Riley Adams drummed her fingers on her knee as she waited in Jim
Brass’s office for him to return from the crime lab. She repeatedly checked her watch, wondering
if she should start going over the witness statements on her own.
Finally, she heard his door open and close as he entered in a whirlwind.
“Sorry that took so long,” he said, having a seat at his desk. “Had to get debriefed.” He shuffled a few papers on his desk.
“You get anything useful?”
He shrugged. “Not exactly. They still need to process the prints and see about the sheet he was wrapped in. And they can’t figure out what made some of his bruises yet, or COD, Doc Robbins is backed up with some dayshift cases—”
“So basically, you got nothing,” she said. “Took you an hour to be debriefed on that?”
He blinked at her. “Well, Sara was explaining everything that they had catalogued, and I had Nick crosscheck some of the results from the Sherman case. And then Greg had to borrow money for a pizza, but I just had a five in my wallet, so Nick—”
“You close with all the crime scene guys, or just those three?” Riley asked. “From what I hear around the station, you spend half your time palling around with them. Detective Vega says—”
“Don’t listen to Sam Vega, he’s a gossip,” Brass said dismissively. She opened her mouth to retort when Brass cut her off. “And Vartann is still bitter because I took his Rolex at the poker game last week.”
Riley frowned. “Still, you do know you’re a detective, not a scientist, right?”
“You say that like detectives are the cool kids and scientists are the geeks,” Brass said. “I wasn’t aware that the St. Louis precinct was so cliquish.”
Riley rolled her eyes. “I just don’t get it, is all. In St. Louis, the crime scene techs are geeks, or… more introverted… No, antisocial is a better word. They only talk to you when they have to, and it’s always curt and to the point. They’re also a pain in the ass. They’ve stopped me from getting a warrant countless times because they are too backed up to run my DNA evidence until eight to ten weeks after I’ve submitted it, and then when they finally do run it, they act like they did me a favor, and it’s because of them that we broke the case.”
“None of them would have the last name Hodges by any chance, would they?”
“Never mind.” Brass leaned back in his chair. “You can’t stereotype the CSIs. They’re just doing their jobs, and my guys do theirs damn well.”
Riley pursed her lips, then said, very quickly, “Vartann said you used to be one.”
A smile stretched across Brass’s features. “It’s a beautiful Cinderella story about how a lowly scientist geek climbed the ladder of success to be accepted by the shiny happy cool kids. Remind me to tell it to you sometime.”
“Did you at least bring the Sherman file?”
“Of course I did, what am I, incompetent?” She was silent as he pulled out the folder, and he glared at her. “Well, don’t rush to deny it.”
“I thought that was rhetorical,” she said.
Brass grumbled as he opened up the file and slid it across the desk to Riley. She picked up a crime scene photo of the body and examined it.
“And you say that L-Link” —she hesitated only once— “had the same scars? Same glasses?”
Brass nodded. His brow furrowed and he looked as if he were trying to remember something.
“Sara said something…” he began. “There was something familiar about the victims to her. She couldn’t place it.” He reached across the table and took the file, looking at the man in the image, trying to imagine how he would have looked alive. He looked at the haircut and the jaw line, as well as the eyes and nose, then his eyes went to the build of the body.
“Do you have a picture of Link?”
Riley began shaking her head, then stopped. She pulled out her cell phone and pulled something up before handing it to Brass. Lincoln Meyer was grinning bashfully as he tried to hide from the camera and someone held a birthday hat over his head. Riley was blowing a blowout in his ear in the corner of the picture, a smirk on her own face, but she wasn’t the focus.
“I took that on his birthday last month,” she said. “At his office surprise party.”
“Here you are,” Brass mumbled as he looked at the picture, “criticizing me for befriending CSIs when you hang out with defense attorneys.” He glanced up with a twitch of a smile. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest? How many guys have you tried to put away that he set free?”
“Link wasn’t like that,” Riley said. “He never defended any perp I collared. His specialty was homeless guys and prostitutes… Society’s trash. The ones no one else really cares enough about to try and defend, but Link, ha, well…” Riley smiled fondly as she remembered him. “He’s the other half of the justice we serve, Jim.”
Link’s hair was longer than it was when he’d died, and rather unkempt. Brass couldn’t help but be reminded of Greg’s current hairstyle, only a much darker shade of brown.
