Russell and Sara looked up when the interview room door opened. Stephanie stepped into the hall with them.
“Well?” Russell asked.
“You can talk to her,” Stephanie told Russell, “after you agree to my terms.”
“She is involved in a kidnapping. I am not agreeing to anything.”
“So you want him missing for the rest of his life?”
The question threw Russell off, a place he wasn’t used to. He wasn’t sure if Stephanie was threatening to not help find Nick, or if she meant that without the terms met, Raylene wouldn’t tell them where he was.
“What are the terms?”
“Raylene will be sent to a low-security psychiatric ward in the event of a conviction. You stop asking questions when she starts pacing or pulling on her hair, or she will shut down. You can record the conversation and decipher what she’s saying later but do not ask her to repeat things more than twice, or she will shut down. And you need to bring in a bag of black jelly beans, a bag of jelly beans with red, blue, yellow, and green colors, and a box of toothpicks.”
“Jelly beans?” Russell asked. “I have a C.S.I. missing and you want me to bring her jelly beans?”
“The only way to get Raylene to speak to you is to give her something to keep her hands busy. Without that, you’ll get nowhere.”
“What is she going to do with jelly beans?” Sara asked.
“I honestly don’t know but I asked her what she needed to talk to you and that is what she asked for.”
Russell shook his head. “The D.A. will never agree to put her in a psychiatric ward without knowing how far she’s involved in this kidnapping.”
“The D.A. will or I will evoke my client’s rights not to further incriminate herself, because right now, Mr. Russell, all you have is a woman with Asperger syndrome who claims to have been involved in a kidnapping, but you have no proof.”
Hearing Raylene had Asperger’s syndrome quelled some of Russell’s anger. And he understood why Raylene needed to keep her hands busy while they spoke.
“Sara, we need jelly beans and toothpicks.” Sara quickly walked off to get the items. “I’ll have the Undersheriff call the D.A. with your terms, but you know I can’t promise anything. This really isn’t in my hands.”
“It’s a start, isn’t it?” Stephanie turned to go back into the room.
“How functional is she?” Russell asked.
Stephanie turned. “Raylene holds doctorates in chemistry, particle physics, astro physics, and mathematics. She’s worked at places I’ve never heard of, and some I have, such as CERN. She’s brilliant, Mr. Russell. She just can’t function around people very well.”
“I meant, does she have the capability of plotting a kidnapping?”
With a smile Stephanie answered, “When you have the D.A.’s answer, let me know.” Stephanie went back into the room.
Her refusal to answer the question disturbed Russell. It could mean that Raylene, who was clearly highly functional, would find plotting a kidnapping no more of a challenge than he found mapping DNA sequences. Or it could mean that she wasn’t capable and a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome was taking the fall for someone with sinister motivation. Either option had a high probability that Nick wasn’t going to make it out of this alive.
Nick found himself in the sticky pit of sleepiness again. Slowly he pulled himself from the depths and opened his eyes. He lay on his side in bed, covered with a sheet and quilt. He could feel he was still dressed and he was wearing the same shirt from the night he’d been shot.
The room was very plain. The lamp next to the bed was bolted to a nightstand. There were two windows, both with bars over them. Through an open door, he could see the edge of a toilet. So there was a bathroom – his bladder reminded him how much he really needed that right now, but he still wasn’t sure where he was or if letting himself be that vulnerable was safe. Against a wall was a small table and a plastic folding chair.
He sat up on the edge of the bed, looking behind him. The room had two more windows, also barred. Outside he could see a lake bordered by a pine forest – was he still in Nevada?
There was a television and PlayStation 4 on a stand at the foot of the bed, a set of shelves with books, and a dresser.
Nick stood and held the top of the bed frame until a wave of dizziness passed. He walked over to the door and tried opening it. It was locked. He rattled it a few times and then slapped his hand against the door.
“Hey!” Nick called.
He didn’t hear anyone outside.
He slapped his palm against the door. “HEY!”
