Nick had retreated to a secret spot the C.S.I. knew no one could find them, the back inside stairwell. He had climbed to the top flight of steps that ended at the roof door. He leaned on his legs, wrestling between feelings of depression and worthlessness. He’d never walked out on an interview and he couldn’t convince himself to go back to it. The mere thought of being in the same room as Kevin Montrèsor made his stomach tie into more knots and renewed waves of nausea.
Nick looked at Grissom standing at the bottom of the stairs. His supervisor slowly climbed the steps and sat down next to Nick. Time was moving slower now and it felt like hours passed that the men sat in silence.
Nick wrapped his arms around his stomach and laid his head against the cool brick wall.
“I’m sorry,” Nick whispered.
Grissom nodded. “I know you are.”
“I can’t do the interview.”
Nick looked at Grissom, who calmly stared back.
“Am I in trouble?” Nick asked.
Grissom shook his head. “Why would you be?”
Nick looked down the stairs. He leaned forward on his legs, wrapping his arms tight around his knees. “I walked out of an interview. I left everything there. I…” Meekly Nick added, “I lost control.”
“I think, Nick, you have some issues you haven’t quite worked through. Once this case is behind us, you need to consider counseling.”
“I’m in therapy. We met this afternoon and again Friday.”
Grissom hadn’t expected that. “When did you start therapy?”
Nick looked at his hands. If this had been anyone else, even Warrick, he wouldn’t be willing to admit anything. Nick had practically been raised by his mother and sisters but he believed what his father had taught him; men just didn’t talk about certain subjects with other men. Grissom was an exception. He always had an easy time talking to him and telling him things he’d never tell anyone else.
“I was a mess after I was buried alive. Did you know I got into a bar fight and was arrested for assault?”
Grissom nodded. “The arresting officer told me. He said your mother showed up and bailed you out, and then the plaintiff mysteriously dropped the charges. He accused me of being behind that.”
“That was my parents doing. But for doing that, they gave me an ultimatum. I had to start seeing a therapist for work stuff, or they were going to pack me up and make me go back to Texas. I chose therapy. Twice a month unless things get real bad, like they have been the last couple days.” Nick fought back the tears as he added, “I was over the nightmares a year ago, Grissom. They’ve come back. This case…”
“This case is probably a blessing in disguise.”
Nick looked at him. “A blessing?”
“It’s forcing you to face your fear and deal with it. The only problem, Nick, is that while Warrick and I may be able to deal with Mr. Nick Jekyll, your other co-workers cannot. They’re confused and worried about you. You scared Catherine and Greg and Hodges.” Grissom hesitated and smiled. “Hodges needs a good scare. Strike that.”
Nick chuckled with Grissom.
“I tell you what. Let me handle your interview, and any others that might come up. You handle the evidence. You don’t have to work this case alone.”
“You’re not going to take it from me?”
“I was, but… What good would come of that, Nick?”
Nick smiled, shrugging. “I thought I’d have to fight you on it eventually.”
“I’m too old for a fist fight. Thanks for the offer, though.”
Nick smiled at him. Grissom patted his shoulder as he stood up.
“Where’s your case file?”
“Brass has it, I think. I left it in the room.”
“Okay. I’ll let you know what happens.”
Grissom started down the steps.
He stopped and turned. “Yes?”
“I’m not ready to face anyone yet. I just…”
“Take the rest of the shift off. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the case, together.”
Nick nodded once.
Grissom walked down the stairs, disappearing. Nick laid his head against the wall. Despite the talk, he was still wrestling with his demon.
Warrick followed the security guard through the silent, unseen halls at the back of the Lucky Strike Casino. The man stopped outside a pair of doors and tapped the intercom next to the door on the left.
“Mister Stuckley, that C.S.I. that phoned earlier is here to see you.”
There was a pause. “Send him in.”
