Shades of Compassion
Frank Tripp shook his head as he ran a hand over his face; It was only 7 a.m., and they had a dead body. He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his forehead. It didn’t help that he knew the vic, and it didn’t help that the vic drove his car full force into a tree. Telling the vic’s family was going to be more difficult than usual; considering his connection to the family, and it was making him sick just thinking about it. He looked away from the wreck as he heard a department Hummer pull up. Lt. Horatio Caine exited the vehicle. He looked over as the ME's van pulled up and parked across from him. Dr. Alexx Woods exited the vehicle. Horatio nodded in acknowledgment as she passed, heading straight to the wreck.
Horatio stopped at the Homicide Detective's side and removed his sunglasses. “What do we have, Frank?”
Frank fixed him with a pained look. “You’re not going to like this one.”
“I never like any of them. Why is this one so special?” Horatio asked his curiosity peaked. . It wasn’t like Frank to show emotion openly at a scene …
Frank hesitated briefly before speaking. “You know the vic, Horatio; your whole team does, and it’s gonna kill one of them.”
That sounded ominous … As Frank spoke, Horatio let his gaze take in the crash. What used to be a white Range Rover was wrapped not so neatly around a tree. He could barely see the driver slumped in death over the steering wheel. Nothing seemed familiar to him. “Stop beating around the bush, Frank.” He said as a second Hummer pulled up and Calleigh got out, retrieving her kit and heading toward them.
She waved cheerily as she passed them. “Hey Horatio; hey Frank.” she said as she ducked under the tape and approached the wreck. “Where do you want me to start?”
Frank rubbed his face again; trying to stop the sick feeling in his stomach from getting any worse – no such luck. “Horatio, stop her. Duke is the vic.”
Horatio sprinted after Calleigh, who’d already put her kit down and gloved up. He caught up with her just as she rounded the back of the wreck; snapping crime scene photos. He tried to keep his voice as even as possible; knowing that it would only buy him a few minutes grace at most. “Calleigh, I need you to go back to the lab. We’ve got this all in hand.”
She took the camera down and gave him a stunned look. “You and Alexx and patrol have it all in hand? I don’t think so, Horatio. The guys were caught by a freight train and will be here shortly; if you’re still convinced that you don’t need me here after they arrive, I’ll leave. What is the matter with you today?” She shook her head as she walked around to the driver’s side and continued snapping photos of the rear of the vehicle. “Hey, Alexx.”
Alexx jerked; blocking Calleigh’s view of the driver. “What are you doing here, honey?”
“My job, Alexx,” Calleigh replied; her eyes still glued to the camera. “Can you please move so that I can get shots of the driver?”
“Calleigh, that’s not a good idea right now.” Alexx replied, continuing to block Calleigh’s view. She glanced at Horatio for support.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Calleigh said with irritation, looking between her two friends. “What are you two trying to hide?”
Horatio cleared his throat; dreading having to tell her that it was her father behind the wheel. “Can you please step away from the car Calleigh?”
She looked from him to the wreck and back again; trying to figure out why she shouldn’t be there. Something about the car seemed vaguely familiar, but there were plenty of white Range Rovers in Miami. She let her eyes roam over the part of the vehicle she could see. Older model slightly beat up with …. the slight smudge of orange paint that she could just make out on the front drivers’ side panel. It was only the tiniest bit since the rest of the front end had been crushed in by the impact. She took one shaky step forward.
“Move please, Alexx,” she requested softly.
“Calleigh, I-” Alexx looked torn between wanting to accede to her friend’s wishes and an equally strong desire to shield Calleigh from the trauma to come. “That’s not a good idea …”
Calleigh spoke louder, more forcefully; using her cop voice without realizing it. “Move please, Alexx. I will not ask you to do so again.”