The only sound came from the throbbing that was building in his head, bringing with it a headache. Nick walked back to the bed and sat down. He cradled his aching head in his hands, wishing the headache away.
Nick’s heart leapt when he heard a key rattle in the door. The door opened and the woman he’d tried to help at Smith’s entered. Was she holding a gun under the tray of food? She sat the tray on top of the dresser and backed up to the door. He realized she held a Taser, not a gun. He looked up at her eyes.
“Why did you kidnap me?”
“You’ve been kidnapped for your safety.”
“From you or the person who hired you?”
“There are towels and toiletries in the bathroom. Clothes in the dresser. Next time, however, you don’t need to yell. I’m right outside the door.”
“Do you know how many laws you’re breaking?”
She laughed softly. “She was right. You are amusing. Try to relax, Nick. At the rate your fellow C.S.I. are moving, we could be here for a while.”
She started to close the door.
“Does that mean they’re supposed to find me dead or alive?” Nick demanded.
She pushed the door open a little. “Consider what ‘for your safety’ means. The roast is good, don’t let it get cold.”
She left and he heard the door lock again.
Nick walked around the room, trying to find a weapon. The only item not bolted down was the plastic chair and bed. The bed was cast iron and heavy, while the chair was flimsy plastic and wouldn’t make much of a weapon. Still, he might be able to use it to stun his kidnapper when she came back in the room, but he didn’t think she’d come back so soon. He’d have to wait for an opportunity.
Dizziness hit him again and he sat down on the chair, putting his hand to his head. His fingers brushed the bandage covering the stitched bullet wound, reminding him why he was dizzy and developing a screaming headache. Once the world stopped spinning, he searched the room for something to ease the pain.
In the bathroom, he found the medicine cabinet had several medications, including the prescription pain medication for his head. He also discovered he had two days of beard growth, but there was no razor. Nick palmed a pain pill. He kicked off his shoes by the bed and climbed back under the covers. His mind started working on an escape strategy, but the plans were short lived when the narcotic pain medication kicked in and he fell asleep again.
When Sara entered the interview room, the look on Russell’s face told her all she needed to know about the D.A.’s answer. He or she had agreed to Stephanie’s terms, and the trio had probably been sitting for some time waiting for her to return from her sprint shopping trip. Sara sat the bags of jelly beans and box of toothpicks in front of Raylene.
“Bowl. Four bowls,” Raylene said.
“You need four bowls?” Stephanie asked.
Stephanie looked expectantly at Russell. He didn’t move.
“I’ll find something, Raylene,” Sara said.
She left and returned with two beakers, a holiday bowl, and a clay bowl someone’s grade-school child had made. She sat them down next to the bags. Raylene was drawn to the clay bowl. She picked it up and ran her fingers over the imperfections, muttering to herself.
“Now can we talk?” Russell asked.
“She’ll talk when she’s ready,” Stephanie quietly said.
Raylene sat the bowl down and opened the colored jellybeans. She sorted the red, green, yellow, and blue into the four containers and then lined the containers up from smallest to largest in front of her. She carefully opened the box of toothpicks and sat it next to the smallest container. She opened the bag of black jellybeans and counted out twenty. She placed a pile of five jelly beans in front of everyone at the table. Then she picked up a toothpick, a colored jellybean, and began construction.
“Nick, he’s safe. Very safe,” Raylene told her structure.
“Tell us where he is so we can verify that,” Russell told her.
“No. Now you can find them and they can’t hurt him while you do that.” Raylene looked around the room like she was watching a fly. Her eyes suddenly snapped back to her project.
“Who is this them we’re supposed to find?
Raylene paused, looking at her work. She continued what she was doing.
“They are…” She tilted her head, listening to something only she heard. “They are Green Goblin.”
Russell looked at Stephanie and she motioned him to wait.
“How are they like the Green Goblin, Ray?” Stephanie asked.
“They want to destroy but not because there’s any logic. They are not logic.”
