Heaven & Hell Part 4
Archie had gone in search of Catherine and was dismayed to find her in Grissom's office. He was about to return to his A/V lab before they saw him, but wasn't quick enough.
"Archie, did you want to talk to one of us?"
"Um...Catherine." He shrugged to indicate it wasn't a big deal, "Whenever you have a minute."
"You have something for me?"
"That...that information you asked about."
Catherine's lips formed a silent 'oh' when she realized what he meant.
"Is this about Nick's case?" Grissom asked.
Archie met Catherine's gaze, hoping for some clue how to proceed.
"Archie," Grissom beckoned him into the office, his manner leaving no room for argument.
Archie clutched his folder like a shield and closed the door behind him without being asked before taking the chair next to Catherine.
"This is about Nick's case, isn't it?" Grissom asked again.
They both nodded.
"Well, what is it?"
"You know that Kurt Prause has a gun like the one that shot Carreiro," Catherine said, stepping into the breach.
"And it's been nearly impossible to track him without alerting the Feds."
"Well. I...asked Archie if he might be able to find a way around those things."
Grissom frowned and then temperature in the office seemed to have dropped several degrees. "Hacking?" His voice was pitched low in spite of the closed door. "You have someone from this lab hacking?"
Grissom was really making him uneasy, but Archie didn't feel right leaving Catherine to bear the brunt of his anger. "I had some people I know look into the touchier stuff, so nothing will ever come back to--"
"Archie." Grissom's voice was enough to freeze the rest of his words in his throat.
"Gil, I asked him to do it. It was my idea."
The look Grissom gave her spoke volumes, but Catherine met it defiantly, without flinching. She might as well have shouted in his face that she'd do it again in a heartbeat, because that was the attitude coming off her in waves.
After a brief staring contest, some of the tension left Gil's shoulders and with it, much of the tension in the room. "What did you find?"
"Well, there were several different levels of difficulty for getting someone this information. The fairly simple stuff that I took care of here, the tougher stuff that I dug through from home, and the nearly impossible stuff that my friends found for me. As far as reliability, I trust what they found completely.
Grissom nodded, "Start with the data that was nearly impossible to get."
"Kurt Prause--at least the one matching the picture and prints--has been dead for at least ten years. While he was alive, though, he was involved in the sort of stuff the Feds are after him for."
"The Feds are chasing a ghost?" Catherine gaped. "How can they not know?"
"Maybe he's their ghost," Grissom suggested.
"I can have my friends look into it," Archie offered, not liking the way Catherine slumped, almost in defeat.
"Do that," Grissom said.
Archie jotted that down. "Anyway, that renders most of the basic information useless, but there are a few interesting things that I found after quite a bit of digging. There have been several people employed by Prause since his death. There were four that showed up more than once and had been to the US at some point. Umm..." He looked though the file, "Serena Jazch and Kenneth Case went up in smoke once I looked too hard--they never existed in the first place. Piers Vanous seemed to be a hired gun but has been dead for three years, and Lars Wietzel is almost untraceable except for a long rap sh--" Archie stopped when Catherine took the folder from his hands. He glanced at Grissom in question, but his boss was busy dialing the phone.
"Detective Vartann, this is Grissom. Call me as soon as you hear this. I need to know if you're still holding Vrederveld and if you've found Wietzel anywhere."
"I'll meet him at PD," Catherine said, then looked at Archie, holding up the folder. "Can I take this?" She barely waited for his nod before rushing out of the office.
"Good job," Grissom said.
"I owed him," Archie replied and regretted his words when Grissom closed his eyes in pained acknowledgment.
"Yes, sir. No, sir, I haven't heard from him. Yes, sir, I'll tell him." With a sigh, Detective Caveliere put his phone back in his pocket.
"Brass?" Greg asked.
"Is he calling about Vartann again?"
Greg nodded and turned his gaze back out the windshield. He was waiting on a stakeout with Caveliere--who was working regular cases in addition to Nick's--so he could process a suspect immediately after he walked out of his home and meth lab. If they got him, it would be a slam dunk case, but in the meantime, it was just boring.
They had been there for an hour and Brass had already called twice asking about Vartann, who was supposed to be working Nick's case but had been AWOL for the past several hours. Shortly after getting a call from Grissom telling him about Wietzel, Vartann had cut Vrederveld loose--the exact opposite of what Grissom had asked--and hadn't been seen since. Greg had actually been happy to get out of the lab, because Grissom and Catherine had been just plain scary since they'd heard.
That didn't mean he wasn't wondering about Vartann as well. "Why would he cut Vrederveld loose after Grissom asked him to hold him?"
"I don't know."
"I mean, even if he was pissed at Grissom for some reason," Greg mused aloud, "It affects the whole case. And he didn't even call to say he wouldn't be in for his shift, did he?"
"Lousy time for him to take off," Greg said. "Especially since he didn't leave word with anyone. I mean, he's one of the main detectives working Nick's case."
"You trying to say something, Sanders?" Caveliere turned to glare at him.
Greg knew he was pushing every one of Caveliere's buttons, but didn't really care. He slanted the detective a look, "Just that it's strange for him to disappear right after he cut Vrederveld loose--when he wasn't supposed to cut Vrederveld loose."
"Yeah?" Caveliere's lip curled in contempt. "Well, some people think it's strange that Stokes disappeared right after a cop got shot."
"That's--!" Outrage robbed Greg of his voice and he could only sputter furiously.
"Hey, you don't want me saying shit about Stokes, then stop trying to find a bad cop," Caveliere said, shaking a finger in his face.
Greg fought the urge to snap at that finger and held his tongue as well. Getting into it with Caveliere was a bad idea on all counts, tempting though it was. A week of helplessness, of not be able to do anything to help Nick, of watching Warrick and Grissom--the two men that had taught him most about the job--tearing themselves up inside, had diminished his usual ability to let things go.
"Look, we've got a scumbag to catch, so why don't you just worry about doing your job?"
He couldn't resist. "That's some advice you need to save for Vartann."
"Get away!" Nick snarled when he felt himself hauled off the floor and dropped onto the bed once again. But after that, he went back to keeping silent. He already knew that reasoning had no effect. He was certain threats would be ignored or only anger his guards further. Any pleas would most likely be mocked, and in any case, Nick was not going to give them the satisfaction of hearing him beg.
"You got scissors?"
"What the hell would I be doing with scissors?"
A laugh. Then the soft snik of a blade snapping open.
"Oh. Right." Snik.
Nick considered fighting again, but knew it would be futile and probably get him badly sliced up. Once again, he closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and waited. He concentrated instead on what his chances were of actually being released, trying to weight the pros and cons of killing him versus freeing him from Sampson's point of view.
His t-shirt came off with little trouble. They barely had to use their knives and instead simply tore it after the initial cut. Then they stopped and there was silence that went on so long Nick nearly opened his eyes.
"What a good boy," Moutry snorted. "Not a single tattoo."
"You get kinda used to seeing guys with tats," Rauscher commented. "Don't know when was the last time I've seen skin all clean like that."
Nick swallowed hard. That was not a comforting observation.
A hand slid down his chest to the waistband of his jeans and Nick fought to suppress a shudder. They unfastened his fly and tugged his jeans down only slightly before going to work with their knives. The denim was more difficult, and the blades often missed and cut into his skin even though he tried to hold as still as possible.
His shorts, like his t-shirt, came off easily and Nick rolled onto his side, curling in on himself.
"Aw, he's shy," Rauscher crooned.
Moutry let out a grunt of laughter. "Let's get him in the tub."
Nick flexed every muscle, holding himself as rigid as possible, but several tremors still betrayed him when he felt their hands on his bare skin, picking him up to take him into the bathroom. They sat him on the edge of the tub and simply lifted his bound legs, dumping him in. He hit his head hard enough to see stars, but any pain was lost in the jolt that traveled through his entire body when he landed. By the time he got his bearings again, water was cascading down on him from the showerhead. With difficultly, he managed to squirm into a sitting position, leaning forward instinctively.
If they only had left him alone in the tub, Nick would have been happy to endure the too-hot water pouring down on him for hours. If nothing else, it felt good to have the sweat and grime of a week rinsed away, and even better to be rid of their stench, even for a short time. But both men simply stood and looked at him, commenting on his body and offering to wash his back, among other things.
Although neither guard had mentioned it, from the moment cutting off his clothes was suggested, the fear of much more than bath had been hovering at the edges of Nick's consciousness despite his best efforts. He knew he had to keep those thoughts at bay, that if he allowed them to fully form, he'd succumb to a blind, mindless panic.
"That oughta do it," Rauscher said, grasping Nick's arms and hauling him back up.
"What about his front?" Moutry asked, sitting on the closed toilet to watch.
With a laugh, Rauscher turned Nick to face the spray, but balancing in a tub with bound feet was impossible. Almost immediately, Nick's legs skidded out from under him and he landed against Rauscher. Wrapping an arm around Nick's chest, Rauscher leaned in until his nose was practically pressed against the skin of Nick's neck. "Smells a lot better," he commented.
Please. Please, please, please, no.
"Showers always were the best place to find a punk," Moutry added, standing. "And if Sampson didn't give a damn about us fucking his mouth--he ain't gonna care about this."
"No!" As they took him out of the bathroom and put him face down on the bed, Nick's reserve finally cracked. "God! Don't--dammit! No!" Even though he knew it was still useless, he fought harder than ever, swearing at the top of his voice.
His wet, slippery skin did make it difficult for them to hang onto him, but rather than angering them further, it only seemed to amuse them. They were obviously enjoying sliding their hands over him, content to let him wear himself out with his struggles.
"Think we'll need to untie his legs?" Moutry wondered aloud.
"Nah. Should still be able to get in there." To demonstrate his point, Rauscher gripped one of Nick's buttocks and pushed several fingers in between. "Oh, yeah. Nice and tight."
