Gabrielle opened her eyes, staring at Nick’s face. He was leaning over her while he cleaned and dressed the stitched bullet wound.
“You’re lucky,” Nick told her. “It was a through and through, and didn’t hit anything major. I guess I was wrong about the whole dying part. Well, unless it gets infected because you refused to go to the hospital and get antibiotics. Ever seen someone die from gangrene or a staph infection?”
She didn’t answer.
Nick finished and taped a bandage over the wound. “It isn’t pretty. I’ve seen a few in my line of work. Course, I guess you probably haven’t since all the bodies you’ve seen weren’t alive long enough to get gangrene. Dead people can’t get gangrene or staph infections, can they?” He paused to look at her and wait for an answer.
She glared at him.
“Do you remember where you are? Who I am?”
With contempt she answered, “I’m shot, not amnesic.”
“Do you always wake up in such a good mood?”
“I do still recall the last conversation we had. Why should I be kind to you after that?”
Nick looked away. Yes he did. He’d hoped some sleep on both their parts would make it disappear – clearly he was betting on the wrong hope.
“I am sorry,” Nick looked back at her. “I don’t know anything about you and Raylene, that’s true. I’m just really fed up with all of this, Gabrielle. I was trying to find the women, or the people behind this whole thing. You took me out of that and stuck me in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t know what’s happening with the case, I don’t know if Ray’s okay, and I can’t help the rest of the team protect her.”
“What the hell was that?”
“What you just said to me.”
Sheepishly he told her, “An apology?”
“That was an apology?”
“You suck at apologies.”
Nick began chuckling until he was laughing hard.
“What?” she asked.
He was too wracked with laughter to answer her.
“Stop bouncing the couch. It hurts!”
He moved over to the chair and laughed and laughed. He saw her relax and smile a little as she watched his uncontrollable mirth. Once he stopped, it took him another few minutes to catch his breath and recover from the hearty laugh. He dried the laugh tears from his eyes and then leaned back in the chair.
“What did I say that was so funny?” Gabrielle asked.
“The thing about my apology sucking. I said that exact same thing about you at the cabin,” Nick said.
“When you left me handcuffed and told me I could figure out how to get out of them myself.”
“That wasn’t an apology.”
She hesitated. “Well, maybe the first part. I was angry! You attacked me and it hurt like hell.”
“You kidnapped me, remember? And you locked me in a room. And you wouldn’t tell me why you had done any of it.”
“I never was good at socializing.”
Nick smiled. “And it shows, as I said before.”
The two fell silent for a couple of minutes.
“So…” Nick started.
“Clear up my assumption. Tell me how Raylene became your best friend.”
“Because the only TV station is Spanish soap operas. Not my kind of television.”
She looked at him a couple times but eventually stared at her toes.
“I was in Geneva on a job one January five years ago. I had all my intel, I knew the layout of the house, I killed the guy, but I was surprised by a guard on my way out. We fought and I ended up shot.” She looked down at her stomach, pointing to a wound with zig-zag scar tissue. “Here. The wound on my back is much larger. I got away and I was bleeding everywhere. I collapsed in an alley and was pretty sure I would be dead by morning.” Her eyes closed but she continued. “It began snowing and I passed out. When I opened my eyes, there was Raylene, staring at me.” Gabrielle opened her eyes, smiling at the peaceful memory. “The first thing she said was I looked good in red. People in their right mind don’t say people look good in red when they’re bleeding so I was fairly certain I was either hallucinating or this person was crazy. She talked me back onto my feet and took me to her flat down the block. I don’t remember a lot after that. Days later I woke up in a bed, in pajamas that were not mine, and my side hurt. She had sewn the bullet wound; something she taught me later. I was also a short haired blonde but I had collapsed in the alley as long haired brunette. I walked around the flat and found Raylene in the living room working on papers that were spread out on the floor. At first I didn’t get what was wrong with her – she wouldn’t look at me, or speak directly to me. She told me food was in the kitchen waiting for me. Who says that?” Gabrielle smiled at him.
Nick knew what she meant and returned the smile.
