Carrying a piece of rolled up carpet and the bag of stickers, Nick hurried through the halls on the hunt for Henry. He had to talk to him before he joined the search for Greg. He breezed past Russell’s office.
“Nicholas Parker Stokes,” Russell’s voice thundered behind him.
Surprised to hear his full name said in such an angry tone, Nick spun around so fast he almost fell. The loud boom of his full name also surprised people in nearby labs and many looked up to watch. Russell stood at the door of his office.
“A word.” Russell stepped back, motioning into his office.
Nick hesitated. His instincts told him something was very wrong and he was about to get his head handed to him on a plate. But it wasn’t like he could run away, not with Russell staring right at him, expecting him to obey.
Nick slowly entered the room. He watched Russell shut the door too slowly, and then he walked past him and around his desk. He slowly sat, staring at Nick with a disapproving glare.
“Have a seat, Nicholas,” Russell said with a clenched jaw.
Nick slowly found the edge of a chair in front of the desk.
“I get the feeling that you’re angry with me about something?” Nick quietly asked.
“How very perceptive, Nicholas.” Nick wanted to cringe each time Russell used his legal name. “Do you know what I expect from my senior level 3 C.S.I., Nicholas?”
Nick paused. Was this a trick question? “Uhm, ah… great work ethic, closing cases efficiently and quickly, and a positive attitude?”
Coolly, Russell bit back, “No, Nicholas.”
The cold response unnerved Nick even more. He hugged the rug to him as if it could somehow protect him from the abnormal situation. Silence followed and Nick realized Russell was expecting him to make the next move.
Nick’s voice wasn’t quite a whisper when he asked, “What, uhm, what do you expect, D.B.?”
“I am so glad you asked. I expect my senior level 3 C.S.I. to set a good example for the rest of the lab. I hold that person to a higher standard of responsibility because of their tenure and experience. Above all else, Nicholas, I expect my senior level 3 C.S.I. to refrain from playing games such as Call. Roulette.” Russell solidly tapped his finger on each syllable of the game name.
‘Oh shit,’ was all Nick could think of, but knew he couldn’t say it out loud. Instead, he remained silent, and Russell continued glaring at him.
“You have nothing to say?” Russell asked.
“It’s just a game.”
“It’s just a game? That’s your response?”
Russell paused, allowing Nick to wallow in how intense this conversation had just become.
“Allow me to make some things more than crystal clear to you, Nicholas. When I hand out calls to the four of you, I give you calls that I believe will fit your skill sets and speed up the resolution of the case. Last night was no exception. Morgan knew the area where body had been reported and would have found it quickly with Finlay’s help. Sara has solved other headless cases and has developed unique techniques to solve them. Greg, who just finished his Masters in forensic pathology and serology, can now run his own narco panels without pulling Henry or Hodges away from other cases. And you, Nicholas, are only one of three C.S.I. who the State Patrol has never filed a complaint against and, in fact, asks for when they have a case.”
Nick sank back in the chair as he began to understand the fuel behind Russell’s anger.
Russell continued, “As your supervisor I should never have to explain any of this to you! It has been thirteen hours since anyone’s seen, or heard from, Greg. The last GPS ping on his phone was just outside of Vegas at 12:24 A.M., when he sent you a scathing text message about being forced to take a call I assigned to Morgan and Finlay. The last known location of his Denali was in the garage. Had I known sooner that he was on Morgan and Finlay’s call, I could have used his phone or Denali GPS to find him. But since it took me hours to sort out the mess you three caused and entangled him in, by the time I tried that, both locators had stopped transmitting. Now we have no way of locating him. All of this confusion and worry could have been completely avoided if my ex-senior level 3 C.S.I. had not pressured his co-worker into playing an irresponsible and inappropriate game.”
Nick couldn’t help focusing on the last sentence, which stunned him. “Ex-senior level 3 C.S.I.?”
“You’re demoted back to C.S.I. 2, pay grade one. Because we need help finding Greg, you may stay on the clock until we do, but once he is found, and you had better hope that is safe and unharmed, you are suspended for two weeks without pay. And thank Ecklie that is the only discipline because I was ready to fire both you and Sara, and demote Morgan to a lab tech!
“Sara and Morgan were reprimanded for this too?
“They played the game with you, didn’t they?
Nick wanted to defend Sara and Morgan, but he remained silent.
“The people in this lab look up to you as if you were still a supervisor. They watch your every move. Your actions tonight should be an embarrassment to you as much as they are to me.”
Nick dropped his eyes to the rug. There was nothing he could say or do that would get any of them out of trouble.
He didn’t see Russell start and stop, wanting to say more, yell more, and express how disappointed he was in Nick. But none of that came out.
Calmer, Russell told him, “Go run your evidence, go look for Greg, go home for all I care, just as long as I don’t have to look at you anymore today. Get out of my office.”
Nick looked up at him and attempted again to defend himself. “Sir, I—”
“GET OUT!” bellowed Russell.
With his eyes burning from tears that wanted to fall, Nick hurried out of Russell’s office. He found a secluded corner and leaned against the wall. He had only known his father to be so skilled at making him feel so small and horrible for a wrong decision. He had never expected that Russell also knew that skill. Nick inhaled a few times until his nerves were calm and the burning tears had passed.
Once Nick had a grip on his nerves, he headed for the tox lab.
He found Henry talking to someone on the phone. Nick waited, and realized Henry was writing down GPS coordinates.
“I’ll start in that grid when my shift is over,” Henry told the person and hung up. “Nick.”
“Has anyone ever overdosed on LSD?”
Henry blinked. “Here?”
“Ever. Has anyone ever overdosed on it?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Could someone overdose?”
