Nick slowed to a stop in the reception area, staring at the zoo. Dozens of people were talking to the officer at the reception desk. The man was doing his best to calm them down. He spotted Nick and pointed at him.
“This is C.S.I. Nick Stokes. He’s the one that sent out the composites; he’s the one you need to talk to.”
The room went silent. All eyes turned to him. The moment gave Nick a new appreciation of how a rabbit must feel moments before a pack of wolves pounced on it.
The voices started up again and the people swarmed around him. Most were speaking in English, two were speaking Spanish, one might have been speaking in Dutch – Nick couldn’t tell. All of them were waving photographs and newspaper clippings at him. It was all white noise to Nick. He reached out and snatched a photograph and clipping from a man.
The composite he’d re-circulated with the added weight was nearly identical to the woman in the photograph. Nick’s heart felt like it was shattering. His girls; his poor, poor girls. Why did his theory about their deaths have to be right?
Nick sat down at the interview table, across from Mr. and Mrs. Price. They were a hefty couple, just as their daughter had been.
“Can I get you anything?” Nick offered.
They solemnly shook their heads. He motioned at the digital tape recorder he had sitting on the table.
“Do you mind if I tape this conversation?”
Another head shake from both. Nick pushed record and set it aside. He’d rushed Wendy off to gather his case files on the women and dug one out. He flipped it open, and then held his hand out.
“May I see her photograph?”
Mrs. Price handed it over. Nick took it, staring at the smiling face of a woman with flushed, round cheeks. She was waving away the photographer. She looked happy. Nick sat it down next to the composite in the case file and looked up.
“What is your daughter’s name?” Nick asked.
Nick noted that on a pad of paper. Red Jane Four had her name back.
“Tell me about the day Melissa disappeared.”
Mr. Price answered, “It was a year ago.” He began crying. “I’m sorry.”
His wife continued. “She always came over for dinner on Friday nights. She stopped by that night and said she’d won tickets to a benefit dinner at the convention center.”
“Did she seem okay? Was she acting normal? Was there anything out of the ordinary?”
“No. She was excited. Her favorite actor was going to be there.”
Nick hesitated. The couple didn’t seem to notice.
“Her favorite actor?”
“Yes. Jonathan Massie. She’s been a fan of his since she was a teenager.” Mrs. Price smiled. “She was hoping to meet him that night.”
Nick didn’t return the smile. “Can you give me a description of her car? If it was left at the convention center, we may have it in impounded. I’d like to see if there’s any evidence in it.”
Mr. Price gave him the information and then asked, “Who would have wanted to kill our little girl? She never hurt anyone. Why would someone do this to her?”
“I don’t know,” Nick lied.
Texas Ranger, Robert Lopez, shaded his eyes as a helicopter landed nearby. The doors opened and Morgan climbed out with two Sheriff Deputies. One of the deputies’ pointed at Lopez and the two run off toward a group of deputies getting into a pick up. Morgan headed toward Lopez as the helicopter lifted off again.
Morgan extended her hand and Lopez shook it.
“Morgan Brody, Las Vegas Crime Lab. Thank you for letting us collaborate on this investigation.”
“Robert Lopez, but you can call me Bob. No one said I’d be working with a sexy Las Vegas C.S.I. I’m working in the wrong state!”
Morgan accepted his flirting with a smile.
Lopez walked over to a jeep and opened the door for her. He helped her in and then climbed in behind the wheel. They headed off across the pasture toward a line of bluffs.
“We’re at twelve bodies and counting. Our M.E. was able to determine three victims were starved to death, but the others are inconclusive - they were in the ground too long. If Nick hadn’t sicced us on this place, we never would have known that crazy actor had done this to these poor girls.”
“He mentioned you two know each other.”
“Nick and I were getting into playground fights with bullies when we were seven. We lost a lot, but we liked the fight so we kept getting into them.”
Morgan liked this man. “That sounds like Nick.”
Heidi Vasquez and Tom Joaquin sat with Nick in chairs in the hall. They were the last people to tell him the story of their lost loved one.
“Do you mind if I record this conversation?” Nick asked.
Both shook their head. He started the recorder and sat it on the floor. Nick held his hand out for the composite and photograph Tom held. The woman had been a large Latino woman and were nearly identical. Nick stared at the photograph for several minutes. She had been the first victim, the one that began seven years of Jonathan Massie’s killing spree in Nevada. Nick wished she hadn’t been, however. He wished she were still alive and smiling in a newer photograph.
Nick cleared his throat and began. “You said this is your mother, and her name is Anita Joaquin?”
Red Jane One now had an identity. That just left Red Jane Three and Red Jane Five unidentified.
“She’s the only one that there wasn’t a missing person’s report filed for. Why didn’t you file one?” Nick asked
“Mother would always go back to our father in Mexico for a few weeks or a few months. They would get into a fight, he’d beat her up, and she’d come back to America. We filed the missing persons there. We also thought he’d killed her but have you ever tried to get the authorities in Mexico City to help you?”
Nick shook his head.
“It was pretty rare for them to even return calls, let alone take the accusation seriously.”
“She never told you she was leaving?”
“Sometimes,” Heidi said. “It just depended on when she left. And since our father never answers our calls, we had no idea she wasn’t there.”
“Was she acting any different the last time you saw her?” Nick asked.
Tom told him. “A few weeks before she disappeared, she met a man. They became close friends. He told her not to go back to our father. I stopped by two days before she disappeared to pick up my kids and she was on the phone with our father. She told him she wanted a divorce. Two days later, she was gone.” He looked down, trying to hide his tears.
“Was she dating this other man?”
“No,” Heidi answered. “They were just friends.”
“What was his name?”
Nick wanted to run to his office, call Judge Jameson, and demand an arrest warrant. Instead, he swallowed and asked, “Jonathan Massie? The actor?”
“Yeah. How did you know that?”
In a flat voice, he told the brother and sister, “He’s a very friendly person.
Aerial photographs of seven properties were spread across the light table – including the Kentucky and Texas properties. Greg held several pages in his hands and Finlay hovered over the Texas aerial photographs with a red wax pencil.
“Number seventeen,” Greg read off. “Viola Grant. Missing since August 14, 1994.”
Finlay started writing. She paused when Nick walked in and sat down on a stool with a tired sigh. She finished writing.
He nodded. “America’s sweetheart humanitarian actor was around or had contact with every Red Jane.”
“I heard Morgan matched the DNA from some scabie mites found on the bodies in Texas.”
Nick joined her at the table. “Yes. I finally got a judge to issue a warrant to arrest Massie and search his property. I’m just waiting for that. Is this the Texas ranch?”
“Yeah. Thirty-six chimpanzees and nineteen human remains – all female – were buried on the property.”
Brass walked into the room holding up two pieces of paper. “This paper lets us search Jonathan Massie’s property.” He gave the appropriate paper a little jiggle. “And this paper here, this is the best one. It lets us arrest him.” Brass smiled. “Who wants to go turn America’s sweetheart into public enemy number one?”
The C.S.I. follow him out.