The look on Calleigh’s face spoke volumes; storm brewing here …Reluctantly, Alexx moved aside, revealing the driver slumped over the steering wheel. He was covered in his own blood, but there was no mistaking him for anyone else. Emotions warred for supremacy inside Calleigh; anger, guilt, grief. “Dad,” she breathed, closing her eyes. She felt gentle hands alight on her shoulders, meaning to give comfort. She didn’t want comfort and jerked away; spinning on her heel, retrieving her kit and heading back to her Hummer. She could hear footfalls behind her and knew that Horatio was following, but she didn’t really care. She needed space and a little time; a century or two would be nice …
When Horatio caught up to Calleigh, she had already stowed her kit in the rear of the Hummer and was leaning on the tailgate; arms supporting her, her head hanging down, hair obscuring her face as it fell in a curtain of privacy. “I’m so sorry, Calleigh,” he said softly from beside her. Such an automatic sentiment; used countless times to the point of being a negation, or a mantra. But this time the phrase had a deeper resonance.
“I, uhm, …. I’m going to need-“ Calleigh began in as level a voice as she could manage.
“I understand,” Horatio said as he heard another Hummer approach and then stop. “Take all the time you need.” He shielded Calleigh from view as Eric and Ryan headed over with a wave. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
Calleigh looked up at her approaching teammates. “Tell them to let Alexx know that I’m authorizing a full autopsy as his next of kin; I need to know exactly what condition he was in before hitting that tree. It’s important for my peace of mind.”
“Are you sure?”
A heavy sigh, then, “Yeah.”
Horatio walked up to the two men. He kept his voice low so as not to be overheard. “We have an unusual situation here. We know the victim and you’ll need to work one short on the case.”
“What’s going on, H?” Eric asked, glancing over at Calleigh. She was leaning back against the Hummer; her posture reminded him of how she looked when Hagen committed suicide in her lab. She had that same look now; very small and very vulnerable. He felt a knot begin to gather in his chest. “What’s wrong with Calleigh?”
“The deceased is her father; his car wrapped around a tree. She saw him before we could break it to her gently.” Horatio said.
“How’s she taking it?” Ryan asked with real concern in his voice. “Is there anything we can do for her?”
Horatio glanced back at an unmoving Calleigh. “I think she’s still processing. What you can do for her is gather the evidence, follow the clues and uncover the truth for her. Let Alexx know that she’s authorizing a full autopsy as next of kin. I’m going to drive her home and stay with her; she shouldn’t be alone right now, it’s not good for her. Call me if you need me.”
“Will do, H,” Eric said, sympathy writ large on his face. “Let her know that we’re here for her.”
“I will,” Horatio assured him, turning away and letting the men get down to work. He returned to Calleigh’s side. “I’m driving you home and staying with you. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
She looked up, appalled. “Horatio-“
“No argument,” he said, placing his hands on her shoulders. This time she allowed him that contact. “Sweetheart, none of us are going to let you go through this alone. We’re all right here if and when you need us. Lean on us when you need to. Do you understand me?”
She took a deep, shaky breath, but looked up into his compassionate blue eyes. “Okay. I have some calls to make when I get home. I appreciate the support. After I’m done I want to go back to the lab.”
“Calleigh, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.” Horatio said, placing an arm around her and leading her to the passenger door.
“Either you’ll take me back there or I’ll get there on my own. I can’t just sit at home; I need to keep busy. I won’t involve myself in the investigation; just eyes, no hands. Please tell me that you understand.” Calleigh said, getting in and settling herself for the ride. Her gaze drifted to the ME’s van that had just pulled up. She watched the gurney as it was rolled toward the wreck.
“Alright, sweetheart, if that’s what you need.” Horatio closed the door, went around to the driver’s side and got in. He started the engine and as he pulled away from the curb he glanced at her in time to see her wince as she watched her dad’s lifeless body being loaded onto the gurney.
“Alright, Mr. Duquesne, you need to come with me,” Alexx said compassionately. She smoothed his hair away from his forehead, looking at his bloodied face. “This sure broke your baby girl’s heart this morning. I just hope you weren’t drinking.”
Ryan, hearing Alexx’s comment, asked “Any indication of alcohol?”
She shook her head. “I can’t smell any on him and there’s no flask on his body. I’ll know more when I post him.”
“I hope for Calleigh’s sake he was sober.” Ryan said, taking photos.
Eric looked around from where he was crouched by the rear of the vehicle. “Hey, I’ve found something. Come see.” Ryan and Alexx went around the car to look at the evidence. Eric pointed. “See this? We have an impact point and paint transfer. The shape of the dent and the direction of the paint scrape indicate that he was hit from behind.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Ryan said skeptically, remembering his first introduction to Kenwall Duquesne, the mess that was his life and the complication that he created in his daughter’s life. “But he could have backed up into something, too.”