“What’s your background?” Brass mumbled, eyes still on the picture.
“I majored in Art History,” Riley offered.
“That’s not what I—” He looked up at her. “Really?”
She shrugged. “What did you mean?”
“I need a profiler,” Brass explained.
“Oh,” Riley said. “I went to that workshop.”
Brass cocked an eyebrow. “A single training workshop was not what I had in mind.”
But Riley smirked at him as she pulled James Sherman’s file to her and took a look. “Your perp is trying to recapture something from his past,” she explained. “Maybe even himself, at a younger age, or someone close to him like a relative or lover. Which means your perp is most likely Caucasian, thirty to fifty, with an intense need to make everything perfect verging on, or perhaps even being obsessive compulsive.”
“All things I could have told you with my eyes closed,” Brass commented. “What’s his—”
“His trigger is a realization that what he has created is not perfect,” Riley went on. “That’s what makes him kill them. He doesn’t want to, at first. He keeps them alive for… Let me see Sherman’s photos again.” Brass obliged and she looked them over. “Three to five days.” She looked up. Brass seemed mildly impressed. “Note the discoloration around the scar on his cheek, how it’s been healing? It’s about three to five days old. Clearly whoever he’s trying to replicate had that same scar.” She flipped through the file. “Perp is disconnected from reality, possibly dissociative. He’ll have a normal, go-nowhere job to pay the bills, and his boss will describe him as punctual and efficient, never causing trouble. He’ll seem distant to some, because he’ll be detached, until he’s with his victims, which brings up…” She squinted at the photo again, then smiled, almost sadly. “Affection. Then anger. Probably the only time he feels anything is with them.”
She handed the file back to him. “That good enough?”
“You’re very observant,” Brass noted.
“My folks were psychiatrists,” she said. “That profiling workshop was preceded by an entire childhood of my father explaining to me the psychology of dangerous criminals so that I as a six year old would know to avoid them. I ran away screaming ‘Molester! Molester!’ from the guy in the ice cream truck because he gave me an extra scoop for free.”
“You must have been a pistol as a child,” said Brass.
“Also? I have a third case I’ve been working off of.” She reached into her messenger bag and pulled it out. “Had my partner fax it over from St. Louis.” Brass opened it up and looked through it as Riley continued. “But there’s not much more with Dean Rogan than the others. Still, note the scar, and the iron burn. Very similar to Sherman and Link.”
“All of these vics have similar builds and facial features…” Brass said.
“Except Rogan,” Riley pointed out. “She dyed his hair. He was blond.”
“So we’re guessing Rogan is the first victim,” Brass said.
Riley nodded. “I don’t think this guy has been a killer his whole life,” she said. “That first kill was sloppy… fingerprints all over. Problem is, we had nothing to compare it to. And no DNA.”
“So why’s he killing now?” Brass asked.
“I think he knew Rogan,” Riley said. “Personally. He shares similar features to the others – broad shoulders, strong jaw – But the hair and eyes? Way different. And our perfectionist is so detail-oriented…” She pointed at a close-up of Dean Rogan’s eye. “He made him wear colored contacts.” Riley leaned back in her chair. “Additionally, Dean Rogan was, by his girlfriend’s own admission, notoriously promiscuous.”
“You thinking jealous boyfriend of one of his mistresses?”
“Jealous boyfriend, maybe,” Riley conceded, “but not of his mistresses.” She smirked. “Dean Rogan was also an open bisexual.”
“You mentioned that our killer is trying to remake a relative or lover earlier,” Brass said. “So we leaning more towards… lover?”
“That’s my theory,” Riley said. “But, you know, I only had the one workshop.”
Brass smiled at her. “You know what, Adams, I think we make a good—”
He was interrupted by his own phone. Closing his eyes, he quickly answered it. “Jim Brass… Uh huh...”
Riley began packing her messenger bag, ready to call it a day. Thoughts of Link swirled in her mind and she needed time to process them, lest they come out at the wrong moment. She was only half listening to Brass’s conversation with whoever was on the phone.
“No, why?... Right…” Brass frowned and gestured at Riley to wait, which she did. Then, the corners of his lips turned downward as he leaned on his desk. “Wait. What do you mean ‘missing’?”