“Do you know who they are?” Russell asked.
She nodded once.
“Who are they?” he asked her.
“They are scary?”
Sara picked up a black jellybean and ate it. That caught Raylene’s attention. She paused her work and replaced the eaten jellybean. Sara leaned on the table and lined her jellybeans up in a triangle. Seeing this, Raylene placed five more in front of Sara. She began moving them around into shapes in front of her.
“Thank you,” Sara told her.
“No. They are terrifying.”
Russell again looked to Stephanie for a translation. She didn’t understand what Raylene was saying either. He noticed Raylene kept glancing at Sara’s work. She had caught Raylene’s attention, and perhaps she could get further in questioning her. He caught Sara’s eye and made a slight motion with his head for her to take over. Sara nodded once.
“Do these people terrify just you, or everyone?” Sara asked.
“They are terrorists?” Sara asked.
“Do you know why they want to kill Nick?”
“I said no.”
Sara ate a jellybean and it was quickly replaced. “I can’t understand why that would matter to them, Raylene. Maybe because I can’t recall any work that he’s done that would introduce him to people like that.”
Raylene softly sighed. “He didn’t.”
Sara resisted looking at Raylene. “You introduced the terrorists to him?”
Stephanie softly cried, “How? When?”
“After my paper about my theory of creating an LRAD four times smaller, but with quadruple the power, was published, terrifying came.”
“What is an LRAD?”
“Long Range Acoustic Device.”
“I’ve heard of them before, but they are large and they aren’t dangerous. Why would terrorists want yours, Raylene?”
“Within ninety-one meters, it can kill a mass of thousand mammals. If it is scaled to twice that size, double the power source, it could be used as an undetectable anti-aircraft weapon.”
“Okay, so you have a theory about a weapon,” D.B said, “but that doesn’t explain why these people, these terrorists, want to kill Nick for it or how you know them.”
“It isn’t a theory, that’s just what the paper said. They knew that. They found out about the prototype.”
“The prototype? You have one of these devices working?”
“But you said you wrote a paper on the theory, not the practice.”
“I told her to do that.” Stephanie closed her eyes and shook her head a couple times. “I told her to write the paper as a theory after she showed me this weapon,” she told the C.S.I. “With the state of the world is right now, I told her that it wouldn’t be a good time to admit to creating a weapon like that.” Stephanie looked at Russell “I have no idea how they found out.”
“Alright, so you have a weapon that you’ve developed, terrorists want it, but none of this explains how Nick got mixed up in all this, Raylene. Did he help you build it? How is he connected to all this?”
“I told them no.”
Russell looked at Sara and then Stephanie. None of this was making sense!
Sara jumped in. “Raylene, how do you know these terrorists are after your weapon? How can you be sure they’re the ones trying to kill Nick? And if they did, why do you care?”
“A woman came, she had money, she wanted the schematics and prototype.” As she told her story, Raylene’s hands began working faster and faster on her project. “But I pushed her back out and told her no. No! I wouldn’t do that. Nick said no one could have it. Stephanie said no one could have it. I said no! Another woman came and said Nick would be shot for me saying no, every time. I told her no; he told me to always say no. Then Nick told me about being shot at, he told me four times. He promised his friends would find the woman and stop from being killed. I called last night and he was in the hospital because he had been shot. I did what his friends didn’t do. I made him disappear so they wouldn’t shoot him. I… I…” Raylene threw her project down and started smashing it with her firsts.
Russell started to say something but Stephanie motioned him to keep quiet.
Raylene stared at her destroyed work for several minutes. Tears brimmed her eyes, but none fell. She slowly picked up the destroyed project, staring as though she couldn’t make sense of what it was anymore.
“Why didn’t Russell protect him, Stephanie?” Raylene asked.
Stephanie looked between the two, trying to answer, but she didn’t know what to say.
Russell didn’t either.