Nick thrashed away and, laughing, Rauscher let him. Panting from his exertions, Nick no longer had the breath to curse at his tormentors. Every fiber of his being screamed for him to somehow escape the hands that roamed over his skin, pinching, slapping, cruelly handling the same body that Warrick Brown had treated with such care and tenderness.
Immediately, Nick stopped that train of thought. Thinking about Warrick now was obscene--even more obscene than what was being done to him.
Eventually, exhaustion forced him to stop and Rauscher didn't require any assistance to pin him down on his stomach. Moutry, Nick was revolted to see, had pulled a chair up to the bed as though it were the television and he was settling in to watch a show.
A finger, slick with spit, probed between his cheeks, prodding insistently, then entering the tight opening. "This is going to be good," Rauscher voice was eager.
A sob finally broke from his throat, and before another escaped, Nick pressed his face into the bedspread. He bit down on a mouthful of it, ignoring the taste of his sweat and their semen. It was the only way to stifle his screams when Rauscher viciously thrust into him, because he couldn't bear to give them that additional satisfaction. It didn't actually stop his cries, only muffled them.
He tried to think of something else, anything else, but it was impossible when Rauscher was pounding at him, panting and hissing vile things in his ear. All he could think was that when Rauscher finally finished, it would be Moutry's turn.
Warrick knocked on the open door of Grissom's office and waited until his boss looked up before walking it. "The DA called be a while ago. He's been trying to get in contact with you about the Faye Matthews case."
"Faye Matthews?" Grissom frowned. "I wasn't even aware charges were being pressed. I thought she had been placed in a mental health facility."
"Apparently, he's decided they're going to prosecute, claiming that she wasn't legally insane."
"What?" Grissom took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Does the elaborate fantasy life she created mean nothing? I don't have time to go over the case again."
"I know," Warrick said, holding out a folder. "But you're the primary."
"Unless I turn it over to you," Grissom said, picking up a pen. "I just need the form..." he started rifling through his desk drawers.
"There's one in the folder," Warrick said.
Grissom gave him a tiny smile before rapidly filling out the paperwork necessary to make Warrick the primary CSI on the case.
While he waited, Warrick let his eyes roam over the rows of books that lined the walls. Sadness welled up inside him unexpectedly--that was happening more and more often. "Which one?"
"Which one what?" Grissom asked, sounding distracted.
"Which book did you find the ant in?"
The silence stretched on until Warrick finally turned to see that Grissom had gotten up and was standing next to him. "Warrick--" he began, then shook his head helplessly.
"Sorry," Warrick muttered, and he was. The last thing Grissom needed was to be reminded. He'd been living and breathing nothing but Nick's case.
"We just--" Grissom stopped when his phone rang. At any other time, they might have ignored it, but not when Nick was still out there somewhere. "Grissom."
As Warrick watched, the entomologist's face went slack and he leaned heavily against his desk. No. No, no, no, no...
"Yes. I'm on my way," Grissom said, and hung up.
Warrick just stared, too heartsick to ask.
"That was the hospital," Grissom's voice sounded odd to Warrick's ear. "Carreiro woke up."
It was one of the few times Gil Grissom felt completely in tune with the people around him. That those people were cops only made it stranger. Even before he got in his Denali to drive to Officer Michaels' house, after only the brief phone call from Sam Vega, he could feel the rage thrumming through the air and not only understood it, but shared and even reveled in it. There was only one thing that could do that to an entire police department.
When Neil Carreiro awoke, he'd barely had the strength to speak, but still answered Vega's question--do you know who shot you? DA Michaels. What was Michaels doing at the crime scene? Vega had to lean forward to catch his words: looking for Stokes.
Fifteen minutes after Vega heard that, detectives, uniforms and CSIs descended on Michaels' small house. Gil was among the last to arrive because he'd spent quite some time trying to convince Warrick not to come. After a week of being so unnaturally calm that Gil had found it worrisome, Warrick exploded into a maelstrom of curses, threats and promises of retribution. It took some talking, but eventually he managed to convince Warrick to channel that rage elsewhere.
So Warrick was off to inform Greg, Sara and Nick's family of a major break while Gil drove to Michaels' house--rage intact. It was a rage he saw reflected in the faces of the cops around him when he got out of his vehicle. A barely-controlled fury that one of their own had betrayed them in the worst possible way. This was nothing like Brass' accidental hit during a fire fight. No one doubted Carreiro or thought he might somehow be mistaken. No cop had forgotten that Michaels was on the scene of Nick's first abduction.
First on scene, first suspect.
Gil had let that slide because the man had been a cop--another betrayal. Everyone had treated the man like an idiot instead of the criminal he was.
It was something of a relief to finally have someone to direct his anger at. Before this he'd only had the shadowy figure of Barrett Sampson, and it was difficult to rage at an invisible man. Gil knew that much of this anger sprang from his own guilt for having lied to Nick--twice. First about the tape and then with his ridiculous assertion that it was over. He knew, logically, that he couldn't possibly have predicted this, but that didn't really matter. It had been a lie when it said it--he'd known just by looking at Nick it had been a lie.
He had seen the disappointment--hurt, really--in Nick's eyes and hadn't been prepared for it. Especially ironic when Nick's dying concern had been disappointing him. It was something he'd always meant to rectify, but couldn't find a way. After Kelly Gordon's suicide, Nick had kept his distance and Gil was ill-equipped to bridge it. If--when...when they found Nick, Gil promised himself, he'd give the Texan a long overdue apology.
Of course, he'd promised himself that the last time as well.
Sofia was walking out with such a sense of purpose about her, that he stopped to ask.
"We found a long-term parking pass for the Tangiers," she said, holding up her notebook. "I took down the number."
Gil nodded, Could mean something, could mean nothing.
"Michaels' car is in his garage," Sofia added.
It definitely meant something. Nick's GPS unit had given them nothing--either it had been dismantled or was being blocked--and the BOLOs hadn't turned up anything either. This could finally be Nick's truck. But the jolt of excitement that accompanied a big break was tempered by the fear of what might be found in any vehicle parked there.
Sofia knew it, too. "I'll call as soon as I find the parking spot."
"Thank you," Gil said and continued into the house.
Catherine was already there, along with a rather subdued Caveliere and Oscar Deems. Someone--Catherine, no doubt--had reminded the detective to snap on latex gloves as well.
"What have we got?"
"Michaels was off for two weeks of holidays, but from the looks of things around here, he was planning to be gone much longer," Catherine said, blue eyes flinty with plenty of fury of her own. Gil pitied the suspect she finally decided to unleash it on.
"Fridge is empty. Cable, phone, gas and electric all shut off. Closet and dresser drawers empty as well."
"Hmh," Gil pulled on a pair of gloves and knelt by the large suitcases near the door. "So he did everything except actually leave."
"So you really think Sampson is going to let him go?"
"You'd better hope not."
Nick shifted in discomfort, nearly dislodging Rauscher's feet from where they were propped on his buttocks. Rauscher responded by slamming his boot heel into Nick's hip before propping them--very hard--on the small of his back. Clenching his teeth against the pain that soon blended into the rest, Nick forced himself to focus again on keeping still. Whenever his mind began to drift, Rauscher seemed ready to catch him off guard.
"What'd you mean I'd better hope not?" Rauscher asked, settling again. "You're in on this, too."
"Not like you, man. Christ, Clayton, it hasn't even been a day and how many times have you fucked him?"
Nick ignored that. Ignored the laughter that followed. Ignored the agony in his lower extremities. He knew the fact that it was getting easier to ignore it all should be worrisome to him, but he was too tired to care.
"The fucker owes me. Didn't get myself any until my second year in Ely. That's about a year's worth of ass." Rauscher took his feet down and leaned forward in his chair. "If we find out Sampson's gonna let him go," he gripped one firm cheek with a meaty hand. "I'll just make sure the pussy blows his wad a few times and he won't want to tell anyone about it." He laughed again, released Nick, then slapped him on the ass. "Gives him something to look forward to, doesn't it?"
After barely more than an hour at Michaels' house, Gil found himself back at the lab with Catherine, in the garage. Sofia had called not long before to say that it was Nick's truck at the Tangiers, and she had sealed it and was waiting to have it towed. Since that usually took at least a couple of hours, Gil went back to processing Michaels' home. That was until Jim took matters into his own hands and got things moving much faster down at auto detail.
It had been some time since Gil had processed an entire vehicle himself, but this was too important to leave to anyone else. Except Catherine, of course. It would have been an effort in futility to try keeping her away. She was photographing the exterior, after several moments of staring into the cab.
Gil took shot after shot of the interior. Aggie key chain hanging from the mirror--just the right length not to interfere with visibility--snap. Pen, paper and extra sunglasses in a holder on the visor--snap. LVPD car mug in the cup holder--snap. A handful of coins in the center console--snap. A black hooded sweatshirt behind the passenger seat--snap. The black courier bag Nick sometimes used instead of a briefcase tucked behind the driver's seat--snap.
Then Gil brought it out and opened it, frowning at the sealed evidence bag inside. Nick knew better than to bring evidence home. He took it out, but the red baseball cap inside meant nothing to him. Next he took out the folder and opened it, staring at the photograph of a youth wearing a red baseball cap. Evidence in context. There was a two-page printout in the folder as well, each page signed and dated by Nick. "Catherine," he said, scanning Nick's witness statement.
Catherine crowded beside him, looking over his shoulder. "Wow," she murmured. "He really wanted to get this guy for Alexei. He must have gone back over two years worth of pictures to find that one."
"Warrick said he was going to recuse himself from the case."
"It looks like he meant to. He would have been a witness." She read over the report, "This must be what got him taken--both times. There's just too many commonalities. Bird watching," she whispered. "Oh, Nicky."
"I'll get the hat to Wendy--she'll know to make it priority. Nick was working this case with Vartann, right?"
"Yeah. Still no word from him, though."
Gil declined to comment on that, not wanting to put into words the tiny suspicion that had been burgeoning since he'd learned of Michaels' involvement. "I'll be back in a minute to finish the cab."