Alexa had been on her way back into work because she couldn’t sleep, so she cut through Finley Park, which was shorter than going around the block from the bus stop. She squinted as the floodlights came into view and wondered why it was so bright in the park. The crime scene tape caught her morbid curiosity, and she crept up to it, mingling with the other curious citizens. She saw police officers and detectives with badges, but her interest was piqued by the brunette woman crouched over a white sheet one hundred yards away.
Alexa’s heart began to sound like a bongo drum. No, she thought to herself. No, don’t open that sheet!
She tried to warn the woman, but it was no use. The sheet was pulled back and Alexa stumbled backwards, clutching at her chest as her heart tried to break free of her constricting ribcage. But still, she watched anyway, refusing to look directly at him as her stomach churned.
How could she have forgotten? Lincoln Meyer, St. Louis Public Defenders Office. The color drained from her face. Oh Alexa, what have you done now?
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling suddenly chilled in the sticky June night air. She watched the woman study the corpse for what seemed like hours. That poor man, she thought. That poor, poor man. And then, I wonder what happened to him.
Her heartbeat slowed and her attention was caught by an owl in a tree. She smiled at him as he cocked his head at her, looking at her with a pair of sideways yellow eyes. She mimicked him and hooted to see if he’d respond.
Movement on the other side of the crime scene attracted her focus and she saw him again, striding heroically across the landscape like an Adonis, and he was perfect, and pure, and he was her everything.
It was him this time. She was sure of it. She knew he couldn’t be gone forever. She knew that he would come back to her, one day, and there he was. She sidestepped down the crime scene tape, following him as he approached the brunette. They spoke. And Alexa burned cold with jealousy as she clenched her sweaty fists.
What’s he doing? Doesn’t he see me standing right here?
Her breathing grew heavier as she exhaled through her nose like a dragon preparing to strike. She was always in the way. No matter what, no matter where he was, she always interfered. Alexa’s only chance was to rescue him from her, make him remember his angel Alexa, make him remember where his loyalties were.
So she followed him.
“… and a crumpled up business card that we could pull a wrinkled print off of. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be good enough for a partial.” Sara handed Brass her inventory. “I think that’s all right now, I’ll keep you posted on whatever else we find.”
He flipped through the file. “All looks pretty good to me.”
Nick walked briskly into the room and handed over the Sherman file. “It’s scary how identical they are. Definitely the same killer. But other than that, nothing new.”
Greg poked his head into the break room. “Nick! Just the man I was looking for.” He skipped inside, all but clicking his heels together as he approached his colleagues.
Nick cocked an eyebrow at him skeptically. “Why? What do you want?”
“Ten dollars,” said Greg. “I’m sorta out of cash for pizza.”
“You still owe me twenty,” Nick complained.
“What’s a few bucks between friends, huh?” Greg returned casually.
Nick looked to Brass and Sara for help. The latter considered it.
“Is there meat on it?” she asked.
“It’s called the Carnivore Carnival,” Greg told her. “So… maybe?”
“I’m out,” she said with her classic tight-lipped smile, and she meant it literally as she headed to the door. She paused in the doorway, then turned around, feeling the need to offer an excuse. “Grissom wanted to talk to me about… something,” she seemed to improvise, and then she was gone with no further explanation.
“That was rather abrupt,” Greg said with a pout. “Even if she wasn’t going to eat it, she could have at least donated a few cents to the cause, am I right?” He looked at Nick and Brass expectantly. The two men just stood there, Nick choosing to stare Greg down rather than cough up any cash.
“You always eat eighty percent of every pizza we ever order,” Nick said stubbornly. “If I’m paying ten dollars, I’m eating ten dollars’ worth.”
Greg looked appalled. “I’m not sure, but I think you just called me fat. And I am offended.”
But Nick wasn’t to be fooled. “You aren’t agreeing to my terms, Greg.”
“Oh for the love of…” Brass pulled out his wallet and took out five dollars. “Here. And I don’t even need a slice.”
Greg clapped his hands together as if he were about to pray, then bowed respectfully to Brass. “You are a man among men, sensei,” he said, before turning to Nick. “You pay five dollars, you get five dollars’ worth,” he promised.
“Fine,” Nick said, reaching into his back pocket.
“Also, you pick it up,” Greg replied.
Nick stopped. “What? I thought this was delivery!”
