Three weeks later Nick and Henry were headed toward Natalie’s last known address. The neighborhood she had lived in was clean and trim. There was no reflection of Sin City here. Nick navigated around children playing in the street, smiling at them as he passed. He glanced at Henry sitting in the passenger seat when he waved to the children. He smiled at Nick, and the C.S.I. laughed a little. Henry reminded him of a dog happy to go for a car ride.
Nick pulled up in front of a house and then turned to told Henry, “Wait here.”
Nick climbed out and walked around to the drive. He stopped, looking back at Henry. He was toying with his phone. Nick walked back and leaned on the door.
“Have you ever questioned someone in the field?” Nick asked.
“Watch but say nothing.”
Henry got out and followed Nick up the drive. At the front door, Nick tapped the doorbell. A few minutes later, Tristan, a preteen boy, opened the door. He had several spider bites on his arms and a Chilean Rose Tarantula on his head.
“That’s a beautiful Chilean Rose,” Henry complimented him.
Nick glanced at the lab rat, but didn’t comment on him breaking silence.
“Thanks. My mom’s not here,” Tristan told him.
“We’re here to speak to your father. Is he home?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know anything about spiders.”
“Why do you think we’re here to talk about spiders?”
He pointed at the C.S.I. on Nick’s vest. “When we lived in Missoula the police came all the time to talk to her about spiders. Sometimes bugs, but usually spiders. She knew a lot about them. But she was stolen by someone and she’s not coming home.”
The men were a little uncomfortable with Tristan referring to his mother as stolen. Nick was about to say something when Joseph Greer came to the door wiping yellow goo off a knife with a paper towel.
“Who is this, Tristan?” Joseph asked.
“They’re police who want to talk to you about spiders. I already told them you didn’t know anything and that mom was stolen.”
Joseph forced a smile but his eyes watered. He handed the knife to Tristan. “Why don’t you feed the tarantulas, Tristan? Not Olivia and Horton, though; they’ve been in bad moods all week.”
Tristan took the knife and disappeared inside the house. Joseph stepped onto the porch and shut the door.
“You’ve come to tell us Natalie is dead, haven’t you?” Joseph asked Nick and Henry.
“Why do you think that?” Nick asked.
“She worked with the police in Missoula and had to tell families their loved one had been found, dead. I know what it looks like.”
“A year ago you filed a missing person’s report for your wife. You stated that she and her friend Dana went to a movie premiere and then a backstage party on the night he disappeared.”
“Yeah. Dana talked her into it.”
“She didn’t want to go?”
“No. I don’t know what it was about that guy, but one day, out of the blue, Natalie hated him. She had nothing good to say about him and even burned all the DVDs we had that he was in. He is, uhm… His name is…” Joseph snapped his fingers a couple times, trying to force the memory. “I don’t remember. Anyway, Dana loved the guy so she went with her.”
“Why did you wait for a day to report Natalie missing?”
“I thought she had stayed at Dana’s. But when Dana called for her, that’s when I knew she was missing. She wouldn’t have gone anywhere else without calling first.”
“Did any of the people she helped convict ever threaten her?”
“Have any of the people you’ve convicted ever threatened you?”
Nick nodded. “Did anyone in particular stand out?”
“No one I knew about.”
“What does that mean?”
“While were in Missoula, she never told me about any problems, but after we moved here she told me a man stalked her in Missoula. She wasn’t easily scared, but she was really scared of this guy. Ever since she disappeared, I keep wandering if he did it.”
“Do you know his name?”
“She never told me. She said he was behind her and that’s where she wanted him to stay.”
Nick pulled a composite of Natalie from his pocket. The artist made her look like an average, healthy thirty-year-old.
Nick showed it to Joseph. “Is this your wife?”
Without hesitation, Joseph shook his head. “No. That’s not Natalie.”
Nick was confused. “Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. That’s not my wife.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Greer.”
Nick turned to leave.
“Mister Greer, do you have a photograph of your wife before she went missing?” Henry asked.
