Pretend Games

Grissom sat in his office, making notes of similarities between James Sherman and Lincoln Meyer, which were few and far between. Sara was kneeling at his shoulder, drawing lines between his notes and whispering suggestions in his ear. Having her so close was a comfort to him, and he tried to draw strength from her proximity, but still, nothing was making any sense.

“They have to have something in common somewhere,” Sara said. “Look, Sherman had his accounts at Bank of America—”

“And Meyer was at Chase,” Grissom said. “Also, different branches, different states.”

Sara turned her body fully to face him. She reached across him and pulled the file from the edge of his desk and opened it. “Both Rogan and Meyer were from St. Louis,” she said. “Maybe that’s a connection.”

“And what links James Sherman to St. Louis?” Grissom posited. And then, he pushed away from his desk and sighed. “No, this feels like a waste of time.” He stood up and walked around his desk. Sara watched him.

“So what else are you going to do? Go out and search for him on foot?”

But Grissom just walked to the windows, glancing through at the rest of the lab, who were scurrying around like bees in an agitated hive. More like soldiers, he thought, preparing for a retaliatory strike. He raked his hands through his hair. He watched through the glass as Hodges delivered information to Catherine about the plant particulates he had found on the body and she received this with a stern expression, before wildly gesticulating and throwing Hodges’ findings to the floor. His eyes drifted to the fingerprint lab where Warrick stood behind Mandy at her computer. He was squeezing her shoulder so hard, Grissom could see her flinching from the pressure of it, her shoulder pointing towards the ground as she sat lopsided in her computer chair.

“Where’s Greg?”

“He’s coming.” The response was instant, almost defensive.

“You’d think he’d be here…” Grissom muttered.

“Do you remember him last year?” Sara asked. “He went practically catatonic. He had no idea what to do, and when he tried and Warrick yelled at him…”

Grissom turned away from the windows and looked at her. “It’s been a year,” he said. “He’s had time to grow up.”

By the look on her face, it seemed as though this was the coldest thing Sara had ever heard him say. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if searching for the words. She seemed to come up empty. “He’s…” She closed her mouth again. “Grissom, he’s Greg.”

Grissom removed his glasses and put a hand over his eyes. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. We just need all the help we can get right now, and where is he?”

She began to shake her head, her mouth open, her shoulders forming the helpless shrug when she stopped. She rose to her feet and nodded out at the hallway. “Right there,” she said, before walking around the desk and out the door. She didn’t even look at Grissom on her way out. He knew she was mad at him for his brisk comment. He would pay for it later. He watched her approach Greg, who was standing in the middle of the hallway, looking lost, his eyes glazed over. His profile was visible through the window in Grissom’s office. He saw Sara approach him from behind and say something. Greg turned around. A moment later, they embraced.

Grissom turned away from them and his eyes fell on the phone. He felt something inside of him lurch forward, like that feeling he had whenever a rollercoaster began. He could feel the apprehension as he climbed up that first hill. He went and sat back at his desk, picking up the black receiver and holding it to his ear. He looked at the open personnel file on his desk, where Nick’s grinning face looked back at him. He didn’t really need to look, though. Grissom had a head for numbers, and he’d had to dial this one last year. It was one he’d hoped he’d never have to dial again. But dial it he did, and he waited as it rang, his rollercoaster approaching the top of this first hill. And then, it tipped forward.

“Yes, Judge Stokes… This is Gil Grissom of the Vegas Crime Lab, we met last year. I’m afraid… Sir, there’s something I have to tell you about your son…”

When Greg arrived, the lab was abuzz with activity. Everyone was doing something, following some sort of lead, using the bodies of Lincoln Meyer, James Sherman and Dean Rogan as starting points. Warrick was in with Mandy, pushing the fingerprints through. Catherine was talking heatedly with Hodges about their trace evidence. And Grissom…

“I’m glad you came back.”

Greg turned around to see Sara, watching him with sad eyes. He shrugged. “Déjà vu all over again, huh?”

She said nothing, only stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. He closed his eyes and breathed in her scent, which normally always comforted him no matter how bad of a day he’d had. But today, it didn’t work. It was the first time in documented history that a hug from Sara Sidle couldn’t cheer Greg up. Not even a little.