He knew it would work.
It was a damn good thing, too, if the messages on his phone were anything to go by. From the sound of the half-dozen messages Brass left and the warnings from Chris and Sam, his job was on the line. Not too surprising, considering he'd been AWOL for the past 36 hours when they were all in the middle of a major case. On the other hand, his job might be the least of his worries, judging by the messages Gil Grissom had left. The guy probably knew of a hundred different ways to kill a person with bugs so that no one would know, and although that normally wouldn't have worried Alex, he'd never heard Grissom sound the way he did on those last few messages. There had been no messages since the arrest, which surprised him--he'd thought the uniforms in the car behind him would have called it in already.
That didn't matter, though. He'd taken a big risk and it had paid off. Even if Brass had to take action over his unauthorized absence, it would be half-hearted at best. Once he walked into the department with Wietzel in cuffs, no one was going to care much about his impromptu disappearance. After Grissom's call about the long-dead Prause, Vartann had gone back to Vrederveld and talked about charges for fraud, for identity theft, saying that as Sampson's business manager, he would be equally liable as soon as they had the necessary proof. Then he'd rolled the dice, and unceremoniously cut Vrederveld loose. He'd been right about Vrederveld--the man was too craven to go to the big boss with such bad news, and instead made contact with Wietzel.
He didn't want Sampson--yet. There was less chance of Sampson rolling, and once they had him in custody, they'd never find Nick. They had enough to hold Wietzel, and Wietzel was the key to eventually getting Sampson. And if anyone would know about Sampson's plan, it was his right-hand man.
Alex knew as well as anyone that Nick's time was running out, and didn't bother with permission or backup--he just began tailing Vrederveld. Again, risky, but Wietzel would almost definitely have noticed more than one tail, so Alex put on his vest and went alone. When he got the message about Michaels, he almost abandoned the whole thing, but decided there would be enough cops looking for that son of a bitch--he was the only cop looking for this one.
Vrederveld met Wietzel in a park in a suburb--Alex recognized Wietzel through binoculars--and they left in separate cars. It was Wietzel's car Alex followed, a nondescript, late model Mercury that looked like it belonged to a soccer mom. Smart guy, Alex had to give him that much, but even the smart guys could screw up. Wietzel's mistake came when he stopped at a convenience store. He was dressed like a soccer dad, in schlumpy shorts and a t-shirt, and wouldn't have gotten a second look anywhere.
Alex couldn't have asked for a better place to arrest the guy.
It was a nice little neighborhood store, the kind of place where people just didn't get arrested. The employees and customers would definitely remember it--Wietzel knew that as well as anyone, and so he did nothing to draw more attention to himself. He cooperated fully--hands behind his back when told; yes, he understood his rights; yes, he was carrying a weapon, he had a permit. Just to be sure, Alex only mentioned charges of fraud, knowing that as long as there were only "paper" charges, Wietzel wasn't going to risk anything greater. He took Wietzel's gun and walked him out to the car, sitting him in the back seat.
Then he drew his own gun while he called for a black-and-white to take Wietzel to the station. The guy was docile enough at the moment, but Alex wasn't fooled--the guy had a cold, watchful look and it would have been insane to drive to the station with someone like that in the backseat of a Taurus. He wanted this guy cuffed to the seat and behind a cage--although he'd beaten them in the past, Wietzel had more than enough priors to warrant such precautions.
The uniforms arrived, and almost started talking about Michaels, but Alex told them to keep it quiet--he didn't want Wietzel knowing the police had uncovered the bad cop until just the right moment. As he drove back to the station, he wondered whom he should call first with the news, Brass or one of his fellow detectives. Then he decided he did such a good job that he deserved to call whomever he wanted, and hit the speed dial for Conrad Ecklie.
"There's Grissom," Sara said. "Wendy must have paged him that she has the results."
"C'mon," Warrick said, nudging her to join him on his way to the DNA lab. "I'm not sure what good the results are going to be, though."
"It'll be another tie from Nick to Alexei to Sampson," Sara returned.
Grissom glanced at them as he walked into the lab, but didn't comment. "What have you got, Wendy?"
"The hairs from the hat were human and a match to John Doe 06-108," she handed Grissom the printout.
"Then he is now Alexei Doe," Grissom replied. "I'll notify the morgue of the change."
Wendy nodded and Grissom left the lab.
"At least he has some identity now," Sara whispered sadly. "It doesn't get us any closer to Nick, though."
Warrick sighed and left her with Wendy, trailing after Grissom to the garage. He should have been working his latest arson case, but no one seemed to care that he was starting to slide on the job. No one commented on it, anyway. Warrick knew that probably should bother him, but for the past couple of days, he'd thought about getting out more than once. If the worst happened and they found Nick's body, there was no way he'd be able to go on working in this lab. If they never found Nick, it would only be a matter of time before he left. A vague, impersonal curiosity about whether that made him weak flickered through his mind, but never remained long enough to interfere with his other thoughts.
He stood just inside the doorway of the garage, watching as Grissom and Catherine went over every millimeter of the truck as though it were a brand-new case and not one that was rapidly cooling. They both glanced at him, but neither said anything.
There wasn't the slightest damage to the vehicle. Warrick couldn't help thinking that Nick would be relieved to know that, what with the way he'd always babied that truck. Turning his gaze away, his eyes fell on the table where all of Nick's personal items had been spread out and he had to clench his fists to keep from reaching out and touching. Not only was he not wearing gloves, but if anyone saw him doing that, it would start being muttered around the lab that Warrick Brown had gone off the deep end.
Providing that wasn't being muttered already.
"Hey, Rick," Brass' voice startled him out of the reverie.
"Hey," Warrick straightened away from the wall, trying not to look too much like a useless waste of space.
"I've got some news about Detective Vartann," Brass raised his voice so it carried through the garage. "If anyone's interested."
Grissom's head popped up from inside the truck and Catherine rolled herself out from underneath it. "You found him?"
"Escorting Lars Wietzel into the station. The two uniforms with him said he'd called them down to a convenience store in Spring Valley about fifteen minutes ago. They're booking Wietzel now."
"He found Wietzel?" Catherine sounded impressed--not an easy thing to do.
"I only spoke to him for a few minutes," Brass replied, "But apparently that's why he cut Vrederveld loose."
"So he could tail him to Wietzel," Warrick finished, his respect for Vartann going up a notch.
"Why didn't he say something?" Grissom asked. "Isn't a detective supposed to get permission from you to tail or stake out someone?"
Brass nodded, "Vartann said Wietzel would have caught wind of something like that, so he went alone."
Warrick's respect rose even more.
"I'll be taking disciplinary action of course."
For the first time in a week, Warrick felt a smile tug at his lips. Brass' impossibly dry tone indicated he'd probably inflict a pay bonus on Vartann as punishment.
"Anyway, he'll be interrogating the guy ASAP if you want to get in on it."
Grissom and Catherine looked at one another, then Catherine nodded. "I'll finish the truck."
Gil left the interrogation room fighting to urge to shred the file folder in his hands. It was rare that he felt the need to demonstrate his feelings physically, let alone so destructively, but the interview with Wietzel had pushed him close to the edge of his control.
He couldn't tell whether Wietzel actually knew where Nick was, but the man gave every sign of knowing about Nick's abduction and definitely knew where Sampson could be found. Yet he would give them nothing. Being presented with proof of Alexei's identity and presence on Sampson's land prompted no reaction--Wietzel obviously knew they had nothing to tie him to the teenager's death.
Not smug or taunting like so many other criminals Gil had encountered, instead Wietzel treated them with a cold amusement that was even more infuriating. Even telling him that they knew Michaels was in on it didn't get them so much as a flinch.
As he headed for the door, Gil saw Warrick--who should have been at home on another six-hour rest--waiting for him, and his heart sank. He was unable to speak and merely shook his head.
It was enough to get his point across.
Warrick's shoulders slumped and he nodded once before walking away.
"Car," Rauscher announced and Nick swallowed a sob out pure relief, not because he thought the car meant rescue, but because it at least meant a brief reprieve from the attentions of his guards. After another bath, Moutry had begun following Rauscher's example and taking Nick whenever the notion took him.
The door opened and Sampson barked, "Get him up!" before he had even crossed the threshold.
Nick was lifted into a sitting position and drew his knees up to his chest. It was the only means he had of shielding himself and he would have given anything to even be able to cover himself with a corner of the bedspread.
"I'll only ask you this once," Sampson growled at him, "And you'd better hope to God you can answer it. What could your people possibly have that would lead to the arrest of one of my top men?"
"What happened?" Rauscher asked.
"They arrested Wietzel," Sampson said, lighting his cigar with jerky movements. "And they've been in and out of that idiot's house all day."
"Which idiot?" Moutry asked, his tone cautious. Nick could tell they weren't used to seeing Sampson in such an agitated state, but didn't know if that was good or bad.
"Michaels," Sampson spat. "He botched his goddamned job again. The cop he was supposed to take care of woke up."
The laugh Nick let out surprised him as much as it did the other three men. He hadn't felt it coming, and was glad of that, because he might have been tempted to stifle it. "Good help is hard to find, isn't it?" he rasped, his voice worn.
Sampson leaned down and blew a stream of smoke into Nick's face. "What is it they have, Mr. Stokes?"
Nick shook his head, he knew he didn't have an even playing field, let alone the upper hand, but he was going to enjoy this while he could. "Maybe one of your people ratted you out."
"My people know better than that," Sampson returned immediately.
"Well, you haven't exactly hired the most competent employees in the past," Nick taunted.
For a moment Sampson looked as though he might just kill Nick with his bare hands, but then his contorted features smoothed out into a smile. Nick felt his own, forced, smile slide away--Sampson's amusement chilled his blood. "For a moment I didn't see this for what it was," Sampson chuckled. "But of course...one last dance before execution. One last display of courage. After this is gone comes the begging for mercy. The crying, the squirming, the screaming, the bargaining--I look forward to seeing it."