Nick turned back with a slight frown. Henry knew he wasn’t supposed to speak.
“Yeah,” Joseph said.
“The missing person report was missing the photo. Could we look at it?”
“Yeah. Wait here.” Joseph went back inside to get a photograph.
“What are you doing?” Nick hissed.
“I have a hunch,” Henry told him.
“You have a hunch? On what?”
“I think the composite isn’t how he remembers his wife. You asked David to give me a dermal patch found on her. Do you remember that?”
“It was a weight loss patch. I read her personnel files from Missoula P.D. I noticed her weight was 340 pounds. So I pulled up her Nevada driver’s license and it said 284 pounds.”
Nick couldn’t believe he’d breezed over that information but it would make sense why Joseph didn’t recognize his own wife. “If that’s true, I—”
He stopped talking when Joseph came back out. Nick took the photograph and held it next to the drawing with his thumb. Natalie was significantly obese in the photograph, but to his trained eye points on her face leapt out at him. Both the photograph and the composite were Natalie Greer, but now she was almost unrecognizable.
“Does this mean you found her or not?” Joseph asked, interrupting Nick’s thoughts.
“We don’t know yet. May I borrow this photo?”
“Thank you for your time, sir.”
Joseph went back inside.
Nick and Henry returned to the Denali. Nick pulled back onto the street and headed for the hospital. He glanced a couple times at Henry, who was watching the houses.
“Now, why did D.B. think you could help me communicate with Natalie?”
“You really don’t know?”
“No. Enlighten me.”
“Grissom taught me how to read lips.”
Nick didn’t get it right away. “You can read lips. Great. What—” Realization smacked Nick. “The ever wonderful and widening talents of Henry Andrews. You are quickly becoming my favorite lab tech on this case.”
As he walked into the room, the thought crossed Nick’s mind that Natalie looked like a breathing mummy. Her ashen skin had just a hint of color, but the Malathion cream spread over her body hid even that. It was a precaution for another seven days until Ian could confirm there wasn’t a scabie mite left on her.
The first three days after she arrived, Nick was called almost hourly – she was going to die, she was going to live, she had a heart palpitation, and the palpitation receded. Into the second day, Nick had determined that Death may be on Natalie’s doorstep, trying to the open the door, but she was determined to keep him out. By the sixth, she stabilized and Ian moved her into a regular ICU room, and the calls to Nick became routine updates.
This afternoon she was propped on her side to prevent bedsores. They formed rapidly on her skeletal body as it fought valiantly against invisible bacteria and pathogens hell bent on destroying it. Henry walked around to her other side where he’d be able to see her face.
Nick laid a light hand on her shoulder, and gave it a gentle shake. He called out, “Natalie.”
She opened her eyes and saw Henry first. The strange face made the heart monitor speed up and even though she was weak, she tried to pull away from him. Nick leaned over, watching her look up to focus on him. He smiled, laying his hand on her hair.
“Hey there, girl. Glad to see you’ve stuck around for another day.”
She didn’t respond because she couldn’t.
“This is Henry.” Nick motioned to Henry as he continued. “He’s a lab tech but among his many talents is he can read lips. So I was hoping we could talk to about what happened to you today. Do you feel up to it?”
Natalie looked back to Henry and he translated while she mouthed, “He’s pretty smart, isn’t he? Let’s keep him.”
Nick and Henry both chuckled. Was Henry as surprised as he was that she was joking? Natalie was a trove of surprises.
With a smile, Henry told her. “We’ll keep him for now.”
Nick sat down on the edge of her bed. He slid his hand under her hand and felt her try flexing her fingers around his hand. It made him smile. She may be a long way from physical healing, but mentally, she was healing much quicker.
“Can you tell me about the night you were kidnapped?” Nick asked.
Henry translated while she mouthed, “I don’t remember much anymore. Everything is.. Just pieces.”
“Tell me what you do remember.”