“My gut says no.” Eric replied, taking trace evidence from the car. “We’ll know more when I can get this back to the garage and take it apart.”
Alexx stood up, heading back to the gurney. “I just wish we had a witness; that could just make things easier.”
Ryan stood as well and looked around. Slowly a grin bloomed across his face. “We do.” He pointed to a device on the light post, “A traffic camera. They take two pictures; one when you’re entering the intersection and one when you’re halfway through. With any luck, it might have caught the entire accident.”
Horatio sat in Calleigh’s comfortable living room, coffee cup in hand; lending quiet support. True to her southern upbringing and deeply ingrained sense of hospitality, she saw to his needs and comfort first before taking care of herself. He watched her as she dialed a number on her cell and sat back, waiting for the party on the other end to answer. Though her face was impassive, grief radiated from her. He wanted nothing more than to gather her up in his arms and let her vent herself while he held the world at bay for her. No matter how much he wanted to comfort her, there was no indication that she would accept that contact or comfort just yet. He could see that she was struggling for composure; to remain critical and practical while she took care of the necessary arrangements.
“Hi mama …. No …. Mama, listen I have something to tell you …. No, it’s not that …. Mama, stop for a minute, will you? This is hard enough without you going on like this …. Dad was in a car accident …. No, I don’t know if he was …. Mama, he’s gone …. The M.E. is going to do a full autopsy … I authorized it ….. I’ll fly dad back home when-“ Calleigh broke off, anger and hurt beginning to color her features as she listened to her mother’s voice. “What do you mean you don’t …? Mama, you were married to him …. This is ridiculous! He was …. Fine; I’ll bury him here in Miami. You don’t even have to come. I don’t want you here.” She cut the connection abruptly, throwing the cell across the room; burying her face in her hands and letting out a small sob.
Horatio leaned over and put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him; memories of Speed, Raymond and Marisol playing like a video loop. Sometimes life could be a real bitch. He sighed. “Nothing can be easy, can it?”
“No; not with my family.” She said, wiping a few tears away. She clenched her jaw and took a couple of deep breaths to get herself calmed down and in control; she couldn’t afford to be an emotional wreck at the moment. Scarlett O’Hara had the right idea; think about it tomorrow …
“Tell me what happened,” he requested, leaning his cheek on the top of her head. “I know your parents haven’t been close.”
She sat there; leaning against him, gathering comfort from their effortless intimacy. When she spoke, her voice was soft and sad. “He’s dead and she still refuses to forgive him. I know what it was like when they were married; I know what his drinking did to all of us, but she just won’t let it go! They’ve been divorced since I was in college; you’d think that was long enough.” Tendrils of anger and deep hurt crept into her voice. “You know, it’s not like dad woke up one day and decided that he’d become an alcoholic; it was a slow, gradual process that he couldn’t see and couldn’t stop. Oh, for God’s sake; it’s a chemical dependency, an illness! I understand that and accept it; I’ve managed to forgive him, why can’t she?” The last question was plaintive; searching and not understanding at all.
Horatio held her a little closer and thought over what she had revealed to him. No wonder she often held herself very remote from those around her. He spoke gently, compassionately. “Some people have a greater capacity for forgiveness and understanding Calleigh; a bigger heart. I didn’t know your father very well at all; but when he was sober, I did see his good qualities. I see those same good qualities in you.”
She let out a small, humorless laugh; trying to put some emotional distance between them. “Really?” Her tone clearly indicated that she thought he needed his head examined.
He felt the distance between them growing and hated it. “Yes, really; I see the same cheerful exuberance in the way that you face the world every day. Your dad chose to be a public defender, right? That takes an enormous amount of determination, courage, compassion and the ability to see the good in anyone. Calleigh, I see those same abilities in you every day when you handle a victim’s family; the way you treat a person of interest, in the way you handled Eric when he finally returned to work- even when a mistake of his compromised the investigation. Yes, you expected him to do his job; but you handled him gently and compassionately, you let him know that he was not only needed, but wanted and valued; even if he wasn’t 100 percent.”
She sat up; pulling away from him so she could see his face. “How did you know? You weren’t even in the lab at the time when I talked with Eric..” She was stunned.
