Riley waited until the graveyard shift had all exited the building before heading out and rounding up officers for her personally headed search party. After briefing them at the precinct, she returned to the crime lab, calling over her shoulder to Officer Metcalf as she went. “Fuel up, we’re heading out in ten.”
She strode into Grissom’s office as if it were her own. She saw Nick’s personnel file laying open on his desk and walked around it to seize it, and it was only then that she looked up and noticed there were two people, a man and a woman, sitting in front of his desk. Riley hesitated, her mouth partially open as she managed a smile.
“Hello…” she said slowly.
They were both older, dignified, wearing business attire. The man wore a suit with a blue tie, and the woman wore a gray pencil skirt and blazer with a light pink blouse and a string of pearls. The couple complimented each other perfectly. It was the man who spoke first. “You’re not Dr. Grissom.”
Riley forced an awkward laugh. “Last time I checked.”
They didn’t even smile.
Riley let out a low whistle, then extended her hand. “I’m sorry. I’m Detective Riley Adams from St. Louis. Helping Vegas out on a manhunt.”
The man rose to his feet and took her proffered hand. He nodded at her words. “That manhunt…” he began. “I assume it’s for the bastard that took my son?”
The color drained from Riley’s face and her grip slackened, but the man wouldn’t let go until he had his answer. “Uh…” And again, she tried to laugh. When it didn’t work, she dropped the smile, and nodded seriously. “Yes. Yes, sir, I believe it is.”
He let go of her hand and straightened out his suit. “I’m Bill Stokes. This is my wife, Jillian.”
Riley nodded at the both of them, her face as solemn as a grave stone. “How do you do?”
“Not well,” Bill Stokes said loudly.
Riley flushed. “Of course. I’m sorry—”
“What is wrong with you people?” Bill growled. “Can’t you keep track of your employees and coworkers? Does someone from this lab disappear every day? Does it happen a lot, or is my son just special?”
“I can understand once,” he continued. “Once, it’s their fault. I put these sons of bitches away, I know how they work. But you should too. You should have seen this coming.”
“Not now, Jillian,” Bill said, his eyes remaining on Riley, who shrank back at his words. “My boy is smart. My boy is strong. My boy is not someone who is easily subdued or distracted or fooled.”
“No,” Riley said, shaking her head. “No, sir, of course he’s not.”
“So tell me, then, Detective,” he said, annunciating every word. “How could you allow this to happen?” His imposing voice rose several decibels, enough to make Riley sit down in Grissom’s chair.
“Bill!” Jillian Stokes admonished, leaping to her feet. Riley looked from one to the other. Nick’s mother took her husband by the shoulders and forced him to face her. He was hanging his head, and she shook his shoulders to make him meet her eye. “We talked about this on the plane. You can’t yell at flight attendants, you can’t yell at taxi drivers, and you can’t yell at detectives.”
Bill brought his arms up, breaking free of her grip on his shoulders. “And who can I yell at, Jillian?”
“I don’t know!” Jillian cried, sarcasm punctuating her words. “How about the bastard responsible?”
Her husband looked about to protest, but he held his breath and turned back to Riley, who was still in Grissom’s chair. “Do you have any leads? Suspects?”
Riley tried to choose her words carefully. “Well…”
“Are you absolutely incompetent?!” Bill snapped.
“Judge Stokes?” The voice had come from the doorway, and everyone turned to see Grissom there, watching them with a curious expression. Riley sighed with relief. So he’s a judge, huh? she thought. Hate to be a defendant in his courtroom.
“Thank God,” Bill muttered. “Someone with brains.” He approached and held out his hand. “Dr. Grissom, I only wish I could be greeting you under happier circumstances.”
“As do I,” Grissom said with a nod.
“You found him once,” said Jillian, clasping her hands together as if in prayer. “You can do it again.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement of utter faith.
Grissom smiled weakly at her, then nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Stokes. We will.”
Riley rose to her feet, taking Nick’s personnel file and trying to slip out as quietly as she could. Unfortunately, she needed to pass all three of them to get back out into the hall. Grissom caught her eye, but she ducked her head and tried to walk by him. He caught her arm, making her turn around and face Nick’s parents.
“You’ve met Detective Adams?”
Bill grumbled, but his wife said, “Yes, we’ve had the pleasure.” Bill snorted at the comment.
Grissom nodded, seeming to understand the subtext. “Did she tell you why she came to Vegas tonight?”
“She’s supposed to be out looking for my son,” Bill snarled.
Grissom nodded. “Yes, she did volunteer for that. Detective Adams came here tonight to investigate a lead she was following concerning a potential serial killer out of St. Louis, only to discover the crime scene of her friend, Lincoln Meyer.” He looked at Jillian. “A lawyer, also from St. Louis.”
Bill pursed his lips and folded his arms as Jillian’s eyes grew wide.
