icepack. She jiggled it some more, making sure she’d activated it all the way through, and handed it to Derek. He took it and pressed it against the bruise on his head, but didn’t take his eyes off Nick.
“He was looking for you,” Derek said.
Nick nodded. “From what was found in the basement of his house, I gathered that.”
“No…” Monica said, shaking her head. “I don’t think you understand… What is your name?”
“Nick? Or Nicholas? Nicholas Parker?” She looked hopeful. Should he be too?
“Nicholas Parker Stokes.”
She smiled. Her face was too old or had too much plastic in it to show how real the smile was.
“When we adopted Dean his name was Parker Nicholas.”
“Why did you separate us?”
“Oh… Oh, child, you think we separated you three? Oh sweet angel, we would never have done that if it had been you three, but it wasn’t. We were Dean and Patricia third mama and papa, you weren’t with them. Oh sweet angel, but if you had been, there is no doubt in my heart we’d have snapped up all three of you.” She smiled from memory. “It was the way Dean looked at me that just stole my heart. I bet you had that same look too, being twins and all. He was only two but he looked like he knew every secret in the world.”
“My mom said something like that about me. Dean has a sister too?”
“Yes. Patricia. We kept her name because she was older and wanted to keep it. She’s your sister too, Nick, not just Dean’s.”
“And you are their third parents?”
Catherine’s desk phone rang. She answered it and had a very quiet conversation with the caller. She hung up and left her office.
“You said I didn’t understand before when I said I knew he was looking for me. What did you mean?”
“Dean found out he and his sister were adopted by accident. When he was seventeen he decided he was going to get his driver’s license come hell or high water.” She smiled. “Well… We kept all his paperwork together and it had his original birth certificate. We wanted to tell him after graduation so he’d stay focused on school, but there was no going back. Dean was sort of…”
“A flake,” Derek said. He smiled a little. “That sounds mean, but it’s not. He didn’t want anything to do with sports, loved reading, and could do any math in his head. But he was also a dreamer. He was always trying to invent things, most things never worked, but the ideas were good.”
“We would have gotten along, it sounds like,” Nick said. “So what happened when he found out?”
Monica shook her head a little before answering. “He decided we wasn’t his family and left to go find his family. That didn’t turn out so well. He came back and got his GED. But he never stopped looking for his family. Then…” She shook her head. Tears started welling up. “Then Dean was diagnosed with cancer of the liver about two years ago. The doctor gave him five years. He became single minded on finding his family. He went to Austin and finally found papers about you three’s birth mother. He tracked down someone related to you – your pa – and tried to connect with you.”
“Dean screwed it up, though,” Derek said. “He wasn’t always the most sensible person you could know.”
“Derek, he didn’t mean to,” Monica said.
“He screwed it up.”
“He could have handled it better, sure, but he meant well.”
Nick interrupted the argument. “How did he mess things up?”
“He asked for money,” Derek answered.
“From my dad?” Nick didn’t hide how ludicrous it had been for Dean to ask his father for help.
Derek nodded. “He’d spent all he had to get to Austin, get the paperwork, and then find your pa. He found out you were in Las Vegas and he needed to get there. We didn’t have it at the time, so he asked your pa.”
“How did he finally get to Las Vegas? I’m sure my dad didn’t help him.”
“No. His sister ended up helping him. She’s a lawyer, and the two of them were never really were close, but she helped him get here. Said that’s all she would do. She wasn’t helping him find you. She was never interested in finding her biological family, said she was happy with the family she had.”
“So Dean and Patricia didn’t get along?”
“Well, not like your question implies, no,” Monica answered. “They were brother and sister. They had their differences. But she loved her little brother. That’s why she helped him get here.”
“Did either of you ever meet his wife?”
“Alice. Not directly. We only spoke to her on the phone a few times. We never ventured out here to see either of our children. They always came home to see us. At least Patty did.”
Nick got up and retrieved a small notepad and pen from Catherine’s desk. “Could I get Patricia’s address and phone number?”
The two fell silent. They almost looked ashamed.
“You two don’t know where she lives, do you?”
“Like my wife said,” Derek told her. “We never ventured out here to see them. We have emails addresses and phone numbers. That’s all.”
“That will be enough. Do you know if Dean had any enemies?”
Derek and Monica shook their heads.
“Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt your son?”
They shook their heads.
The door opened and Catherine stepped in. Following her was Nick’s mother, Jillian. Nick rose, staring at her. She glanced at the Nolan’s before looking at Nick.
“What are you doing here, mom?”
“This is your mama?” Monica stood up, smiling as best as her plastic face allowed. She held out her hand. “Oh it’s so wonderful to meet you.”
Jillian shook the hand, but was quick to pull away. She moved closer to Nick when Derek stood.
“Miss,” he said with a single nod.
“Do you mind identifying Dean now?” Catherine asked the couple.
“Yes. I’d like to see my son,” Monica said. She stepped up to Nick.
From the corner of his eye, he saw his mother’s face tense. She didn’t like this woman being so close to her baby boy. Monica took his hand in her hand.