Nick tried to meet Sampson's eyes defiantly, but couldn't hold his gaze. It was all he could do to keep his expression from crumbling.
"You have some time yet, though. Your life may no longer be worth much to me, but I'm looking into the possibility of making your death profitable. I will be back soon, though, to watch as that bravado disappears. Perhaps you would be so kind as to give me a demonstration." Instead of the ashtray, Sampson stubbed out his cigar on Nick's shoulder.
After a yelp of shock and pain, Nick clenched his teeth and managed to remain silent as the smell of burnt skin wafted through the hotel room.
"Gentlemen," Sampson nodded to Rauscher and Moutry, then left.
Moutry watched from the window as Sampson drove away, but Rauscher sat down on the bed and yanked Nick closer so he could inspect the burn. "You think he's right?"
"About what?" Moutry turned toward them.
"About the screaming," Rauscher leered, taking Nick's chin in his hand. "He hasn't been doing much so far, and I'd really like to hear that."
You won't. You won't ever get that satisfaction. Nick jerked away from Rauscher's grasp. He had no idea how he was going to stifle his terror when those last moments came, but he wasn't going to let them win this particular contest of wills.
Rauscher prodded at the small burn. "Hey, isn't there some peroxide around here?"
"You don't put peroxide on a burn, dumbass."
"I'm gonna put it on this one."
"Warrick," Jillian met him at the door the moment he walked in. "We were told they brought a suspect in."
"They did," Warrick nodded.
"Is it the cop Neil Carreiro named?" Judge Stokes joined his wife, effectively boxing Warrick in.
"We went to the hospital," Jillian told him. "They won't allow us to visit Officer Carreiro, but we spoke to his sister. She said we should be able to see him in a few days."
Warrick nodded again, not sure if he was expected to comment on that.
"What about that crooked cop?" Stokes persisted. "Have they found him?"
"No, but they did find Nick's truck," Warrick said, resigned to the fact that he wasn't going to get away from the door until he told them what they wanted to know. "Inside, Nick had evidence linking Alexei to Sampson."
"This was only after the arrest?"
"Uh...no," Warrick said, knowing he was moving into a minefield. "They've been at Michaels' house since early this morning."
"Why weren't we called about it?"
"About..?" The synapses in his brain just didn't seem to be connecting anymore.
"About finding the boy's truck!" Stokes snapped, his scowl darkening. "We were supposed to be kept informed, dammit! I knew we should have brought the FBI in."
Warrick was sick of that underlying threat. "You think the Feds would keep you informed? Are you out of your mind?"
"I don't think they could possibly tell us less," Stokes replied icily. "Or take any longer."
They had him practically corralled by the door, otherwise Warrick would have walked away at that moment. He was getting close to crossing the line with Nick's father, and it was the last thing he wanted to do.
"You know what this reminds me of, Dad?" Susannah peeked over her father's shoulder. "It reminds me of when you were a DA and you'd always complain about how the victims' families kept calling and never gave you the time to actually do your job." Judge Stokes gave his eldest a look that probably scared the hell out of most people brought before him, but Susannah remained undaunted. "Besides, Warrick doesn't even work Nick's case. And he only gets six hours off a day--he's supposed to rest."
His scowl easing into a frown, the Judge studied Warrick briefly before stepping away. "You look like you need the rest," he said gruffly.
"I'll tell you everything I know," Warrick said wearily. "I just want some coffee."
As though realizing their error, Nick's parents hung back as he walked into the kitchen. Only Susannah trailed after him. "You must be hungry."
"You must be a diplomat," Warrick returned, grateful that someone was able to keep their head.
"Not by a long shot. I was a case manager for corrections until I took early retirement. But if you mean Daddy, that's years of experience."
Warrick got his coffee and joined the Stokes' at the dining table.
"This man they arrested..." Judge Stokes said in a much calmer tone. "Has he said where Nick is?"
"From what I gathered, he hasn't said word one."
"What about money?" Jillian asked. "Does he want money?"
"I don't think so," Warrick shook his head. "I've heard he's Sampson's right-hand man. It's not likely he's gonna turn on the guy."
"Who...who's handling him?" Susannah asked.
"It was Detective Vartann that brought him in," Warrick said.
"Vartann," Susannah nodded. "He's been pretty involved in this case."
"Next to Captain Brass, more than any other detective," Warrick confirmed. "He had been working Alexei's case with Nick before this happened."
"Then...there's nothing we can do? Still?"
Warrick hated that note of despair in Jillian's voice and knew it would break Nick's heart to hear it, so he offered what comfort he could. "They've made a lot of progress in the past 24 hours. This guy they arrested--Wietzel--the Feds have been after him for years and it was Vartann who got him. So..." He let his voice trail off, out of steam.
Jillian leaned against her husband, and Susannah stood with a heavy sigh. "I'm gonna...got out for a while. You need me to get anything, Mom?"
"No, thank you, Suz."
"Okay. Hey," she put a hand on Warrick's shoulder. "You get yourself some rest, hear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Warrick said, but knew neither one of them believed it.
There were many people who would consider having drinks with Conrad Ecklie a form of punishment, but Alex Vartann wasn't one of them. He was being punished at the moment, though, at least officially.
After finishing the unsuccessful interrogation, Brass had called him into his office and told him he was suspended without pay. That was actually harsher than Alex had expected, and it angered him to be taken off Nick's case, but he sucked it up. "How long?"
"Twelve hours," Brass said, scowling so there was at least some pretense. "Long enough to get drunk, forget about this case for a while and sober up again."
Two out of three ain't bad. The drunk and sober thing he could do, but forgetting about the case wasn't going to happen.
He called Ecklie, knowing the Assistant Director hadn't had much of a break himself for the past week and asked if he wanted to meet up at their usual place. Ecklie agreed, sounding grateful for the invitation.
Their 'usual place' was a bar more upscale than the shabby pub most cops frequented, but not exclusive like the club where Ecklie socialized with those in city and county upper management. This was an in-between stop on the Strip that served an assortment of cops, attorneys and white collar city employees. No one concerned themselves with the hardass detective who always drank with the unctuous Assistant Lab Director.
So they sat and drank and actually made a brief, pathetic attempt to talk about something other than the case, but soon gave that up as hopeless.
"Do you think there's a chance Wietzel will give anything up?"
Optimism was not something Vartann usually indulged in, but he gave it a shot. "Maybe eventually. But we don't have enough to hold him for the time it would take."
Ecklie turned his glass idly, watching the contents. "Alex. Level. Do you think Nick is still alive?"
That was a little easier. "Yep."
His swift response made Ecklie stare. "Really?"
"Yeah. If Nick was dead, Sampson would want us to find the body, most likely because he'll find a way to make it lead to someone else."
"That's comforting," Ecklie said, his voice drier than his martini.
"Detective Vartann. You're a difficult man to track down."
Alex didn't recognize the forty-something brunette standing next to their table. Her face was more compelling than pretty, with a square jaw, patrician features and blue eyes that shone with an intimidating amount of intelligence. Out of habit, Vartann took a quick inventory; the coiffed hair, designer clothes and understated but expensive jewelry all screamed affluence, while her posture and expression suggested a woman accustomed to getting things done. Although he didn't appreciate the interruption, Alex found himself standing on pure reflex and saw Conrad had as well.
"I'm Susannah Sutherland," she said holding out her hand.
"Mrs. Sutherland," Conrad held out his and she took it. "I'm Conrad Ecklie."
"Mr. Ecklie," Susannah nodded.
"She's one of Nick's sisters," Conrad explained.
"Oh," Alex immediately took her hand when she offered it again.
"May I join you?" she asked.
"Of course," Alex returned, because it just didn't seem right to say 'no.'
"I'd like to speak to you about my baby brother," she said, then stopped when a waitress approached. "Maker's Mark and water, thank you." That done, she turned back to the men, "I understand the man you arrested refuses to talk."
"So far," Alex admitted. "But--"
"Would you be willing to listen to a suggestion?"
Alex exchanged a glance with Conrad, then nodded. "I suppose we have the time."
Jim knocked once on the door jamb then walked into Grissom's office. "Gil."
Grissom took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes before looking up. "Yes?"
Studying the lines on his friend's face that grew more pronounced every day, Jim hoped the news he brought might finally put an end to it. "Wietzel rolled," he said, nodding when Grissom gaped at him. "Vartann questioned him again when he got back from his suspension," he smiled humorlessly when the entomologist rolled his eyes. "Wietzel says he doesn't know where Nick is, but he gave up some locations where Sampson is known to hide...merchandise, they call it," he couldn't keep the disgust out of his voice. "I've got a detective and two black-and-whites rolling out to each location and the paramedics on standby. I thought you'd want to get CSIs ready to go out in case--well, just in case."
Grissom stood and walked slowly around the desk, then leaned against it, looking a bit dazed. "How in the world did Vartann--? Did he..?"
Jim knew what Grissom was asking and at one time it might have infuriated him, but he'd been wondering the same thing. "Did he beat it out of the guy? There's not a mark on Wietzel. Besides, Ecklie was in there with him the entire time."
"Ecklie?" Grissom shook his head, for once looking as confused as Jim felt. "Did they make him a deal?"
"Nope. No deals, no attorneys requested. All Wietzel asked was for protective custody, and you'd better believe I made sure he got it."
"What did--did either of them say what happened?"
"Not a word, no matter how many times I asked. And y'know what? I don't really care."
Grissom nodded, "I'll call Catherine."
Nick winced when Rauscher abruptly pulled out of him, not so much because of the pain--he'd gotten used to that--but because Rauscher never pulled out before he was finished. More often than not, he would stay in until he got hard again, biting Nick's back and shoulders until he was ready to go once more. Nick had quickly learned that any change to the routine--no matter how horrible the routine--usually meant things were about to get even worse.