Sara’s mind had a different reaction to Raylene’s question. She was starting to see something bigger happening. Russell had tried hard to push Nick into leaving town or accepting protective custody and even she had believed he was simply being stubborn. But now Sara realized Nick knew Raylene was in trouble and he was protecting her by luring the people behind blackmailing her out, and using himself as bait. He only went to this type of extreme for people he cared about –how much he cared about Raylene was another question. How much Raylene cared about him was starting to surface too. While Raylene may not be able to show her affection or concern like most people, she did show it by having Nick kidnapped. She had probably asked or told Nick that he was in danger too, and each time he was shot upset her. Sara suspected that in her mind, human laws were irrelevant. The only laws she understood was logic, reason, and the laws of nature. Nick’s shortcoming of following her laws, meant she took action to impose them – and to Sara, that showed her affection for Nick ran deeper than just being friends.
Sara ran her hand over her jellybean design, scattering them around and destroying the shape she’d built. She started designing another shape. Raylene watched Sara’s hands with intense interest. She sat the destroyed project aside and began building a new one.
Sara quietly asked, “How do you know Nick, Raylene?”
“I can answer that,” Stephanie said, smiling at Raylene. She pushed back a tendril of hair that had dropped into the woman’s eyes. “Two years ago Raylene took a walk and got lost. She couldn’t find her way home and somehow she ended up on the Strip. Nick was working a crime scene or something, I don’t remember what it was, and saw her. He was able to get through to her and she let him help her; Raylene doesn’t let many people help her. They’ve been close ever since.”
Sara smiled. “Nick is a good friend.”
“Yes,” Raylene said, “Nick is good.”
“You like Nick, don’t you, Raylene?”
Russell jumped back into the conversation, unaware that Sara had been close to a revelation. “So we know why you wanted to protect Nick, but I don’t suspect you kidnapped him yourself.”
“Who did? Who planned this kidnapping?”
Raylene sat her project down and sat her hands in her lap. She didn’t answer.
“Ray, who planned this?” Stephanie asked.
Raylene didn’t answer.
“Honey, tell them who,” Stephanie ordered. “They want to make sure Nick is safe.”
“Nick is safe.”
“How can you be sure? How can you be sure that person won’t hurt him?” Russell asked.
“That person called me on his phone before they left with him. That person told me that he was safe with them.”
“That person is… a man? A woman?” Russell asked.
Raylene didn’t answer.
“Does this person have a name?”
“All people have a name.”
“What is this person’s name?”
Raylene didn’t answer him.
“Raylene,” Russell said as he leaned forward, “we’re going to find out who has Nick whether you tell us or not.”
Raylene picked up her project and reached across the table, sitting it on top of Russell’s black jellybeans. She put her hand back in her lap and then looked up, right into his eyes. He was surprised by her defiant, angry stare.
“Why couldn’t Russell keep Nick safe?” she asked.
There was that question again. The room went silent.
She looked at the destroyed project. “It is not an experiment when a life is killed. It cannot be reset, new chemicals and equipment cannot be bought to replace it. It is intangible. It is irreplaceable once it has been erased from existence. Russell kept failing to keep Nick from being shot, and it would have killed Nick’s life. Russell’s experiment was becoming an increasing and catastrophic failure. His demonstrated incompetence to run the experiment could not be continued. I took over his experiment, I removed elements causing these failures, and Nick’s life will not be killed.”
Russell looked at his hands. He didn’t speak what was going through his mind, which was first fueled by the unfair accusation Raylene had just made. It wasn’t an experiment. I couldn’t make Nick listen to how much in danger he was! I tried! Russell mentally sighed in defeat. Did I try?
Russell shook off his sudden sympathy when Raylene said, “I came here because they must be found and Nick can come home. I miss him.”
Russell looked up at her. She stared at her hands in her lap. He felt Sara lay a hand on his elbow and knew what she was asking.
“Okay, Raylene. We’ll find them. And then you will bring Nick home safe?”
Russell heaved a sigh. “Tell us about the two women and anything else that you can remember.”
Raylene started another project and began talking again.