She pulled away, but kept a hand on his shoulder. “Come with me to look over the Dean Rogan file?”

He nodded dully, then followed her into a nearby layout room. He watched as she unpacked the files she carried, laying out crime scene photos across the table so that they could see all of them at once. As she worked, she spoke. “Grissom is going over the Sherman and Meyer cases, trying to make the connection. Brass is out contacting Lincoln Meyer’s ex-wife to see where he was staying and if she might know anything about how or why he went missing. And we get this.” She finished, straightened up and looked at her work before turning and handing Greg a file. “The file Detective Adams faxed over from St. Louis. It’s a case we haven’t seen before, and she’s been really helpful giving us full access.”

Greg took the file, then walked up to the table where the pictures were all laid out. “Cops get back from the park yet?”

“They found Nick’s phone in the fountain,” Sara told him. “Pulled some prints, Warrick and Mandy already compared them. One set was Nick’s, the other unknown, but it matched the prints on Lincoln Meyer’s business card. And on the glasses found on Dean Rogan’s body.” She nodded at a photo of the glasses in question.

“Which only tells us that the same person who did this in St. Louis is doing it here,” Greg said.

“Which means that Dean Rogan is probably patient zero,” Sara explained. “Detective Adams thinks he knew his killer.”

Greg shook his head. “Why would he? It might have been happenstance with him, just like it was with Link Meyer, just like it was with…” He swallowed. “No, that’s just a hunch, there’s no evidence to corroborate that.”

“Maybe there is,” said Sara. “That’s why we look.”

Greg took a deep breath and sat down, but all he could see were what he’d seen before. Facial scar, iron burn, ligature marks, and… “Sara, what was cause of death?”

She was quiet a moment. Then, “For Dean Rogan? Subdural hematoma.”

Greg frowned. “You mean it wasn’t the same for all victims?”

Sara nodded. “Sherman’s neck was broken, and Lincoln Meyer had three broken ribs, two of which punctured his lung.”

“They were beaten to death.”

“Looks like.”

Greg wrapped his arms around himself and nodded. “That means… that means this killer’s got a lot of rage in him.”

“Somewhere,” said Sara. “But what’s his purpose? Why keep them alive for a few days before killing them? Why give them the exact same wounds—”

“They aren’t the same wounds, though,” Greg said. “I mean, the scar and the burn, yeah, but the bruises and abrasions?”

“From the beatings,” Sara surmised. “Hard to make identical.”

Greg pursed his lips, his eyes scanning the photographs left and right, searching for something. “So… Lincoln Meyer, James Sherman, Dean Rogan, none of them had any of the same social circles, right?”

“Rogan and Meyer were both from St. Louis,” Sara suggested.

Greg looked up at her. “So? You and I are both from California, does that mean we knew each other before we came here?”

Sara chewed on her lip, then smacked them together. “Guess not.”

“So how does he meet them?” Greg asked. “There’s gotta be something they all have in common.”

Sara shook her head. “Grissom and I’ve checked potential connections five times over. Different jobs, different neighborhoods, hell, they were even loyal to different coffee franchises, and not a single one of them was a Starbucks drinker.”

Greg snapped his head up to look at her. “You’re not being very helpful, Sara.”

“Greg, I’m trying just as hard as you are here.”

“Yeah…” Greg lowered his head again and squinted at a photograph of the body. “Hey, Sara…” he began. “Does that… look like a hand print to you?”

Sara’s expression knit together into one of curiosity before she moved closer to him and pulled the picture towards her. “Where?”

“There, on his chin… The thumb is on one side, the fingers are sprawled out across his cheek.”

Slowly, Sara nodded, then her eyes narrowed. “Wait.” She took Greg’s hand and held her own against it in comparison. Then, she seized Greg’s chin tightly.

“What are you doing?” Greg tried to say, but it proved difficult with her gripping his jaw. She didn’t explain, and she didn’t let go, she just looked from the picture to Greg’s face, tilting her head to see where her fingers were on his skin.

“Sara, this is beginning to get uncomfortable…”

“Mighty small handprint for a big nasty serial killer, isn’t it?” she remarked, letting Greg go.