This time was no exception. He was abruptly flipped onto his back and then pulled into a sitting position by two hands fastened around his neck, cutting off any air supply. Nick kicked his bound legs and bucked frantically as spots began to swim before his eyes. This couldn't be it. Not just like that. He thought somehow that he'd have more warning--that there would be words of some sort, even gloating words.
Then the hands were gone and Nick slumped against the headboard, gasping for air. He'd barely gotten more than a lungful before he was grabbed by the hair and yanked in close to Sampson's enraged face. "The cops are at three of my best locations," Sampson hissed. "I want to know what you have to say about that."
"Yee-haw," Nick rasped.
With a snarl Sampson moved back far enough to slam his fist into Nick's jaw, knocking his head against the wall.
"Did Wietzel roll?" Moutry asked.
"Shut up," Sampson snapped.
There was silence long enough for Nick's head to start clearing, then the hand was back in his hair, yanking him forward until he was bent almost double. After a few moments, he was pushed back against the headboard again where he decided to fall back on his old tactic of remaining as still and unnoticeable as possible.
"What the hell have you two been doing?" Sampson sounded calmer, even curious. "The bites make sense, but what happened to that burn?"
"Hydrogen peroxide," Rauscher said.
"And all these cuts?" Sampson leaned in for a better look. "Are those letters?"
"We're just getting his voice warmed up," Rauscher explained gleefully. "He's barely said anything since he got here."
Sampson chuckled. "I might have a permanent job for you when this is all over."
"And when is that going to be?" Moutry asked.
"I need another day to make some arrangements, so you do have some time to enjoy yourselves a bit more. However, I would prefer that he be alive when he goes into the ground."
Nick couldn't choke back his moan of horror when those words rolled over him.
"Take heart, Mr. Stokes," Sampson took Nick's chin in his hand and tilted his head up. "I'm willing to make you one last offer. Tell me everything the police have and I'll dispatch you nice and quick."
Jerking away, Nick closed his eyes so Sampson couldn't see that tears were threatening. "I can't. Anything I knew isn't valid anymore. Our lab is second only to Quantico, so there's no telling how much they've found out if they've been investigating for a week." He knew his words would enrage Sampson further, and took some small satisfaction from that.
"What a shame." When Sampson finally spoke his voice was as calm as usual, "I think, just for sharing that little tidbit, we'll forego any box this time."
The feel, the scent, the taste of dirt suddenly filled Nick's senses and his stomach abruptly turned itself inside out. Rauscher and Moutry hadn't fed him for the last two days, so he was able to keep what little contents there were down and was at least spared that additional humiliation, but the dry heaves forced him to double over and the painful clenching of his abdomen brought tears to his eyes.
When his vision finally cleared, Nick looked up and saw that Sampson had been watching him dispassionately the entire time.
Sampson turned away and looked at Nick's guards, "Have fun."
Nick's head bowed again--he could feel the weight of Moutry and Rauscher's gazes.
"If we do him at the same time, we'll get a lot more in," Rauscher suggested.
"Then we'd better make the most of it," Moutry agreed.
Warrick gave up the pretense of working while the search was on. Instead, he spent the time in the lab's smaller conference room that had been set aside for Nick's family to wait in. Ecklie, probably relieved that he hadn't insisted on going to one of the sites, didn't object. Warrick had no intention of going out to any of the sites. He wasn't about to take the chance of being 80 miles southwest of Vegas if Nick was found 50 miles northeast. Better to stay in the city, able to go to Nick the moment he heard.
Hours passed, and when Ecklie walked into the conference room again, Warrick's hope evaporated. He couldn't tell by Ecklie's expression how bad the news was, but he knew it was bad.
"We found Officer Michaels' body at one of the sites," Ecklie said without preamble. "And the remains of an unknown teenaged girl at another." Then he hesitated, obviously hating what he was about to say, "There's no sign of Nick at any of them."
Jillian let out a soft keening sound and all but collapsed against her husband. Warrick didn't see Susannah's reaction because almost before he knew he was moving, he'd shouldered his way past Ecklie and made for the garage. Not that there would be anything of comfort there, but he couldn't stay in the room and endure Nick's mother's grief when he could hardly bear his own. He was vaguely aware of Sara, then Greg saying his name as he passed, but didn't slow his pace until he was standing beside Nick's truck.
The Ranger had already given them all the evidence it was going to, but was still in the garage and would likely remain until they had no other choice but to move it. Warrick slumped against the driver's door and then slid down until he was sitting on the cold concrete. He heard footsteps approaching but didn't look up and only discovered who it was when Sara sat down beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder. Moments later, Greg sat on his other side.
No one said a word.
There were none.
Subdued did not even begin to describe the atmosphere in the Crime Lab. It had been 'subdued' for the past week, but now it was deathly quiet, almost as though the entire building was in mourning. Normally, the lab was bustling, constantly in motion with a sense of purpose that pervaded everything, even though it hadn't been there lately. When Catherine left just a few hours before, the place had been buzzing with hope and anticipation. That was gone now.
She walked down the hall, searching for any member of the graveyard shift. As she passed the garage, she caught sight of someone on the floor and stopped in the doorway for a better look. Greg, Warrick and Sara were all sitting against Nick's truck. Sara had both arms wrapped around one of Warrick's and was resting her head on his shoulder. Greg was on Warrick's other side and although not actually leaning against the older man, he was sitting close enough so their shoulders and legs were touching. Warrick was as still as a statue, and didn't even seem aware of his companions. None of them noticed her, so Catherine slipped away without saying anything.
Sara and Greg would both return to work in another hour or two, Catherine knew. Although their ability to focus was diminished, they were still able to pull themselves together when they had a case to hold their attention. But Warrick...Catherine didn't know how to deal with Warrick anymore.
It was even more difficult because for all his problems, Warrick had always managed to be the one looking out for his teammates. When Greg had a rough night as rookie or Sara became so intent on evidence she disregarded her own safety, Warrick was right there. Catherine had experienced it often, both in regards to Lindsey and firsthand. He had a strong protective streak that extended to everyone he cared about, and to Nick in particular. Catherine had never given that a second thought. Warrick was probably closer to Nick than anyone at work and Nick had definitely been through more than any of them.
The last time Nick had been abducted Warrick had taken it hard, but this was something entirely different. He seemed so...lost that he was barely to look out for himself anymore, let alone anyone else. Obviously, she wasn't the only one who thought so, because the postures she had seen from Sara and Greg were those of the comforters, not the comforted.
Not for the first time, Catherine wondered just how deep Warrick's feelings for Nick went, but she wasn't going spend time wondering about that now. There would be time enough to deal with it later--after they got Nick back.
Once she knew where her team was, she began a search for Nick's family or Conrad Ecklie. Someone had to go over the details of the case and answer any questions they had and Catherine wanted to save Grissom that task. After that she was going home to see her daughter for a few hours. Although Lindsey had been surprisingly accepting of her mother's absence--the fact that she'd alternated crushes between Nick and Warrick for the past seven years might have had something to do with it--she was a teenager and just not equipped to remain solemn and focused elsewhere for so long.
She went to the trace lab, since all gossip flowed through Hodges. This wasn't exactly gossip, but if anyone knew, he probably would. "Do you know where Conrad or the Stokes' are?"
Hodges looked up from the microscope, "I saw Nick's parents leave not long after Conrad broke the news. Mrs. Stokes was...she looked as though she took it pretty hard."
Catherine never thought she'd miss Hodges' snotty attitude, but she felt its loss keenly. "And Conrad?"
"Was still talking to Nick's sister last I saw. Rosewood brought in a pile of trace from a meth lab case and I've been doing that ever since."
"Okay. Thanks," she pushed the door open.
She turned back. "Yeah?"
"I--I know Nick wasn't at any of those places, but was there any sign? Any lead?"
"Nothing," Catherine said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Hodges nodded and quickly ducked his head back to his microscope.
Jim Brass was trying to head off charges of police brutality. That was why he had kept the pedal down all the way back from the old Borax mine and why he was currently bulldozing his way through LVPD headquarters. He wanted to find Vartann before the detective got his hands on Wietzel.
Normally, he wouldn't worry about Vartann. The man was fairly level-headed and self-controlled about such things, but no cop liked being jerked around by a suspect. The stakes were even higher than usual--one dead cop, one missing CSI, a risk to his job and whatever else Vartann had done to get Wietzel to spill those locations in the first place. And no results whatsoever.
Jim knew that if he was in Vartann's place, he'd be looking to bust the guy's head.
"Captain?" Akers voice finally stopped his progress--he was standing in the doorway of a small room where prisoners were allowed to make phone calls.
"You see Vartann?" Jim asked him
"Yeah, he left about fifteen minutes ago."
Rather than being relieved, now Jim had to wonder was the hell his detective was up to this time.
"After he talked to Wietzel."
So much for relieved. "How is Wietzel?"
"See for yourself," Akers stepped aside to reveal Wietzel on the telephone, his hands in cuffs. "Vartann told me to let him make a call and then take him back to his cell until you got here."
"Until I got here," Jim repeated.
Wietzel towered over both men, but somehow seemed much smaller as he carefully approached. "Captain Brass? I need to speak with you."
Jim nodded coolly and said to Akers, "Put him in interrogation B." He watched at the officer followed orders, but made no move to follow. Wietzel was definitely bothered by something and Jim was happy to let him stew for a while. "Did Vartann say anything else?" he asked when Akers returned.
"Wait out here," Jim said. He strolled into the interrogation room as though he hadn't a care in the world, never letting on that he'd been going near-crazy all week trying to locate a missing CSI. Wietzel, on the other hand, was not the same man Vartann had walked into the station. His expensive suit jacket and silk tie were gone, his pale hair straggled out from its ponytail and a fine sheen of sweat covered his skin. The remote, indifferent expression he'd been maintaining was also gone. "We're here," he said as he sat down. "Talk."
"The only things you've charged me with are fraud and identity theft. I'll make bail on those no problem. Do I go in front of the judge tomorrow?"
Jim got a sour taste in his mouth, because the guy was absolutely right. "You asked to see me so you could gloat?"