“I ate and when I came back out I told her I wanted my clothes and gun back. She said she had destroyed the gun and burned the clothes in an incinerator at work. I was pretty furious but after some time I pieced together why. The police were looking for me the next day, so she dyed my hair and cut it short. She destroyed the gun and clothes so that the police couldn’t find them. When they found me at her flat, she told them I was a friend who had just had an abortion so they wouldn’t wake me up. I ended up staying for a month with her and I learned she had Asperger Syndrome. Ray doesn’t see me as an assassin or anything else; she just saw me, for me. She has a heart of gold.”
Nick waited until he was sure she was done talking.
“So you’ve popped in on her from time to time? For a chat?”
He shook his head. “I wish I could say that’s a touching story, but you are a dangerous person and you’re putting her life at risk.”
“Need I remind you that what is currently happening has nothing to do with me?” Gabrielle looked at him. “It has to do with some crazy person or group that wants to use her work to kill people.
“Gabrielle, I’m having a hard time believing Raylene arranged my kidnapping. That just doesn’t sound like something she would do. Not Ray.”
Gabrielle looked him in the eye. “She did. I only handled the actual kidnapping and hiding places. You don’t know what she’s really capable of, do you, Mr. Stokes?”
“Stop calling me Mr. Stokes. We’re past that.”
Gabrielle gave her shoulder a slight shrug.
“I know that Raylene has several doctorates,” Nick said. “And, uhm, when I’m home I sometimes talk through cases, and when she’s around she asks if I’d done this, looked at that, tried doing this. I guess, in hindsight, I shouldn’t be so surprised she did plan this. I guess… I don’t get why, really. I thought she understood that my work can sometimes be dangerous.”
Gabrielle smiled. “She really likes you.”
“We’re good friends.”
Nick heard another question in Gabrielle’s tone when she asked him, “Is that all?”
He didn’t answer.
She looked down at her hands, twining her fingers together. “She dated a man a few years back. He was abusive.”
Nick wasn’t sure where the conversation was going, but he guessed somewhere dark when she looked at him with a look that he could imagined the people this woman killed last saw before their death.
“I put an end to that,” Gabrielle said.
“You killed him?”
“The point, Nick, is that she means very much to me. Be careful what you do. It would be a shame for such a good C.S.I. to suddenly go missing, never to be seen again.”
The two stared at each other. Nick looked down first.
“I imagine it would be,” he said and then stood. “I’m going to start supper. Want some?”
He went into the kitchen to start supper.
Gabrielle turned her head, watching him while he worked in the kitchen. But her thoughts were on her best friend.
Finlay found Russell working through the print outs and photographs in the layout room. She walked in, watching him methodically peer at each, as if the location of Nick would suddenly pop out of one of the print outs or photographs.
“I’m pretty sure she didn’t hide Nick in any of those locations, D.B.,” Finlay said.
He glanced up. “Don’t start, Jules.”
“Okay. I won’t start. I guess you don’t want to know about the ballistic hit that we just got on the bullets that killed the CIA agent?”
Russell stopped, staring at her. “What hit?”
“It just came in. The State Patrol ran some bullets from a shooting out on Highway 93, and they hit to the ones we entered. Unfortunately, the guy is dead – although he wasn’t a guy. He was a woman dressed like a guy, and his photograph matched the other profile Raylene gave us. When they opened up her car, this woman was armed for battle. She also had in her position pictures of our mysterious CIA agent, Nick, and Raylene. Since these were the only two who contacted Raylene, and they are both dead, I think this over. You need to let her know.”
“She won’t talk to me. When I went back in the room she started pacing.”
“I’ll talk to her.”
“If he’s even alive,” Russell grumbled.
“He’s with this assassin!” Russell shook the paper that proved it at her.
Finley took the paper from him and sat it back down. “He’s safe. I know he is. Why don’t I ask Sara to talk to Raylene? Then we’ll get Nick back, safe, sound, and probably a little riled up that he missed all the action.”
“What is with you women? You all seem to believe Raylene. Why?”
She chuckled a little. “D.B., you are a good C.S.I., great husband, father, and grandpa, pretty decent supervisor, too, but sometimes, when you’re dealing with living women, you cannot see the forest for the trees. Raylene isn’t a mystery to Sara and I. We see what she’s really about, and that’s how we know Nick is safe.”
Russell found his Zen place. Even his wife was convinced Nick was safe and would come home as soon as Raylene sent word to his kidnapper.
“Find Sara and have her talk to Raylene. Let’s bring Nick home now.”