Greg stretched out his jaw in a circular motion and rubbed it with his hand. “What are you thinking? A teenager?”

But Sara shook her head. “No… I think it’s a woman.”

Something soft was tickling his neck, like a feather, and for one golden moment, he forgot where he was. And then, he tried to move his arms, numb from being in the same position for so long. He tugged on his binds, and could feel Alexa’s hot breath on his neck. Droplets of her saliva clung to the small hairs in his skin.

“You’re awake,” she whispered in his ear.

The next thing Nick knew, she was straddling him. Her bony knees hugged his hips as she cupped his face in her hands, her fingers pressing into his skin. She leaned in close, hovering just above his nose, and he could hear every rattling breath as she exhaled into his mouth. Finally, and without warning, she struck with a kiss. Nick, still a little groggy and unsure of how to react to this new attack, could do nothing but let it happen. As her tongue invaded his mouth, he arched his back sharply in a vain attempt to knock her off balance. Her fingers raked back into his hair, then down onto his shoulders, and she dragged them across his chest, her nails leaving chalk-white trails in their wake. She tasted like stale Cheerios, and he suppressed his gag reflex for a few seconds before he had to forcibly turn away from her, violently breaking the kiss.

She slapped him hard across the face. “Stop that.”

His cheek stinging, he opened his eyes and looked up at her. “I don’t know who you want me to be, Alexa, but you must know that I’m not him. Somewhere, I know you know that.”

She shook her head and held a finger to her lips. “Now’s not the time for that,” she said quietly. “Tonight, we pretend. Tonight, I am your princess, and you are my prince, and together we have to escape the tyranny of the wicked queen.” She leaned in close to Nick’s ear. “She’s jealous of my youth and beauty. And because I stole you from her.” When she straightened up again she was grinning. “But she’s gone now, away on other royal duties, and we have the castle to ourselves.”

She giggled before slamming her lips against his again, sloppy and rough, and Nick held his breath, tolerating it, but not returning it. She didn’t seem to notice his apathy when she pulled away with a smack. He gasped for air, as if just breaking the surface of the ocean, but that stale flavor still lingered on his bruised lips. She reached over to the bedside table and took a pair of scissors in her hand. For a moment, Nick panicked, thinking she would stab him with them, but then she took the hem of his black t-shirt in her delicate fingers and began cutting a line up his chest. As she did this, she began humming what Nick recognized as the tune to The Itsy Bitsy Spider. It seemed to last for eons as she inched up the fabric. The sound of the scissors rang in his ear, the metal sliding against metal, snipping away at the fabric. He thought dully to himself, Look on the bright side. At least it’s not my favorite shirt.

“… And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again,” she finished with words, as she cut through his collar. She pushed the two useless curtains of cotton aside with an almost theatrical flare, fully exposing Nick’s chest. She looked down at it with glee. “Perfect,” she whispered faintly, lowering her mouth to the naked skin. Her lips were chapped, but delicate as they danced across his chest like dead leaves. When Nick closed his eyes, he could almost allow himself to enjoy it. But in a way, that made it worse than pain.

“Please,” he half-sobbed. “Alexa…”

She stopped at his navel, then looked up with mischievous eyes. He could feel the air from her nostrils curl across his stomach. “No need to beg, my prince, be patient.”

With horror, he realized how she had interpreted his plea. His swollen throat constricted, and he pulled against the restraints. “No,” he growled.

He could feel her hands sliding beneath him on the bed, into the back pockets of his jeans as she continued to kiss lower, her serpentine tongue slipping out to lick just above the hemline of his jeans. Nick’s breathing grew heavier as he closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists, rattling the bed posts. And then, he felt her hands leave his pockets, and her lips vanished from his skin. Nick cautiously opened his eyes to look at her as she sat back up on her knees, holding something in her hands as she gave it a peculiar stare.

“What’s this?”

She was holding his badge. He didn’t know what to say, because any response he could think of wouldn’t help him out of his situation.

She blinked at it, then looked up at him, betrayed. “Nicholas Stokes?” she uttered.