The guard motioned to the door. Warrick walked into an office that was no different from the larger casino owner’s offices: plush carpet, expensive décor, a huge desk to compensate for something, and a black haired, graying, well-dressed, obese man sitting behind it. He was surrounded by men that looked like they were all in the mob. Warrick was leery about the situation, but he continued walking.
“Ronald Stuckley?” Warrick asked.
He nodded. “You said you had some questions about my brother?” The man’s voice cracked as he looked up at Warrick. Warrick saw hope. Ronald was probably praying for good news.
Warrick pulled the photo of the license he’d taken and sat it down on the desk. “Is this your brother?”
Ronald stared at the photo. Warrick recognized the cold shock he’d seen on the faces of so many people forced to accept that their family member was deceased.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Ronald softly asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry for your loss, sir.” Warrick meant it.
Warrick had unearthed a lot about Ronald before meeting with him. He donated thousands of dollars to the Search and Rescue, had bought several of the search and rescue, narcotic and bomb dogs, and made it possible to maintain two helicopters. It made sense, Warrick deduced. He wanted his brother found, and figured that if they were well funded, one day they would bring his brother home. They hadn’t – some cranky, racist farmer had – but the effort was proof the man wasn’t all bad.
“I called him Edie. He hated Edith.”
“I read he was accused of burglary several times. What he was like when you last saw him? Did he mention someone who might have wanted him dead? Maybe a partner that—”
Ronald pointed an accusing finger at Warrick. “Edie never, not once, hurt anyone when he stole. He never even carried a gun. He did it for the thrill. He didn’t do it for the money. And I compensated everyone that he stole from!”
“Including his last job?”
“What last job?”
“Edie was found with nearly three hundred thousand in gold bullion. Did you give that to him?”
“No. I don’t know where he would have gotten that. Are you sure he took it?”
“That’s my suspicion. Did he know anyone who had a collection of gold bullion coins?”
Ronald began shaking his head. He thought for a moment.
“There used to be rumors that Egon McAllister had converted his life savings into gold coins that he kept hidden in his house.”
“Yeah. He and his wife bought a house from my father back in 1980. In fact, he made most of the furniture you see in my office. He just sort of shut down after his wife died. Even lost his kid to the system for a while.”
“To social services?”
“Did he have anything against your brother?”
“Not that I know of. Edith really liked the guy.”
“Do you know where Egon lives?”
“Yeah. The same place Dad sold him. Do you think he killed my brother?”
“I’m checking all leads at this time.”
Ronald smiled. “Is that cop talk for no, yes, or maybe?”
“That’s cop talk for I don’t know anything at this time. I’m a scientist. We don’t say yes until we are mostly certain that is the answer. Can I have his address?”
Ronald opened a drawer, taking out a pad of paper and pen, starting to write down an address.
“You’ll come back and tell me if you have some certainty, won’t you?” Ronald tore off the paper and held it out.
Warrick took it but Ronald didn’t let go.
“Edith was a screw up,” Ronald told him, “but he was my blood-related screw up.”
“Thank you for your cooperation,” Warrick answered, pulling the paper away, and leaving a small piece in Ronald’s hand. So there was a mobster casino owner in there.
Warrick walked away. If Ronald wanted to know what happened to his brother, he could ask or use whatever dirty cops he had in the department to find out.
Grissom entered the interview room and sat down across from Kevin. He was grateful that Brass didn’t even raise an eyebrow to see him there. Kevin wasn’t so calm about it. He grinned.
“Where’s the other guy? Get scared?”
Grissom moved past the question. Nick wasn’t this man’s concern. “I’m C.S.I. Gil Grissom,” Grissom told him as he quickly scanned the files. “Kevin, tell me, why were you packing to leave town two days after you filed a missing person’s report on your wife?”
“Like I keep telling everyone, I had a business trip.”
“And it couldn’t be rescheduled? It took precedence over your missing wife whom you were married to for eight years?”
Kevin smiled, nodding. “Yeah. It did. Was I arrested for wanting to keep my job?”