“I remember the premiere and Dana laughing. Then I was at a party. I met some famous people, but I can’t see faces. Then a limousine and the driver spoke Spanish. I woke up in a cell with five other women. We called the kidnapper John, but I don’t know why. He gave us water in dog bowls and sometimes he’d rape us. He kept saying that if we did a good job we would get bread. He rarely gave any of us bread. When a woman was going to disappear, he’d give her bread and potatoes for a while. Then he’d come in, put her in a red dress and pearls, and they’d leave. The woman never came back.”
“Did he bring in a new woman when he took one out?”
“Could you describe him to an artist?”
“No. His face is black.” Henry asked her, “He was African-American?” and then he translated, “No. Every time I think about him or try to see his face, it’s just empty and black.”
Nick got up and walked to the door. He was frustrated with this guy. Even with a live victim, the serial killer was able to hide his identity in her fear.
Henry watched Nick a minute before looking back at Natalie.
“I’m sorry,” Henry translated. “I’m sorry I can’t remember.” Natalie started to cry. “Nick,” Henry called.
Nick turned. He quickly came back to the bed and picked up her hand.
“Shhh, Natalie,” Nick told her. “This isn’t your fault. Don’t cry.”
“I want to help you,” Henry translated.
“You’re doing a good job of that.”
“You know, Natalie,” Henry told her, “When people suffer traumatic events, it’s normal for them to suffer amnesia. That’s how the human brain copes with what it can’t process. Nick and I both understand that. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
She tried to lift a shaky hand to wipe tears away. Henry quickly grabbed a tissue and did it for her. Nick always thought Henry was a little awkward and even immature when he was in strange situations. Today, however, if anyone asked Nick what he thought of the lab rat, he would proudly tell that person Henry had more value to the lab than just a lab rat. He knew just when to be that shoulder a victim needed to lean on.
“What about evidence?” she asked. “Didn’t you get any evidence?” She looked back at Nick.
He shook his head. “The rain destroyed it.”
“I remember the last time I was there. I remember that.”
“Tell us about it,” Nick urged.
“He started giving me bread and potatoes. I didn’t want to eat it, but I was so hungry. Then he came in, took off my dress, and put on the red dress and pearls. I knew he was going to kill me. He kept telling me I was very pretty this skinny and I should be happy. He made me get up and walk. It felt like I was walking on needles and my knees kept trying to buckle. Outside the room was another room like a dining room. There was a wall that had all these exotic pets. He sat me down at the table and told me I’d done a good job, so we were going to have a feast.”
“Done a good job? What did he mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“What happened next?”
“I was staring at the spiders because there was something familiar about them. I felt like I knew something about them, and I wanted so bad to remember something from my past. He noticed me staring and started telling me about them. Up a staircase, I heard someone knock on a door. He told me he was going to get our food and to wait. I remembered one of the spiders then. I remembered I spent a long time in a jungle somewhere studying it. I walked over to its terrarium and put my hand in with it. I kept waving my hand at it, trying to get it to bite me. It did.”
“Why did you want it to bite you?” Nick asked.
Henry spoke for her, “It was going to get me freedom or dying on my terms. Either way, I wasn’t letting him control me anymore.”
“This guy underestimated you, Natalie.”
She tried to smile.
“Your husband said you had a stalker in Missoula, someone you escaped when you moved to Las Vegas. Do you remember that person’s name or why you were afraid of them?”
“No, to both. I know it happened, but I can’t remember the guy’s first or last name.” Tears began falling again. “I don’t remember my husband or son’s names, either.”
Nick laid a hand on her arm. “That’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Your husband’s name is Joseph, and your son’s name is Tristan. They miss you. And as soon as we find who did this, and you’re safe, I’m going right over to your house to get them and bring them here. Deal?”
“Deal,” Henry repeated.
“Henry and I have to get back to finding this guy for you. I want you to get rest, and don’t go chasing that cute male nurse.”
“What about the doctor?”
Her humor was a surprise again and both men chuckled.
“Ian’s wife will only share when she’s mad at him.” Nick picked up her hand and smiled when her fingers ever so slightly squeezed his. “Get some rest, Natalie. I’ll be back in the morning to see how you slept.”
The two left.