Nick began nodding vigorously. Something changed in her and she threw the badge to the floor, holding up her hands as if held at gunpoint. Her breathing rattled as she stared at him, and then her fingers flew to her lips as she shook her head. “Oh no…” she breathed. “Oh no, oh no, oh no, not again!” She immediately leapt off of him and onto the floor and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “OK… OK, let me think,” she said, holding up her other hand. She stopped, then looked at him. “Who are you?”

Nick wasn’t sure what was going on, but he answered her question. “My name is Nick Stokes,” he said. “I work for the Las Vegas Crime Lab. I met you there when you came to… Well, I don’t really know what you came to do, but that’s where we met.”

She nodded, as if it was coming back to her. “OK,” she said. “And I brought you here?”

“Yes,” Nick said.

Alexa hit her palm to her forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

“Alexa,” Nick began slowly. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“No, I really can’t,” she replied, sounding panicked as she began to pace back and forth in the room. “OK, wait. I need to figure out what to do. Let me think a moment. Jesus, Alexa, how are you going to fix it this time?”

“Alexa, please, untie me,” Nick tried. “You’re… sick. I can tell. OK? We can get you to a doctor.”

Alexa stopped pacing, then turned to Nick. “But you hate doctors,” she said.

Nick held his breath, his mouth open, then, “No, I don’t. Whoever you think I am right now might hate them, but the rational part of you knows who I am, Alexa. I’m Nick Stokes.”

She seemed confused, then nodded swiftly. “Right, right.” She began pacing again, holding her forehead. “OK, um…” She stopped. “I have a gun downstairs. It’d be straight to the head, it wouldn’t hurt, I swear.”

“Whoa!” Nick cried. “What? No!”

“I can’t let you go,” she said. “Not after the things I’ve done, I’ll go to prison.”

“Alexa, why did you take me?” Nick asked. “Who do you want me to be?”

She shook her head. “You know that, uh, that book with, uh, that scientist? And he drinks this potion, or something, and then he totally flips out?”

Nick nodded. “Jekyll and Hyde.”

“Yeah, that’s like me, except… I-I-I relive these… these things,” she said. “And if, uh, if something goes wrong when that happens, if I realize it’s not true…” She stopped pacing, all the color gone from her face as she turned to face Nick. “I’m going to kill you one way or the other, I always do. Might as well make it quick.”

Nick felt something icy fall into the pit of his stomach and melt as it hit the acids. “Please, Alexa…” he whimpered, unable to keep the tears from creeping out of his eyes. “You gotta let me go. Just let me go.”

Her face softened and her eyes grew wide. She walked over to him and kneeled next to the bed, cradling his head in her hands and wiping the tears away with her thumbs. “Oh, no…” she said. “Don’t cry.”

She kissed him gently on the lips, and he knew that she was gone again. “Your princess is here to make it all better.”

Brass took the crime scene photo out of Sara’s hand. “A woman?”

“Or a very small man,” Sara said. “But I think it’s the former.”

Riley was skeptical. “Whoever this was needed enough strength to subdue some rather muscular men.”

“Unless she didn’t have to,” Greg offered. “Riley, you said Lincoln Meyer was the type to go out of his way to help the underdog, right? Nick had a similar chivalrous streak. What if she didn’t abduct them, what if they went with her willingly?”

“I don’t buy it,” Riley insisted, folding her arms.

But Brass looked pensive. “It’s different,” he admitted. “And it’s a new perspective. Can you expand your profile?”

Riley pursed her lips. “I don’t know, women don’t think the same way men do. I’ll have to call my partner.”

“As for you two,” Brass said. “Go home. Sleep.” Greg and Sara both opened their mouths to protest, but Brass held up a hand to stop them. “I’m telling the others the same thing, so don’t even start. You are no good to Nick exhausted.”

“Who’s going to look for Nick?” Sara asked, anxiety punctuating the question.

“The team of uniforms scouring the city for him as we speak,” Brass assured them. “Not to mention the entire dayshift staff, who are taking over from here on out. Come back when you’ve had at least seven hours.”

“What are you going to do?” Greg asked.

“I’m going home, too,” he replied, then looked at Riley. “Detective Adams already took her break. She’ll stay on and keep us posted.”

Both Sara and Greg looked at her a moment, as if not certain that this was the best idea. Riley tried on her best reassuring smile, which was probably the least used of all her expressions.