"Nah. I just want to know if it's true. Or is there a chance they'd deny my bail?"
"Who am I? Your lawyer?" Jim wondered if the guy was coming down off something.
"If Sampson pays my bond, I'll be out of here."
Tempted to indulge in a little police brutality of his own, Jim had to grit his teeth. "Yeah, you'd be out." He started to stand, "All done?"
"I shot Officer Michaels," Wietzel said bluntly.
Jim froze, it was the only way to keep the gobsmacked expression off his face. Then, slowly, he sat back down. "You. Shot. Michaels." The automatic fury that came with confronting a cop killer was tempered by his personal opinion of what should happen to crooked cops. "You. Shot Michaels."
"In the head," Wietzel clarified. "On Barrett Sampson's orders. In Barrett Sampson's office."
The guy had to be up to something. No one in their right mind confessed to killing a cop unless they wanted something major in return. "I'm not the District Attorney, either," Jim pointed out. "I can't make you a deal. Besides, you don't have a lawyer present."
"Damn right I don't," Wietzel was becoming more agitated. "My lawyer is on Sampson's payroll. But you can order me into protective custody permanently. As in solitary. Otherwise, I'm a dead man."
"I can promise protective custody," Jim agreed readily. "But that's all--you won't get any deals from me."
"Think I care?" Wietzel scoffed. "If I live through this I've still got plenty for making deals with your DA and the Feds."
That sour taste was back--the scumbag was probably right. "If you live through this, huh?"
"I ratted out Sampson. You think he's managed to stay under the radar for thirty years by letting jabbers live long?"
"I'll buy that," Jim said, although he still felt he was missing a page or two. "So why rat out the guy the first place?"
"Hey, it's one thing to do a nickel in the state pen for the guy," Wietzel snarled. "But now he's setting me up to take the fall for something that'll get me life--or the needle. That's what I get for twenty years of loyalty? Fuck no, I'm not taking the fall for this."
Jim nearly asked Wietzel what made him think Sampson was setting him up to take the fall for this, but he didn't want to let on he wasn't in the loop. He had his suspicions, but at the moment he also had other matters to deal with. "All right, let's take it from the top. Why did Sampson want Officer Michaels dead?"
"Did he pass out?"
"I don't know. That was the most screaming he did so far, though."
Nick did his best to remain limp and keep his breathing even, not an easy thing to do, even though his body had long since been pushed past its limits. He kept wanting to tense, brace himself against the agony that even the slightest movement brought to his lower body. It was laughable now think back to what he'd regarded as pain before. There had been some tearing, but not too much more than would happen on a night of frequent, rough, consensual sex.
This last time, though, they had abandoned all consideration, untying his legs so he could be better arranged to be penetrated by both of them at once. There was no longer any risk of his escaping, they knew he was far too debilitated to make another attempt.
He'd managed not to plead for mercy, although keeping silent had not been an option. And they'd wanted him to beg, maybe more than anything else by this point.
"Ask us nice and we'll go easier."
"Say please and we'll stop."
"Tell me you want to suck my dick and I'll stop fucking you."
Did they expect him to believe that?
They'd degraded him in every possible way, brought him to tears and despair, but he wasn't going to give them a damn thing. They could push him to such extremes of pain that his cries were involuntary, but ask anything of them? Give them the opportunity to mock him as well? Give them the satisfaction?
Not a chance in hell.
It was the last shred of control he had over his life--the choice of how he was going to die. Not much of a choice, because his death wasn't going to be heroic or self-sacrificing. It wasn't even going to be useful, but he'd be damned if it was going to be enjoyable for these monsters.
"Hey, is that a car?"
"Fuck, already? I thought we'd have more time."
"Maybe things are getting too hot and he decided to speed things up."
Just when he needed it most, the last of Nick's determination turned to water. He wouldn't be able to remain stoic and disdainful. Who was he trying to fool? He closed his eyes against the tears that filled them. He was going to beg. He'd plead. He'd promise anything not to be put in the ground again. He'd beg for a bullet instead and the last thing he'd hear before he died would be their laughter.
Nick heard the car door slam and knew he couldn't wait any longer. There was only one way to remain silent, only one means he had to thwart them even a little in his last moments. It was something he'd been half-preparing for since they gave him that first bath.
It was the only means of escape left.
But first, because he wasn't going to allow them to be his dying thought, Nick finally allowed himself to conjure up Warrick's image. He'd half-expected to forget what Warrick looked like, but no, there were those green tiger eyes as clear as day.
As if from a distance, he heard his guards opening the door and calling a greeting.
It was time to go.
Let them come in now and do their worst. Let them rape him again. Let them put him in the ground and fill his nose and throat with dirt. It didn't matter.
He wouldn't know.
Nick Stokes had left the building.
Jim looked up, not sure what to expect when he saw Vartann in the doorway to his office. He wanted to know if the detective had been up to anything else, though, so he waved him in.
"Can you arrange to have a SWAT team on stand-by, sir?"
Jesus. "What the hell have you got going on now?"
"I should have a location for you in about half-an-hour."
"Don't you mean a possible location?" Jim scowled. The disappointment of the last time still pained him.
"No, sir. Wietzel will be making a call to a...colleague who knows where Nick is and will confirm that he's still there...and if he's--well. Wietzel only agreed to make the call after his informant has had time to get away."
Jim stared hard at his detective without saying a word. Usually if he did this long enough, the object of his gaze tended to get nervous and offer more information to placate him. It worked more often than it failed, and it worked this time as well.
"He's...uh...it's in his--Wietzel's best interests that we find Nick. That we can put Sampson away for a long time, otherwise Sampson's going to be hunting him down for rolling."
"He confessed to killing Michaels," Jim said.
"Yeah, I heard about that," was Vartann's only reply.
Leaning back in his chair, Jim gave the man another long look. "What do you think made Wietzel turn on Sampson in the first place?"
Vartann brushed imaginary lint from his jacket with studied casualness. "Change of heart?"
Jim barely stifled a smile. So Vartann wasn't going to let him in on it. Not even a mention of Wietzel thinking Sampson wanted to frame him. That was fine. The detective was smart enough not to have done anything that would cause major problems down the road. If it got Nick back, Brass didn't care what sort of compromises were made. "I'll have SWAT ready and let Grissom know, but until Wietzel makes that call, I don't want anyone else hearing about this."
Lon Moutry frowned when Marshall Abbey showed up carrying a plastic bag.
"Is that Abbey?" Rauscher said, looking out the window. "What the fuck is he bringing us more supplies for? We're supposed to be out of here today or tomorrow."
Moutry was wondering the same thing, but he motioned for Rauscher to calm down. At the same time, though, he got his gun ready. Abbey had made the two other supply deliveries, and Moutry had worked with him during his previous stint for Sampson, but there was no denying something was off. Add to that the fact that Abbey's loyalties actually lay with Wietzel and there could be a problem. "Just stay quiet until we find out what's going on," he said to Rauscher. "Could be nothing."
"No reason for the fucker to be here," Rauscher muttered, but then subsided.
Staying behind the door as he opened it, Moutry tried to look as though everything was normal when Abbey walked in. "Hey. What's up?"
As he set the bag down, Abbey's eyes darted around the room, resting briefly on Rauscher standing by the door and then on Nick's prone form. "Wietzel told me you needed this stuff. Especially the paper."
"I thought the cops had hauled Wietzel in," Moutry said, resisting the urge to go through the bag immediately.
"He got word to me." Abbey's eyes were on Nick again, "He dead?"
"Just worn out," Rauscher leered.
Abbey nodded. "Later."
Neither man moved until Abbey's car had pulled away, then Moutry tucked his gun away and crouched down to look through the bag. Inside were a six of Pepsi--no booze on their watch--and a couple of foil-wrapped burgers. Then his eye fell on a scrap of paper at the bottom of the bag, grease-spotted but still readable. He picked it up and quickly scanned the few sentences, then glanced warily at Rauscher.
"What?" his partner demanded.
Moutry wasn't looking forward to sharing the contents. When he'd met Rauscher in Ely, he'd known immediately the man was greedy, tough and unscrupulous--just the qualities he looked for in a co-worker--and had assumed the man's occasional insanity was just the result of being behind bars. After all, he tended to get buggy on the inside, too. Except that Rauscher turned out to be the same on the outside. Moutry had no problem enjoying their captive, since he was right there in front of them. He didn't mind getting a little freaky about it, but Rauscher was becoming crazed and had been acting like a loose cannon.
"Well?" Rauscher said.
"Wietzel rolled on Sampson because Sampson was going to set him up to take the fall for this," Moutry said. "And he says that if he's not in line to take the heat anymore, we are."
"Fuck!" Rauscher tore the note from Moutry's hand and read it. "Fuck! He's a dead man! A dead man!"
Moutry wasn't sure who Rauscher was talking about and waited for the guy to get it out of his system.
"Keeps us locked up here for over a goddamn week and then thinks we're going to take the fall for this? I knew! I knew there was something rotten about the guy. He was too goddamn slick!" Rauscher turned to look at Nick. "Just needs a day to make some arrangements, my ass!"
There was no denying that part was pretty fucked up.
"Well, I'm not waiting for him another fuckin' minute," Rauscher took out his gun and walked to the bed. He pressed the muzzle against Nick's temple, but the CSI didn't so much as twitch. "I'm getting rid of him and taking out Sampson the minute he walks in that door."
"You don't want to do that," Moutry said, keeping his voice level so he didn't piss off his partner even more. "If Sampson is setting us up, we don't want this guy dead--he'll be the only one who can say Sampson was behind everything. If Wietzel is lying, do you really want to cross Sampson at this point?"
Rauscher glowered at him.
"We'll wait 'til he gets here. If the guy starts acting weird, then we've got time to take him out and take the car, because right now we've got no way out of here."
Obviously not happy about it, Rauscher nonetheless stepped away from the bed.
Moutry stared hard at the motionless CSI. "Is he even breathing?"