“Pick up is cheaper, no delivery charges,” Greg explained. “Look, five dollars is a quarter of the price, that’s two whole slices of the extra-large. More than I’m generally willing to part with. So you pick it up, and you’ve earned your pizza.” He held the money out to Nick.
Nick stared at him, his mouth agape, but snatched the money out of Greg’s hand. “Unbelievable,” he muttered as he made his way to the door. “Oh, and by the way,” he threw over his shoulder, “you are getting fat.”
He heard Greg throw a nasty curse at him before the door shut behind him.
Scratching his head, he made his way outside of the lab and into the parking garage, fishing out his keys as he trotted down the concrete stairs. He was so busy thinking of other snide remarks he could make about Greg’s peculiar and possibly unhealthy eating habits that he almost ran headlong into a pale young woman, skinny as a rail, who stopped him with a voice that reminded Nick of Cindy Lou Who.
Nick halted, startled, as she materialized in front of him as if from nowhere. His expression softened as he smiled politely at her.
“Yes, ma’am, can I help you?” he said.
“I’m lost,” she replied, with her chin timidly tilted down and her eyes looking up at him. “I need… to report a crime?” She spoke as if she wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not.
And then, Nick looked at her through the eyes of the criminalist he was, and the scar on her face caught his attention. He wanted to reach out and touch her arm, her shoulder, do something, because she looked terrified. “Ma’am, did someone do that to you?” he asked, nodding at the scar. It seemed like a stupid question after he said it, though.
“What?” she asked, breathless. Then, her fingers flew to her face. “Oh… Yes. I mean, sort of. I mean, not now.”
“You look like the wind would carry you away,” said Nick, forcing a laugh to make it seem less serious than he feared it was. “Have you been eating?”
She didn’t seem to know how to answer this. Her eyes darted around as she wrapped her arms around herself. “It’s very… closed in here. I don’t like these walls. Can you take me outside?”
“I can take you upstairs to the station,” Nick said. “You can file a report… Ma’am, has someone been hurting you? That scar, you know, I saw one just like it today on a murder victim. If you were attacked—”
“I don’t want to go upstairs,” she said, firmly. “I just want to get out of here.”
She was quivering like a string on a guitar and Nick resisted the urge to embrace her. Instead, he humored her, nodding slowly. “All right, all right,” he said, his accent peeking through as he held out his hand. “Come on, I can take you to the garage.”
At first, she looked startled that anyone would show her any kind of affection. Then, ever so cautiously, she took his hand. Her bony fingers were freezing as his own closed around them. Her hand felt so small, he almost thought he was escorting a child downstairs. She might have been, for all he knew. Her stature suggested that she could be a teenager, but the lines on her face and something strange about her eyes made her appear twenty years older than that.
The thought that someone could take a young, fragile girl like her and age her twenty years stirred a fire in his stomach and a long-dormant memory in his brain, and he unconsciously squeezed her hand, both out of fury and his own insecurities. She leaned against his arm, as if trying to draw the warmth out of him and into her body. Nick smiled as they entered the garage, and thought of all the things he would do to the person who had hurt her.
“Would you… take me home?” she whispered. “I took the bus here. All those people, looking at me? I can’t stand it.”
He turned to look at her, his hand coming up to cup her cheek and she looked up at him with sad green eyes. His thumb ran over her prominent cheek bone. He paused, before saying, “Sure, sweetheart, I’ll take you home. And then, I’m going to come back here and find the bastard who has you scared out of your wits.”
She smiled, and it just about lit up the whole garage. “You’re going to rescue me,” she whispered.
Nick led her to the passenger side and held the door open for her. She climbed inside the car as he closed the door behind her and she looked up at him gratefully through the window. It made Nick feel like he was doing something worthwhile, something meaningful. This is what he got into law enforcement for. Maybe, for once, he could help a living victim.
Maybe he could help the both of them.
The tap-tap-tapping sound of Greg’s pen against the table had gone on for so long, Sara had to speak up.
“Would you quit it?” she snapped, taking a break from her veggie burger.
“Oh, easy for you to say!” Greg retorted. “You have dinner! Who’d have thought that Grissom would be speedier with the food delivery? If I’d have known it’d take Nick forty-five minutes to pick up a pizza, I would have thrown in an order! DelFino’s is only four blocks away, for Christ’s sake!”
“Grissom didn’t take an order,” Sara said, then hesitated, letting the statement hang in the air a moment, before taking another bite of her burger.