“Do you want to know more about Dean, Nick?”
Nick nodded. For the case, he told himself.
“Let’s plan on sitting down to some lunch tomorrow. Would that work? I can call you.” She let go to start digging in her purse.
“We should meet here. The case is still pending and anything else we talk about Sara or Catherine need to be present.”
“But lunch would be a good—”
“Monica,” Derek interrupted, “he’s a policeman. We have to keep this professional, honey.”
“Oh. Of course. I’m sorry. I look at your face and…” Tears started welling up again. “I’m sorry.” She waved her hand in front of her face and rushed out.
Derek and Nick shook hands, and then Derek followed his wife and Catherine out of the office.
Jillian walked over to a chair and sat down, hugging her purse. Nick sat back down in his chair but he didn’t look at his mother.
“I need you to leave, mom.”
She stared at him. “You weren’t exactly a baby when we adopted you. You were two years old and just learning to talk.”
“Mom…” Nick closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I really need you to—”
“You called him Datrick and your sister Atty. You couldn’t pronounce the P.” She reached in her purse and pulled out a small blue teddy bear. She held it out to him. “This was all that we saved from the things you had. After a year you called it Datrick and then, one day, you just stopped.”
Nick took the teddy bear, looking at its face.
“I don’t remember any of that.”
“I didn’t think you would. I just want you to know that if we could have adopted all three of you, we would have. We would have loved them too.”
Nick didn’t speak. She laid her hand on him and he resisted recoiling. This was his mother. He couldn’t offend her like that. She deserved some respect, despite the lie. That thought made him pull his arm away.
“You and dad lied to me, to all of us kids. You should have told us.”
“There wasn’t any point, Nick. And—”
He looked at her. “Yes. There was a point. You don’t lie to your children.”
“We never lied. We just didn’t tell you. You never asked.”
Nick snarled, “That may work in court, mother, but in families, you know damn well that’s bullshit.”
“Don’t speak like that to me!”
Nick stood up, clutching the teddy bear. “Go home. When I’m ready to speak to both of you again, I will.”
Her anger dissolved. “And how long will that be?”
“I don’t know, mom! You’ve never lied to me about something this big before! Or hid it or not told me or whatever you want to tell yourself.”
She sighed, looking somewhere else in the room. She stood, sliding her purse on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Nicholas. I—”
“Stop it,” Nick snapped.
She looked up at him.
“You don’t have any right to make me feel guilty, mother. You told us never to lie, and then you turned around and told all of us kids a huge lie about me. I won’t feel guilty because you were a hypocrite.”
“Is your life so bad because you didn’t know?”
“No.” Nick found a smile. “I love my life, mom. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. But I should have known I was adopted before, by an act of God, my murdered twin ended up in my morgue and I had to find out the truth through a DNA test. Do you have any idea how I feel? Any at all?”
A soft “No” escaped.
“I don’t know if I should have feelings or not. He and I came from the same egg. We had the same birth mother. And he was looking for me. His parents said he asked dad for the money so he could get to Las Vegas to find me. Dad left that part out. As usual.”
“Your father was just trying to protect you.”
“Mother! When am I old enough that I don’t need you and dad’s protection anymore?”
They stared at each other. She stepped forward and lifted a cautious hand up, pressing it against his cheek.
“We always want to protect you, Nicholas. You’re our son. That’s why we never wanted you to leave.”
He held her hand to his cheek for a moment, and then pulled it away. “I appreciate the sentiment, mom, but that’s exactly why I left Texas. Everyone in the family was always trying to do what was best for me. I couldn’t take it anymore. And now, I need you to go back to Texas and let me find my own way through this.”
She nodded. “Before I go, could I see him?”
“I just want to see him.”
Nick felt suddenly defensive. He felt like Dean was his – if one could own the body of a man they never knew. He didn’t really want to share this with his family.
“It’s against policy. I can’t—”
“Please let me see him, Nick. I know you can.”
Nick looked at the teddy bear in his hands. He drew a deep breath, letting the moment hang while he tried to figure out why he didn’t want his mother to see Dean. He turned and walked to the door. He stopped at the door and opened it for her.
“No. I am not ready to share this with you or the rest of the family.”
“Nicholas, I just—”
“Mother, I am not arguing with you! You lied to me. You and dad both lied to me, and I have not come to terms with that, let alone a family I just discovered I had! This is overwhelming, mother.”
The two stared at one another.
“I’m angry with you, mom, and I need you to go home. Please. Go home.”
She looked around the office. Was she looking for something that might help her win her argument to stay? Jillian walked up to him, rose up on her toes, and kissed his cheek.
“I’ve always loved you, Nicholas. You’ll always be my son.”
She walked out of the office. Nick inhaled a deep breath and let it out. He walked over to the couch and sat down on it, sinking down as far as it allowed him. He stared at the bear, wishing he could remember that far back and even what it was like to be with his twin brother and biological sister.
His cell phone alerted him of an incoming text message. He looked at the screen and flew off the couch.