Henry thought about it. “I suppose it’s possible, but it would be a crazy amount. They’d have to cover their entire body with LSD blots, but they’d already be tripping before they got enough on them. They’d likely stop long before the levels would hospitalize them.”
“There is a body and a suspect on my last case. Can you test them both for LSD?”
Nick handed him the plastic bag with the sticker sheets. “And this too.”
“Okay. But I’m leaving in two hours.”
“I heard. Do the test for the body and woman, before the LSD breaks down.”
“I’m on it.”
Nick turned and left. He turned a corner, running into Sara.
“I picked up three grids. Are you ready?” she asked Nick.
Nick nodded. The two headed to the parking garage.
At daybreak, Greg began trying to saddle and bridle the horse. He had lost count of how many times he’d pulled everything off and started over. The patient horse didn’t seem to care either way. He just stood and swished his tail at flies or watched what Greg was doing. The sun was low in the sky when Greg finally admitted to himself that he had no clue what he was doing and without some diagram or someone there to show him, he wasn’t figuring this out.
He pulled the saddle off and threw it on the ground, glaring at it. The horse snorted and shook, ridding itself of the blanket.
“You are not helping,” Greg told it.
It snorted and nuzzled his arm.
“I wish you could tell me what I’m doing wrong,” Greg told the horse.
Greg looked back at the house. Before nightfall yesterday, he had drug all the bodies into the barn and covered them, trying to keep most scavengers away from them. He’d spent a cold night trying to sleep in the hayloft but instead spent most of it listening to creatures come and go. That morning, he found scavengers had found the dead animal carcasses. The horse had a few more cuts from tackles with something in the night, so Greg decided that before dark he was putting it in the barn with the sheep.
Greg untied the lead rope he’d tied around the horse’s neck because he didn’t know how it went on, and led the willing horse into the stall with the sheep. He poured grain out for the three and then closed the door. He looked at the house. It was a crime scene, but he hadn’t eaten in two days and he was starting to feel light headed from it. Greg crossed the yard to the back door, drawing the surviving dog out from under the porch. When he opened the back door, the dog bolted inside past him.
“Guess you’re hungry too, huh?” Greg asked him.
He found three dog bowls on the back porch and a bag of dog food in a coat closet. He filled the bowl and gave it to the dog. Then he went in search of food for himself. There was left over fried chicken and mashed potatoes. He sat them out and made a plate before he realized there was no microwave.
“Freakin’ hicks,” Greg grumbled.
He decided cold food was better than no food. He found ice trays in the freezer and large ice tea glasses for ice water. Greg sat down at the kitchen table and started eating. The dog trotted over and laid down at Greg’s feet, licking its paws and chops loudly.
“So tell me, Tex, other than being overbearing parents, were they good people?”
Tex looked up at him. Greg patted his head and was rewarded with a tail wag.
“Don’t go getting attached. I can’t have dogs and I prefer fish.”
Tex wagged his tail again.
Greg finished eating, washed his dishes, and put them in the drying rack. He started walking through the house. There was a television but he could only get two channels clearly, and on both were shows he didn’t care for. There was an old tube radio at the back of the living room. He turned it on and tuned it to a station he liked. He wandered into one bedroom, then the next.
It was the third that he found a treasure. The decorations told him this was the daughter’s room, and sitting on her bookshelf were five books on horsemanship. Greg pulled them out and settled into a chair with a reading light next to it. He started studying a subject he’d gotten wrong all day.
Morgan stopped her Denali so fast she almost hit the back of a fire truck. She climbed out of her Denali, angrily slammed the door shut, and stormed over to where people were standing at the edge of the road. The group included M.E. David, a paramedic, a State Patrol Officer, and five firefighters. Everyone was looking into the ravine past the broken guardrail. She looked down too, seeing firefighters working to get two bodies out of a twisted pickup and onto backboards.
Angrily Morgan asked, “Why were we called here, David?”
David looked at her. “I’m here for a dead person. I don’t know why you were called.”
“Still don’t know why I’m even stuck on this case,” Morgan grumbled. “Everyone else is out looking for Greg. I should be too. He’s been missing for two days.
“Greg is like a bad penny, Morgan,” the State Patrol Officer told her. “He doesn’t know how to stay lost for long and always turns up.”
“Not. Helping,” Morgan snapped.
The man shrugged off her attitude. Below them, the firefighters had one body on a backboard and the firefighters at the top began pulling it up. The group at the top moved back and Morgan ended up getting pushed to the back. She moved out of the way, distracted by the officer directing traffic around the scene. She looked back when paramedics moved a gurney to the edge and surrounded the second body – which obviously wasn’t a body, since the paramedics were working on it. She looked down at the body David had and for a moment it didn’t register that she was staring at a headless body.
“Oh my God! David, does this guy have any I.D.?” Morgan asked.
David dug the headless corpse’s wallet out and handed it to her. She flicked it open and the headshot on the license matched the head found by the landfill.
“This is him! This is my d.b.!”
David reminded her, “He’s still dead. Maybe you shouldn’t get so excited.”
“I’m not excited. Well, I am. I didn’t expect to find the rest of him. Which of them was behind the wheel?”
“Headless one,” a firefighter answered.
“Really? That’s weird.” She turned on her heel and walked over to the man still on a backboard. A paramedic looked up at her.
“Is he going to live?” she asked.
“Oh yeah,” the paramedic answered. “He’s just banged up and drunk.”
The man opened his eyes, looking at the faces around him. He focused on Morgan and a slow, drunken grin spread across his face.
“I’m in heaven,” he cooed.
“No, sir, you’re lying on a road in Nevada and were found next to a headless corpse.”
The man passed out.
A round of chuckles surrounded her.
The paramedic told her, “If he were sober, that would have been cruel.”
“He won’t remember it. If he checks out, take him to detox. No point in trying to talk to him right now.”
The paramedics nodded.