“So what, do you have a standing arrangement where he just buys you veggie burgers every day?” Greg asked.
Sara smirked at him. “Something like that,” she said, taking another bite.
There was a loud gurgling sound and Sara stopped chewing, cocking an eyebrow at Greg. “What was that?”
Greg’s hands were on his stomach as he looked at it. “What do you think?” he snapped. “My stomach’s never gone this long without pizza. It’s revolting.”
“It really is,” Sara said, with a disgusted expression. “How can you eat like that?”
“You mean and still keep my awesome manly figure?” Greg returned.
“Uh, sure, OK,” Sara said.
Greg’s smile vanished. “What’s with everyone calling me fat today?”
Sara raised her index finger at him to make her point. “I never said you were—”
And then his phone was ringing. Greg immediately snatched it up and answered without looking at caller ID. “Nick, where the hell are you?!”
“Hey, this is Kyle calling from DelFino’s pizza. You ordered a Carnivore Carnival and it’s been sitting here for like an hour. You still want it? ‘Cause we can throw it out.”
“Son of a…” Greg scowled. “Yes, I still want it. Is it still warm?”
“I don’t care, I’ll nuke it when I get back to work,” Greg decided. “I’m on my way, thanks for calling.” He hung up and seethed a moment before turning desperately to Sara. “You got twenty bucks I can borrow? Nick seems to have stolen my money and ran off into the sunset with some tramp.”
But Sara looked concerned. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” Greg groaned. “He never got my pizza.”
She frowned. “And he’s not back here, is he?”
“If he is, I’m kicking his ass.”
“Wait…” Sara said slowly. “Wait, there’s something really important, and it’s been bugging me all day, and I’m missing it.”
“Yeah, I’m missing it too!” Greg said, pointing at his stomach. “Come on, give me money now, we can break the case after I eat.”
She was still thinking even as she dug in her pockets for some cash. She gave it to Greg, and as their hands touched, it hit her like an anvil.
“Oh wow…” she said, her epiphany blossoming in her eyes.
Greg knew a breakthrough when he saw one, so he had to ask. “What? What do you know?”
“We are really stupid,” she said, shaking her head.
“No, some of us are just really hungry.”
“Greg,” she said. “Think about the victims. They’re identical.”
“Same build, same eye color, same hair—”
“I really hope this conversation ends in a way to get me pizza.”
“Broad shouldered, strong jaw line, muscles—”
“Both were manly men, talk dark and handsome, yeah, I know, I processed the bodies too, Sara,” Greg said, frustrated. “What is your point?”
Sara folded her arms. “Sound like anyone you know?”
“Yeah, they look like—” Greg stopped. The color drained from his face. Without saying a word to Sara, he spun on his heel and marched over to the table, where he had left his phone, and dialed a number. He held it to his ear and waited as it rang once, twice, three times—
“Hi, you’ve reached Nick Stokes. Leave a message.”
The beep sounded, but Greg didn’t say anything. He slowly lowered the phone from his ear and hung up. He shook himself out of his stupor and looked at Sara, who hadn’t moved.
“No,” he said. “This is stupid, what are we doing?”
“Where’s Nick, Greg?” Sara asked quietly.
“He’s out at the casinos gambling with my pizza money!” Greg said, laughing it off. “Or, you know, home because he was tired. Nothing’s going to happen to him.” He laughed at her, as if she was being absolutely ridiculous. “Don’t do that to me, Sara, you got me all worked up.”
He pocketed his phone and made to leave.
“Where are you going?” Sara asked.
“To go pick up my pizza,” Greg replied. “Someone has to.”
“No, Sara, I gotta go,” Greg said. “Just… When Nick gets back, tell him… Tell him to kiss my ass.” He didn’t let her say anything else because just like that he was gone.
Sara, feeling ill, waited alone in the break room. She brought out her own phone and dialed the same number Greg had done, and got the same results.
She rubbed her upper arm as she swiftly made her exit and pursued Grissom. She found him at his desk, filling out paperwork, which was an unusual sight as Grissom generally tried to unload all of that onto Catherine.
He seemed grateful for the distraction and looked up at Sara with a fond smile. “How was the burger?”
Sara couldn’t return his smile. She could barely keep her veggie burger down. “Grissom… I think Nick’s in trouble.”