Rauscher stared as well. "Yeah. For now."
The sound of his office door being closed made Gil look up. He watched with growing dread as Jim walked up to his desk, planted both hands on it and leaned in closely.
"In about twenty minutes, Wietzel is going to make a phone call to find out where Nick is." Jim's voice was low, urgent and nothing like his usual wry tone. It also left no room for Gil to reply. "SWAT and EMTs are ready to roll out, but haven't been informed of the exact situation. Until we know this isn't a false lead, don't tell anyone else. I'm on my way out. Don't ask to come along--it's too high risk and even the EMTs aren't going to be allowed to get close until everything's cleared. Keep both phone lines open--as soon as I know, you'll know."
Then he walked out, leaving the entomologist staring after him.
Vartann pushed open the cell door. "Time to make that call, Wietzel. Let's go."
"He's been pacing for a solid fifteen minutes," Archie said, peering down the hallway for the hundredth time. "Something has to be up."
"Catherine, did he say what was going on?" Greg asked.
"Not a word," Catherine replied, sounding a bit hurt.
"It must be about Nick," Sara stated.
"Captain Brass was in there not too long ago," Bobby offered.
Greg and Sara both nodded simultaneously, "It's about Nick."
"Then he should have told me," Catherine insisted, getting up and starting for the door. She paused when Grissom's door opened and the entomologist left his office.
"Is he coming here?" Ronnie looked ready to bolt back to QD.
"The rest of the lab is practically empty and we're all sitting in the break room watching him," David Hodges said dryly. "Where else would he be going?"
Silence fell over the group that had been gathering in the break room for the last quarter hour. Grissom's frown grew darker the closer he got, and so everyone began emptying coffee cups and cleaning up as though this had been some impromptu break. As Grissom reached the doorway, his phone trilled, and he froze for a split-second before fumbling to open it.
"Hello!" he snapped, making everyone exchange concerned glances. He listened for a moment, then suddenly grabbed onto the doorframe. Catherine jumped to her feet, but he waved her back. "Okay. Oh, God. Okay, call me back as soon as you know." He hung up and stared at everyone blankly for several seconds. "That was Brass. They've received word of Nick's location."
There was no reaction from anyone. And Catherine spoke for all of them when she asked, "How...are--are they sure this time?"
"The informant says he actually saw Nick--and that he's alive."
Sara broke down crying and Greg, at the table beside her, looked close to doing the same. Shock, relief and more tears were on the faces of everyone in the room.
Grissom looked around again, "Where's Warrick?"
"I sent him home about an hour ago," Catherine replied, wiping damp cheeks. "He was just--he wasn't able to work."
"I'd like for the two of you to go in person to tell him and the Stokes' about this," Ecklie appeared behind Grissom.
"You've heard?" Grissom looked back.
"Detective Vartann called me with the news."
"We're going out to the scene," Catherine said.
"No," Ecklie shook his head. "That's a bad idea. It's too dangerous and at least 90 miles away. EMTs will be the first ones in after the scene is cleared, and by the time you get there, they would be on their way back. Captain Brass, as well as Detectives Vartann and Curtis will be out there--Nick will have someone he knows on scene. They'll be taking him to Desert Palm Hospital."
"Do they know anything about his condition?" Archie asked.
"No," Ecklie replied. "Gil and Catherine, you'll inform Nick's parents?" Catherine nodded. "Sidle, Sanders, call in Rosewood and Young from days to cover for you. The rest of you just continue working as best you can--I'll do my best to keep you updated."
"We won't be burying him alive," Sampson said the moment he entered the motel room, leaving the door open behind him. "We'll take care of him here."
Moutry and Rauscher exchanged glances. Sampson did not look like his usual calm, pristine self. "Why?" Moutry asked. "The guy hasn't moved since--hell, for a while now."
"I've got things to take care of, so you two finish him off and I'll send a car out for you."
"Ah...no," Moutry returned. "If you want him finished now, no problem, but then we'll be going back with you."
"We're sick of this fucking room," Rauscher added.
Sampson studied them with the cold, flat eyes of a cobra. "I don't know what's suddenly given you the idea that anything I say is up for debate. I said finish him off and I'll send a car back." Without giving them another chance to argue, Sampson walked out.
"Fuck!" Rauscher followed, gun in hand. "Don't get in the fuckin' car, Sampson!"
"Put that away," Sampson ordered, not sounding the least bit intimidated as he opened the driver's side door. "Or you're a dead man."
"Oh, I'm a dead man? That's a good one coming from--fuck me! Moutry!" he hollered back into the room. "Yo, Lon! There's a huge fucking cloud of dust out here! Jesus! It's like a goddamned convoy. It's the cops, man! It's gotta be the--I said no, you fucker!"
Moutry ran out just in time to see Sampson go down, hit by several shots from Rauscher's weapon. He saw the caravan of vehicles barreling closer. "Let's go," he said, stepping out Sampson's prone form. "Hey!" he hollered when Rauscher headed back to the motel. "What the fuck are you doing? Let's get the hell out of here!"
"I'm not leaving that pussy alive!" Rauscher insisted.
"Jesus, leave him and let's move!"
Rauscher hesitated, but only briefly, then continued on his way.
Quickly weighing his options, Moutry opened fire on his partner, hitting him in the shoulder and effectively spinning him out of his path to the door. "You kill him and we get the needle for sure, you dumb fuck!"
"You son of a bitch!" Rauscher screamed, taking aim.
Moutry emptied his clip before Rauscher got a single shot off, then quickly dove under the car as gunfire began coming from the cars that had rolled to a halt. He tossed his gun a distance away and held both hands out so SWAT knew he was surrendering.
Better to take his chances with a jury than a bunch of seriously pissed off cops.
SWAT surrounded Sampson's car, hauling the gunman out from underneath and checking on the status of the two downed perps. Jim barely gave them a glance as he made a beeline for the open motel room door, Sofia and Vartann at either shoulder.
"Captain," the SWAT leader called. "We haven't cleared any of the rooms."
"We'll clear this one," Jim didn't break stride. He and Sofia took up position on either side of the door while Vartann carefully stepped inside.
"Oh, God..." Vartann said, and that was all.
"Alex?" Sofia prompted.
"Clear," Vartann's voice was shaky. "I'll check the bathroom."
The tone of his voice made Jim throw caution to the wind and rush into the room. When he saw the bound, motionless figure lying face down on the far bed everything around him shifted into slow motion. Sofia's choked sound of shock barely registered and it seemed to be taking him forever to get to the side of the bed.
"Sweet Jesus, Nicky..." Jim covered Nick with the bedspread even though it was stained with blood and God knew what else. Anything to banish the sight of dried blood on the back of Nick's thighs.
Sofia gently laid her fingers against Nick's neck, "Pulse is strong."
Jim cut the flexicuffs and Nick's arms fell limply to his sides. He had to catalogue the injuries in sections--the bruises on Nick's hips, the ghastly burn on his shoulder, the dozens of bites everywhere and more cuts and slices than could be counted--he didn't want to think of them collectively, of Nick enduring over a week of torture. He couldn't handle that right now. Instead he concentrated on the lax features of Nick's face. "Get those EMTs in here," he ordered Vartann.
"They haven't been cleared to come in yet," Vartann pointed out, but took one look at his Captain's expression and quickly got on his radio.
"Nick?" Jim laid a hand against Nick's cheek, which was dark with a week's worth of growth. He had no idea if Nick could hear him, but what he said was as much for himself as anyone else. "It's Jim, Nicky. We're here to take you home, kiddo."
It was eerily similar to the situation Gil had encountered in the break room barely two hours before. There were fewer pairs of eyes on him and he was listening to Sofia Curtis instead of Jim Brass, but all the same feelings swirled in the atmosphere of Nick's house as had pervaded the lab.
Catherine was hanging onto Warrick with both hands--she had been ever since they'd broken the news. At the time it had been in preparation to keep him from bolting out the door, but now Gil suspected it was a matter of reassurance for both of them. Warrick hadn't said a word the entire time, and was sitting in the easy chair, staring at nothing. Catherine was perched on the arm, alternating her gaze between Gil and Warrick. Nick's parents stood just behind the chair, watching their eyes on Gil. Susannah was pacing near the kitchen, but immediately stopped when Gil thanked Sofia and said good-bye.
He closed the phone and took a deep breath, trying to adjust to this new situation. They had all, sadly, gotten used to living with dread and despair and the good news almost seemed unreal. Despite his best efforts, his voice was still a bit unsteady. "Nick is on the way to Desert Palm."
Jillian collapsed against her husband, who dipped his head to hide his face in her hair.
"Why didn't Jim call?" Catherine asked, almost as though she thought there had to be bad news in there somewhere.
"He's riding in the ambulance with Nick," Gil said. "Nick was being held in a motel off an abandoned highway. There were three men on the scene. One is dead, one is also on his way to the hospital and the other is in police custody."
Gil looked at Susannah who was now standing with her parents, a hand on her mother's back and her cheek pressed against her father's arm. Although interpreting voice nuances was not his strong point, Susannah was more than capable of getting her point across with the simple inflection in her brother's name--they didn't give a damn about the condition of Nick's captors and Gil was wasting their time. Smiling faintly, he got back on track. "Nick was unconscious the entire time Sofia saw him. She didn't go into much detail about his injuries--just said he was in rough shape. However, the EMTs did say that although Nick's injuries were serious, none of them are likely to be life-threatening. They expect to arrive at Desert Palm in about forty minutes."
Catherine had released Warrick, needing both hands to wipe the tears from her cheeks, but Warrick hadn't moved since the phone rang--not a flinch and barely a blink.
"Warrick," Gil put a little extra sharpness into his tone.
Slowly, Warrick raised his eyes to meet Gil's.
"We got him," Gil said firmly.
Warrick nodded and closed his eyes.