“Detective Adams has agreed to be our daytime liaison during this case, as the rest of us get some much needed rest so we can attack it with fresh eyes,” Grissom continued. “She’s as devoted to finding this person as anyone.”
There was quiet. Riley shifted and pointed out the door. “Um, I told Metcalf…”
“Thank you, Detective,” Grissom said, a light glinting in his blue eyes. Or, it could have been his glasses. Riley ducked her head like a scorned child and made her exit, feeling worse than when she’d come in there.
Brass had on his jacket and was on his way out of the building when he made the mistake of walking by Gil Grissom’s office. His pace slowed to a stop and he lingered there, watching as Grissom sat behind his desk and explained, as calmly as he could, the entire situation to Nick’s parents. He could see the back of Judge Stokes’ head nodding every so often. Soon enough, he saw the judge reach out and take his wife’s hand, bridging the space between them. He watched her squeeze it. They were each other’s anchor, and they were tethered together by that single touch. Without that gesture, an ignorant bystander would assume this was just another business meeting among associates. Grissom’s face was set, but not upset, as he relayed the necessary information, and Nick’s parents both had perfect posture as they forced themselves to listen.
With a sigh, Brass pulled his eyes away from the scene and noticed that Mandy was standing a few feet in front of him, also watching. She seemed to feel that Brass was watching her, and turned to face him, ringing her hands. Brass could see the bruise on her wrist where, when trying to calm Warrick down, the CSI had inadvertently twisted it.
“What is he telling them?” Mandy asked, her voice smaller than the squeak of a mouse.
“What he has to.”
Mandy looked down at the floor, then up again. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t access the EURODAC. I have a cousin in Norway who—”
“I highly doubt it would yield any results anyway.” He paused, before adding, “But thank you, Mandy.”
She glanced through to the labs on her left and her eyes lingered there. Brass followed her gaze to see Wendy in the trace lab, and she was watching them closely. She stood beside Hodges, who appeared to be processing evidence, although Brass believed this was only a pretense, and a weak one at that. Brass smiled sadly and shook his head before making his way down the hall, past Mandy.
Her words made him stop again. “We all want him back, Detective.” He turned around to look at her again. “We miss him, too.”
“I know,” Brass said, his voice low, quiet, but honest.
Mandy nodded. “Good. Would you… tell Warrick that for me?”
Brass closed his eyes, pursed his lips, but nodded. “He didn’t mean to—”
“I know.” And like Brass, her voice was also low and quiet, but there was a hint of doubt in it.
Even before meeting Nick Stokes’ parents, Riley fully intended on keeping the promise she’d made to Greg and Sara, which is precisely why she was out doing the legwork with Officer Metcalf within half an hour of making it. And that is also why seasoned detective Riley Adams, at 11:00AM, nine hours after Nick was discovered missing, found herself knocking on doors in the neighborhood to see if anyone had noticed anything suspicious.
She had opted to take the businesses, as they were more likely to have more watchful citizens than the private residences. After all, when you own a convenience store near Finley, you have to be wary of any customer that that comes in after the sun goes down. Not to mention the fact that several commercial enterprises invested in video surveillance to protect their stores. Riley was keeping her fingers crossed that one of those cameras may have caught something.
But they had already checked the convenience store, and the appliance shop, and the cafes. No one reported seeing anything, and the surveillance cameras had horrible views of the streets. Riley looked up at their next option and began to lose faith. The hours on the auto shop reported that it closed at 5:00PM every day, and that body was definitely dumped after that, as there would have still been bikers out on the trail at that hour. She groaned, but entered the shop anyway with Officer Metcalf right behind her.
The door led directly into the office, but it was empty. Metcalf took the liberty of checking the door to the adjacent garage.
“No one there,” he reported. “Just a black Tahoe. Hood’s popped, though.”
Riley emitted another frustrated growl. “Where the hell’s the help around here?”
As if answering her plea, the door marked Employees Only swung open. A small, scrawny woman was wiping oil off her hands with a rag, and had a smudge of it on her cheek as well. She smiled at the sight of them as she made for her desk.
“Hope you haven’t been waiting long,” she said. “Just washing up. What can I do for you?”
“Washing up?” Riley cocked an eyebrow. “You missed a spot.”
The woman laughed. “Yes, well, oil is like red wine. You can never get it out. Make and model?”
“Of your car,” she elaborated. “I only ask because while I can do the Japanese ones, my specialties are in domestic brands.”
“Like that Chevy Tahoe you got in your garage?” Riley asked.
She nodded. “Also got a fine classic of a pickup in the back. Wanna see?”
Riley forced a smile, then pulled out her badge. “Maybe later. I need to ask you a few questions concerning something that happened in this area last night.”
She gave an awkward shrug. “How late last night?”
“Between sundown and ten o’clock.”
The woman puckered her lips, her eyes unfocussed, then shook her head. “No, I would have been home by then. We close at five.”