“I’ll work this case as if he were my own brother,” she promised them. “Brass has already programmed you guys into my speed dial. You’ll know as soon as I do.”

When Greg arrived in the locker room, he saw that Warrick was already there, shouldering a messenger bag as he stared vacantly into his locker. His stomach gurgling apprehensively, Greg tried to sneak by him on the other side of the bench that ran between the two sets of lockers.

He thought he’d gotten away with it, until he heard Warrick say, “So, what did you do?”

Greg froze, misinterpreting the remark as an accusation. “Warrick…” He faltered, looking at the back of Warrick’s head and trying to think of some sort of excuse that would be worthy, that would help everything make sense, but beyond, I just wanted some pizza, Greg could think of nothing.

Warrick fell back onto the bench, his forearms resting on his knees as he stared at the ground. “Brass is right. I do need a break.”

Greg tilted his head and gave Warrick a quizzical look. He rounded the bench and sat next to him. “Why?”

For the first time in the conversation, Warrick looked up at Greg and cocked an eyebrow. “You didn’t hear?”

Slowly, Greg shook his head.

Warrick laughed. It wasn’t amused or sad. It was just tired. “Scared poor Mandy half to death.” He looked over at the door. “Really should apologize to her for that.”

There was a strange quiet that fell between them. Greg wanted to ask him to continue, but at the same time, he knew Warrick would speak when he felt comfortable enough to do so.

He was right. “I had her pull up every database. Not just Nevada and Missouri… I had her go into IAFIS.”

“The federal database?”


“Any luck?”

The look Warrick gave him answered that question. “So I asked her to pull up EURODAC, and that’s where she drew the line.”

Greg felt his own frustrations rising. “Why the hell did she do that?”

Again, Warrick chuckled. “Because she doesn’t have access. Not an American system.”

Greg’s anger fizzled away. “Oh… right.”

But Warrick gave him a sympathetic look. “Anyways, tension was running high and all, and dead end upon dead end sort of compounded itself… I yelled at her. Threw the keyboard on the floor. That’s when Brass called me in. Told me to go home.”

Greg nodded. “Makes more sense now. He just told Sara and me to pack it up as well. Guess he’s worried about another… Well, what you did.”

“Guess so,” Warrick breathed. He rose to his feet, adjusting his grip on his messenger bag. “I’ll… see you later.”

Greg also leapt to his feet, his stomach twisting again. “Warrick, I… I want to… apologize.”

Warrick’s eyebrows came together and he managed a bemused smile. “For what, Greg?”

Greg pursed his lips and wrapped his arms around himself. He looked down at the floor, then up again at Warrick. “For Nick. For… I don’t know, sending him out there. Should’ve just gotten delivery, am I right? Or moved my own fat ass, picked it up myself…” He nudged an invisible speck on the floor with the toe of his shoe.

He heard movement from Warrick. The rustling of a jacket, the plop of a messenger bag… and a solid hand gripping his shoulder. Greg’s eyes remained on the toe of his shoe.

“Greg, look at me.” He obliged. He owed Warrick that much. The other man was looking at him, his blue eyes sharper than ever as he tried hard to keep Greg’s skittish gaze. “You think I haven’t been where you are?”

Greg opened his mouth to respond, but Warrick didn’t give him the chance.

“This isn’t on you. All right?”

Greg didn’t know what to say. He heard the sincerity in Warrick’s tone, felt his fingers digging into his shoulder. He knew it was important to Warrick that he understood those words, but he just couldn’t. He couldn’t, because… “Warrick, what if he—”

Warrick didn’t let him finish. “I used to have an issue, with gambling. And it was a struggle, and one I never dealt with all that well. I mostly managed to stay away from the casinos, but I still put small wagers on football games, even cases. Last year, a coin toss put Nick in the ground. I haven’t placed any kind of bet since.”

Greg was quiet as he processed this. Then, “Does that mean I won’t be able to eat pizza again?”

Very slowly, Warrick’s lips curled, giving birth to a smile that spread across his face like a sunrise. He loosened his grip on Greg’s shoulders and gave him a hard pat before saying, “You shouldn’t eat that stuff anyway. I think you’re gaining weight.”

He turned to leave and Greg indignantly called, “My BMI is within average range, you jerk!”

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