“You’re not under arrest,” Brass reminded him. “Yet.”
“You don’t appear too upset about your wife’s death,” Grissom observed.
Kevin shot back, “Real men don’t cry.”
“Oh. I understand you believed your wife left you for her lover and that’s why you didn’t file the report within twenty-four hours of her disappearance.”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
“So the last time you saw her, she was alive? Was that before or after she was buried alive?”
“Is that how she was found? Alive?”
Grissom smiled. “Buried, not alive. Something I’m sure you already knew, weren’t you?”
“Someone told me that.”
“Since you’ve only spoken to five people within the department, and I doubt any of them told you, I’m curious who this someone might be. Perhaps the person that killed your wife?”
Kevin smirked. “Perhaps.”
“So then give me the person’s name.”
Kevin shook his head.
“So you’re conspiring with the person?”
“If you don’t give us your accomplice’s name, then you’re conspiring,” Brass told him. “Just as good as killing her yourself.”
Kevin shook his head, looking away. “You have no proof I was involved.”
“He’s right,” Brass said to Grissom. “I guess we’ll just have to get him on harboring a suspect and obstruction of justice.”
“Those carry hefty charges,” Grissom told Brass. “Either way, he’ll be in jail for a while. We’ll have time to search his house and vehicle.”
“Maybe we’ll post it in the paper. Get some attention on him. I’m sure his friends and co-workers, family maybe, will like to know how it happened.” Brass leaned on the table. “So did you watch or did you help this person nail the lid shut?”
“I think he thought of the ants. He is an exterminator,” Grissom told Brass.
“Really?” Brass asked Grissom. “Why ants?”
“You know, I really don’t know,” Grissom lied, playing the ‘dumb cop’ card. “They don’t do much damage.”
“That’s not true,” Kevin snapped.
Grissom looked at him. “It’s not?”
“They can clean a carcass in minutes.”
Brass caught onto the psychological game Grissom was setting up. “Really?” Brass asked. “I didn’t know that. So they must have been on the property when your wife was buried alive.”
“Unless someone placed them there, but that seems risky,” Grissom told Brass. “These aren’t your ordinary ants; these things seem a lot more aggressive and dangerous. I don’t think anyone would be daring enough to handle them.”
“If you know what you’re doing, you can safely move an entire colony,” Kevin told Grissom.
Kevin leaned on the table. “See, the trick is stunning them and knowing where the queens are. You get the queens first and a lot of workers. If you leave the larvae behind or crush about a dozen or so, they go into this frenzy and attack anything.”
“Attach anything, like a gardener that happens upon them?” Grissom asked.
“Yeah. I guess that guy just had bad luck.”
“And your wife? How did you get the ants on her? I imagine it would have been hard with her struggling?”
“That was easy! She was out when I put her in the ground, and then I buried her with the pipes, poured the ants down the pipes, and pulled the pipes out. She was screaming like you would not believe before…” Kevin stopped. He slowly sat back. “I mean… I imagine she was screaming before…”
Grissom smiled, leaning on the table. “Please. Continue. I was enjoying the education.”
Kevin looked down, shaking his head. “Naw. You ain’t pinning this on me. I didn’t kill her.”
Grissom smiled. “But Mister Montrèsor, don’t fire ants cause pustules when they bite. Like the ones that are covering your arms and face?”
“You son of a bitch!” Kevin spat. “You tricked me!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You knew all that stuff about fire ants all along. You just wanted me to confess to killing my wife!”
“Did you kill your wife?”
“Yeah! She was a homo bitch!”
Almost instantly, Kevin realized he had said too much, but this time there was no taking it back.
“Thank you Kevin.” Grissom closed the folder and stood. “He’s all yours, Jim.”
Grissom left the room, feeling satisfied. He was going to be able to tell Nick that his victim’s killer was identified and would pay for what he’d done. He wouldn’t escape as Walter Gordon had.