Sara wished she'd brought something heavier to wear, but she and Greg had practically run from the lab when they got Catherine's call. She wrapped her arms around herself, knowing the shivers she was experiencing weren't entirely due to the temperature any more than huddling against the wall was solely in the hopes of finding warmth. She was hoping that if she stayed quiet and kept out of the way, no one would ask her to leave. Greg, apparently thinking the same thing, was beside her.
The small room off the ER was normally for hospital staff and five people would have been a tight fit. Right now there were nine people in it--the graveyard shift, Nick's family members and Detective Vartann. No one from the hospital had chased them out--professional courtesy allowing them to stay in a place normally off limits.
They'd had a fleeting glimpse of Nick being wheeled in, but after that could only catch snippets of the orders being volleyed back and forth. So far Sara had heard nothing that gave her any real idea of Nick's condition--most of it sounded fairly standard.
Warrick was checking the door every thirty seconds, and Sara had the feeling Mrs. Stokes would be doing the same, but for her husband's arms around her. As for Warrick, Sara was glad to see something in those green eyes again. He'd been so dazed for the past several days that if it had been anyone else, she would have assumed there had been a little chemical coping. Now he was himself again, with that strange laid-back intensity that only he could pull off.
Except, of course, for the tremors that shook him as they did her.
When Brass walked into their little cubbyhole, Sara expected him to be bombarded with questions and so kept hers to herself.
As it turned out, everyone else was of the same mindset, so Brass instead stepped into a room filled with an expectant hush. Fortunately, the Captain was not a man easily overwhelmed. "Well... uh...he didn't wake up, but he was breathing steady and the medics said his vitals looked okay." His eyes shifted over everyone, "They--they roughed him up pretty good. There's cuts and bruises and a burn...he's dehydrated and um, it looks like he was kept tied the whole time so there's that--" He trailed off with a shrug.
The unbearable tension in the room eased somewhat, but then the ER door swung open briefly.
"--another SAE kit, to be safe. We don't want to--"
Another group of people might not have known was an SAE kit was. Another group of people would not have been in that cubbyhole to hear it. But everyone in that room worked law enforcement in some capacity and everyone knew the significance of the request.
Warrick stumbled back as though shot and Greg turned away from everyone else, leaning his forehead against the wall.
Sara didn't see any other reactions. The fresh tears that filled her eyes made it impossible.
Things slowly began to untangle. Lon Moutry gave chapter and verse, making himself seem like a fearful bystander. Then DNA results proved he was one of Nick's rapists and he became a little more forthcoming. No one believed him when he placed most of the blame on Rauscher and Sampson, but they already had enough--kidnaping, assault and second degree murder--to put him away for a long time.
Until Nick was awake and able to give a statement, it couldn't be truly known how involved Rauscher was, but he already had paid the ultimate price at Moutry's hand. As for Sampson, it didn't seem likely that he would ever stand trial or even be charged. If he lived, Barrett Sampson would be a quadriplegic, tied to a ventilator for the rest of his life. One of Rauscher's bullets had caught him between the second and third vertebrae, and further damage was done when Moutry scrambled over his body trying make his escape. Now that he was out of commission, most of his employees had scattered, but Vrederveld didn't flee quickly enough and was brought in again. He and Wietzel began singing their hearts out and between the two of them, the truth about Barrett Sampson finally began to emerge.
Or rather, the truth about Stanislav Brezeanu finally began to emerge. Born in Romania, his American citizenship was fraudulent, as were the numerous aliases that he'd had accounts under worldwide. Vrederveld helpfully handed the account numbers over, although Vartann suspected that the only account numbers the police were given were those Vrederveld hadn't managed to reroute to his own. Any account Sampson--or Brezeanu--had kept under the name or alias of an employee mysteriously closed within 24 hours. Various countries, including the US, seized whatever was left, leaving Brezeanu penniless.
This put the District Attorney in an uncomfortable position. They could either charge a quadriplegic with a laundry list of crimes or deport him to an economically stressed country stripped of both health and wealth. There would be protests no matter what they decided. Nick's parents discussed the case briefly with Jeffrey Sinclair, pushing for deportation. It was one of the few times Nick's friends were in complete agreement with Judge Stokes--with Moutry confessing, deporting Brezeanu would spare Nick testifying at any trial. If any of them were hoping for a slow, painful death for the helpless Brezeanu due to poor medical care, no one saw sufficient reason to bring it up.
DA Michaels was buried without any trappings usually afforded a fallen police officer. A handful of his fellow officers attended, but wore regular clothes rather than uniforms. Sam Vega was the only detective to attend, not to pay his respects, but to "make sure the son of a bitch is really dead." Instead, the police were rallying around young Neil Carreiro, who had recovered enough to tell everything he knew and continued to improve.
Nick, on the other hand, had still not regained consciousness by the third day. He was stable, breathing well on his own and his injuries were healing without complications, although he was on an IV to deal with his dehydration and provide much-needed nourishment. He'd been scanned and tested but no injury or condition was found to account for his continued unconsciousness. Thus far, the doctors were sticking with a diagnosis of shock and exhaustion, but everyone knew they'd have to revise that if Nick didn't wake soon. The only good news about Nick's condition was that since they had the identity of his attackers, they were able to thoroughly test for STDs or HIV. The results for both men were negative. There was still the possibility, of course, but it wasn't as likely.
Nick was quickly moved to a large, private room, and no one had any doubt about who was behind that. Yet for all his previous anger at Nick's co-workers, the Judge was now surprisingly lenient about Nick's visitors--requiring hardly any urging from his wife and daughter. Warrick was surprised to find himself granted the same access as family. He wasn't sure whether it was Susannah's doing or simply habit because they'd shared Nick's residence throughout the ordeal, and he didn't care much. Taking blatant advantage of it, he rarely left the room for more than one hour in eight. Dr. Neidiger, in charge of Nick's care, occasionally protested the number of people in the room, but for the most part, she turned a blind eye. The one thing she did insist on was that she be paged the moment Nick showed signs of regaining consciousness and that interaction be kept to a minimum until her arrival so his reactions could be properly tested.
It wasn't easy to agree to and even more difficult to do when those long lashes began to flutter near the end of the third day. Fortunately, Dr. Neidiger was already making rounds and arrived before Nick was fully conscious.
Nick's parents and sister reluctantly stepped back when asked. Warrick and Gil were on the other side of the room, and although she glanced in their direction, the doctor did not ask them to leave. Everyone held their breath when the dark eyes finally opened and gradually focused. Nick coughed, shifted and then moaned slightly. He lifted one hand and frowned at the IV in it, studying it for several more seconds before letting it drop back to his side. As he looked around the room, his eyes fell on his parents first, and a ghost of a smile crossed his lips. "Hey," he said softly, his voice rough.
Dr. Neidiger poured a glass of water from the pitcher that was always in the room. "You recognize them?"
"Sure," Nick nodded.
She held the straw to his lips and he sipped it with obvious relish. "Then you know your name?"
He swallowed, "Nick Stokes." His voice had cleared, but a frown was beginning to crease his face. Warrick tensed as he waited for the pleasant newly-awakened haze to evaporate and reality to set in.
"Do you know where you are?" Dr. Neidiger asked after giving him more water.
"Desert Palm Hospital." Nick's eyes were already beginning to droop again.
"You know the hospital?" The doctor sounded impressed in spite of herself. "You recognize it just from the room?"
"Says so on my wristband," Nick offered, holding up his hand again.
Standing next to Warrick, Gil let out a startled huff that mixed amusement and admiration. Nick turned to look for the source of the sound, and stared at Gil briefly before moving onto Warrick. The dark eyes widened for several seconds before Nick dropped his gaze and ducked his head as if embarrassed. Warrick wasn't sure what to make of that, or of the way Nick continued to dart quick looks in his direction. He didn't comment on it, content to let Nick set any pace, any boundaries he wanted. Nick was alive. Nick was safe. Warrick was certain he would find a way to handle anything else.
"Is...is everyone okay?"
Warrick swallowed hard. Only Nick.
"Officer Carreiro survived the shooting," Judge Stokes assured him. "He's recovering nicely."
All traces of drowsiness vanished. "Officer...? Oh, God..."
"Do you remember anything that happened?" Dr. Neidiger asked gently.
Taking a deep breath, Nick closed his eyes. After several minutes, he opened them again, shaking his head slowly. "No. No, I'm sorry." He studied his parents again and his frown became one of worry, "It's something really bad, isn't it?"
The question, asked so innocently, brought a lump to Warrick's throat.
Jillian couldn't stifle her reaction, and pressed her fingers to her lips as her eyes filled with tears.
"Aw, jeez, Mom!" Nick struggled to sit up straighter, but Dr. Neidiger easily kept him down with a hand on his chest. He looked at his father, "Sorry, Cisco, I--"
"It's okay, son," Judge Stokes assured him.
"I need to--" Nick bit his lip. "Is--is everybody here?"
"Probably right outside," Grissom said.
Nick looked at the entomologist, his eyebrows rising in question. Then he met Warrick's eyes again. The expression in the dark eyes was intense, but before Warrick could identify it, Nick had turned back to his parents. "Everybody? The whole family?"
"No," Jillian dabbed at her eyes. "They're still it Texas." She paused when Nick tilted his head slightly, then added. "Suz is here in Vegas, though."
Nick's jaw dropped.
"What is it?" Dr. Neidiger asked.
Nick started to move his hand--Warrick was tell it was to run it through his hair as he often did when stalling--but stopped when he felt the pull of the IV tube. "Dammit."
"What?" the doctor prompted.
"I just can't believe they talked me into it."
"They talked you into it?" Judge Stokes was incredulous. "Into--"
"This," Nick made an expansive gesture. "I really should have stuck to my guns. Gone with my gut."
Warrick's heart sank. It sounded like Nick was beginning to find a way to blame the situation on himself.
"Pancho, what are you saying?" Judge Stokes persisted.
"When Rusty and Dan suggested Vegas to me and Tibs, I knew it was a bad idea. I knew we should have gone to Daytona for spring break with the rest of the frat."
Continued in Lost & Found
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