Riley sighed. “Yeah, I saw that. Still, couldn’t hurt to ask, right?”
“Of course not,” said the woman.
Riley yawned and turned to leave. She gestured at Metcalf to follow. “Thank you for your…”
She stopped, her hand on the door. Her brow furrowed into a curious expression and she turned around. “Ma’am, who is the owner of that black Tahoe?”
The mechanic’s eyes flew to the ceiling. “Um… Oh, yeah, duh, Mike Larson. He dropped it off this morning, told me that the alternator is shot. He brings me all sorts of different cars to play with. He’s in sales, you know. Previously owned?”
“Mind if we check the plates?” Riley asked.
She shook her head. “Not at all.”
So Riley and Metcalf entered the garage. The officer drew closer to the detective. “You don’t think this car belongs to Nick Stokes, do you?”
“We’ve got an APB out on a Chevy Tahoe,” Riley replied. “Seems a bit too much of a coincidence that one just happens to end up in her garage the morning after he disappears.”
She tilted her head and opened her folder. The plates didn’t match.
She heard the owner of the garage enter behind them. “Find anything?”
Riley still had her doubts. She turned her head to the owner. “What about the VIN?”
The woman nodded. “I got it written down in his papers,” she said. “Come back into the office.”
But Riley strode over to the car itself. She looked under the hood, then at her notes. She tossed a glance at Metcalf, who raised his eyebrows.
Riley turned back to the owner of the auto shop. “Thank you for your time, ma’am,” she said. She handed the woman her card. “Please. If you can think of anything, or notice anything odd in the park tonight, or any other night, don’t hesitate to give me a call.”
“If I may ask…” the woman began. “What exactly are you looking for?”
“A person,” Riley told her. She handed the woman a picture. “He’s been missing since last night. We think he’s been abducted.”
The woman looked at the picture and traced his face with her fingers. “He looks so happy…” she said, wistfully. She snapped her head up to look at Riley with sad eyes. “I wish I could be of more help.”
“You have been,” Riley lied, then gestured at Metcalf to follow. As they were leaving, she commented, “Standing in that garage, it hit me. This horrible pounding headache. Be with me all day, I swear.”
“Tell me about it,” said Metcalf.
She was genuinely sorry about the missing man in the photo. Her heart ached to think that there was someone out there who couldn’t be with the people he loved because someone had taken him from them. She remembered what that was like, being away from the only one who had ever really loved her. But that didn’t matter now, because they were together again.
She climbed the stairs and opened the door to see him there, on the bed. The sedative in the food she had fed him had knocked him out pretty well. She was glad. He didn’t need to feel this. She crawled onto the bed and slung her knee over his hips, sitting up as she drew the knife. Watching him sleep was almost heaven. His eyes were dry again, and his lips were straight, his expression unburdened. That evil woman didn’t haunt him when he slept. No, she could not touch them there.
Alexa drew the knife out of her pocket. He was almost heaven, almost perfect, almost hers… but not quite. Certain alterations needed to be made.
“Your blood is my blood, your wounds are my wounds.”
He had said that to her, the night her mother had cut her. He had said that before turning the knife on himself.
“You see, Lexa? I don’t care. She thinks she can take away your beauty. She thinks she can stop me from loving you. But that will never happen.”
She touched her fingers to the scar on her face, remembering the most selfless act of devotion she had ever witnessed. She leaned over him now, her forearms resting on either side of his shoulders, and her lips brushed delicately against his forehead. She stroked his hair, then held the knife beneath the far corner of his left eye. As she brought the blade across his face, she felt him stiffen beneath her, letting out a groan in his sleep. But he didn’t wake up.
Though her scar had been a slash from a jealous woman, his had to be slow, delicate. That’s how he had done it the first time. It had been a testament to his resolve, to what he would tolerate just to keep her beside him. She held it steady, drawing the blade down his cheek like an artist’s pen before ending with a flourish at his chin. The blood blossomed from the wound like rubies and Alexa leaned down to lick the incision. She straightened again, licking her lips. She reached for the iodine on the bedside table and poured it onto some gauze before dabbing at the incision.
He stirred. She pulled away. His eyelids fluttered and his face contorted in pain. “Ah…” he sighed, his breathing coming in bursts. He turned his head to the side, his unmarred cheek towards the mattress, then let out a much louder, “Ah!”
She hushed him and stroked his hair. “No, sweetheart, no, it’s OK.”
“What did you…” He winced.
“Sh, sh, sh, don’t talk,” she said.
He turned to face her again, bafflement scribbled across his face. She smiled at him like an angel. “It’s a testament to how much you love me. Remember?” She put the iodine down and took a fresh pair of brown, rectangular-rimmed glasses and placed them delicately over his ears. “There. Doesn’t that feel better?”
She leaned down and kissed him, her hands moving over his shoulders and squeezing them. She leaned her forehead against his. “I just want you to remember,” she whispered, “how much I love you, too, Daddy.”