The drive up to the main house was bordered with healthy grape vines infested with workers tending them. Nick sat behind the passenger seat of Russell’s Denali, watching the workers try to hide their interest. Had they been part of hiding what Jonathan Massie was doing?
Ahead Brass was leading the C.S.I. Denali and three police cars. They pulled up to the front as Jonathan and his lawyer, Lehman, came out of the house. Everyone got out, but the officer from the front car and Brass were the only ones to approach them.
“Jonathan Massie?” Brass asked.
“We have a warrant to search your property and arrest you on six counts of murder.”
Lehman held out his hand for the warrants. Brass handed the papers over and he read both. He sighed, glaring at Brass.
“We have to let them and you have to go with them, Jonathan.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” Jonathan protested. He looked past Brass and pointed. “You’re behind this, aren’t you? What exactly do you have against me? I never met you until you came into the casino!”
Brass looked over his shoulder at Nick and the C.S.I. waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Nick crossed his arms, refusing to give Jonathan the pleasure of a fight. Because Russell stood behind him, he didn’t see how proud that choice made his supervisor.
“How many did you claim I murdered?” he asked Nick.
Nick was unabashed by Jonathan’s claim of innocence. The officer walked up and took Jonathan’s arm. “Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
Jonathan yanked his arm away, making the C.S.I. and police officer lay their hands on their weapons.
Secretly Nick prayed, “Please, please, God, if you have any sense of justice, make him do something that would give me a reason to fill him with lead. For my girls. For Natalie.”
Jonathan looked around him, his eyes coming back to Nick. In that instant, Nick knew his prayer wouldn’t be answered. The killer knew he had lost, and he had no desire to die. Jonathan didn’t get in a rush as he turned and put his hands behind his back. The officer handcuffed him and they headed to his car.
“You and everyone else on the property need to vacate,” Brass told Lehman.
Lehman went back inside with Brass and an officer.
“Why don’t you and Greg start on the perimeter?” Russell suggested. “I doubt he kept them inside his house.”
Greg and Nick headed off to search for anything incriminating.
Russell walked into Jonathan’s bedroom, looking around the room. He sat his kit by the door and switched on his Maglite. He began a methodical search of the room. Nothing screamed serial killer – at least not right away. Finished with the bedroom and bathroom, he opened the doors of the walk-in closet. Nothing looked out of place or hinted to homicidal tendencies. Russell started to turn when he noticed a light breeze ruffle a few shirts. He turned, looking for the source and noticed a vent over a space on the wall with no shelves. He rapped his fingers on the wall in several places and discovered a spot that sounded hollow. He shone his flashlight along the wall until he discovered a seam for a hidden door. With some tinkering, he figured out the secret to opening it.
Russell stepped into a macabre shrine. Hanging on the wall were framed photographs of starving women on the verge of death - reminiscent of WWII concentration photographs of prisoners in their bunkhouses. Each frame had a gold plate with a name on it. Opposite of that hung a row of identical red silk dresses. Next to them were sloped helves with black velvet boxes. Russell opened one of the boxes, revealing a pearl necklace.
“Bingo,” Russell told the jewelry, “your hunch was on the nose, Nicholas.” Russell let out a sigh of relief. Nick made him proud today.
An old stone storeroom confronted Nick and Greg when they came out of the rows of grapes. A shiny, large padlock hung on the door, as if to taunt them this was the end of the line.
“We’ll have to go back and get—”
Greg didn’t get to finish. Nick drew his gun and shot off the lock. Nick wasn’t about to let a lock stop him from finding the women he knew Jonathan had hidden somewhere on this property.
“Or we could just shoot it,” Greg said. “Never mind it’s evidence… Fingerprints and all.”
“Whine on your own time, Greg,” Nick told him.
He pulled off the lock and pushed the door open. A breath of cool air greeted them, but they couldn’t see inside the darkness. He saw a light switch by the door and flicked it. Dim light bulbs ran in two rows down the building, but the light barely penetrated the darkness.
Nick pulled his Maglite off his belt. With caution and his gun drawn, Nick entered the building. Greg stayed behind him, checking left and right as they walked. They started down a wide aisle lined with floor to ceiling wooden barrels.
“Must be where the wine ferments,” Greg said.
They were nearly to the end when Nick spotted a door behind two barrels. He walked between them and stopped. The door had two sliding locks and a New York lock on the outside – it was meant to keep things in. Nick pushed the bar aside and slid the locks back. He took a moment to drape a rubber glove over the door handle before he twisted it open and slowly pulled back. Too many weekends of horror movies made him expect something dead but alive to jump out at him, but nothing did. What did great him was the soft sound of someone singing and a curving staircase.
“Call for the paramedics,” Nick ordered.
“You think they’re down there?”
“I bet my life on it.”
Greg ran back to make the call.
With his gun gripped tightly in his hand, Nick started a slow descent.
The stairs opened into a richly decorated dining room. Along one wall were exotic pets, including a collection of spiders. The singing was coming from a parrot as it imitated someone it had once heard, or who had trained to sing. Nick passed the animals to the door on the far end. He reached for the door handle. Nick braced himself as he pulled the door open. He was immediately hit by the smell of sickness and decay. He flipped the light switch next to the door, illuminating a horrific sight.
Six of eight dungeon-like cells imprisoned a woman at varying stages of starvation. The worst of the two lay listless on the cold stone floor, staring at nothing. The others watched him with wide, terrified eyes. Among them was the teenager Jonathan signed the autograph for at the casino. They all wore dingy, worn cotton gowns that were a size too small for each of them, leaving them exposed to Jonathan’s whims. They all had the rash-looking wounds from a scabie infection.
Nick took a step into the prison. A hand grabbed his shoulder and he turned, prepared to fight. Russell pulled him back.
“Not without a suit, Nick. Go get one on.”
Two paramedics and a CDC doctor in Hazmat suits pushed past them. The room quickly swarmed with more people coming to help the women.
Nick went back up to get a HAZMAT suit.
Russell walked over to a chair and sat down. He shook his head, perplexed by how anyone could do this to any living thing.