He smiled at her, remembering the conversation in question; the fierce pride in her growth as a leader that had burned in his chest. “Eric told me. He came to confess his error to me and I told him that any reprimand was up to you since you were in charge of that investigation. He said that he’d already talked to you about it and how you handled it. You put the investigation first, but you never forgot the human factor; he said you were an excellent team leader. You keep that up and you’ll be heading up your own team before long.”
“You’re trying to distract me. Thank you, but it’s not working; I have more calls to make before we head back to the lab.” She got up and retrieved her cell from the other side of the room. “This won’t take long. I’m sure mama has already begun the phone calls, herself; besides, I can’t make any funeral arrangements until Alexx releases him.”
Eric had nearly taken the car apart, and still he felt that there was something missing. It looked like a straight forward traffic accident; but that paint transfer and dent kept bothering him. So did the skid pattern on the pavement. While there were indications that Duke had tried to avoid the tree; there was no indication that he had tried to brake. Eric and Ryan had stayed at the scene; picking up every shred of evidence they could find. Ryan was still pretty convinced that the old man had done it himself and was now busy with the traffic camera tapes from overnight.
The computer beeped at him; pulling him away from the vehicle. He had a match to the paint sample he found on Mr. Duquesne’s car; it was from a 2000 Chevy Blazer. Even though it told him nothing about what happened; at least it was something to tell Horatio.
Eric glared at the wrecked car in front of him like a suspect who wouldn’t talk. “What am I missing?” he asked . The headlights stared mutely back at him. “There’s got to be more.”
“Talking to cars, now?” Ryan asked, entering. “You were right; he was hit from behind. I just found the footage. He swerved, but didn’t brake.”
The weight on Eric’s chest eased a little. “That’s good and bad. Why didn’t he hit the brakes?”
Ryan shook his head. “I don’t know. I hate to say it; but, maybe he was too drunk to react quickly enough?”
Eric’s eyes flashed; his voice an angry growl. “You want to tell that to Calleigh and break her heart? Do me a favor Wolfe; just keep that opinion to yourself until we hear from Alexx.”
“Hey, I’m just saying-” Ryan defended himself;, knowing how things had gone with that family in the past.
“No.” Eric cut him off with a near growl. “Did you manage to get a tag number off the tape?”
“Cooper’s working on that right now.” Ryan said, feeling defeated. “I just wanted you to know that you were right. He didn’t just swerve off the road by himself.”
Eric’s temper cooled. “Thanks for bringing that over, I’m sorry I snapped at you man. This whole thing is just hitting home, you know?”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah, I do. Find anything else?”
“Not yet, but I haven’t gotten under the car. You want to help?” Eric asked, still feeling a little contrite about nearly tearing the other man’s head off.
“When I’m done in AV, I will.” Ryan said, eager to make up for any doubts he might have put in Eric’s mind. They needed to stay objective and focused and not allow their emotions to cause them to run roughshod over the evidence.
Alexx stood in her autopsy theater, staring in disbelief at the woman before her. She didn’t know which one of them needed their head examined. Her for allowing it or Calleigh for requesting it. She took her friend’s hands in her own. “Calleigh, are you sure you want to do this? You should-”
“Be right here,” Calleigh replied, a steely edge in her voice. She knew it was going to be one of the hardest things she had ever done, but she had to know. “Alexx-”
“Baby girl, this is not some random victim. This is your father,” Alexx said reasonably, trying to dissuade Calleigh, hoping to save her the extra pain. “I don’t think it’s in your best interest to be standing here while I cut him open. No child should ever have to watch their parents’ autopsy.”
“Alexx, I know you’re trying to help and I love you for it.” Calleigh said, her voice wavering. “But I'm not a child and I need to do this for my own peace of mind. So, please don’t deny me that.”
Alexx squeezed Calleigh’s hands. “Okay, okay, I can’t say I understand how it’ll help, but you can stay. Why don’t you make it easier on yourself and watch from the deck? I’ll keep talking to you the whole time. If this all gets to be too much, and it can, you just go. I won’t think any less of you.” She reached out and tucked a stray bit of hair behind Calleigh’s ear. “Go on, now. I need to take care of your dad.”
Calleigh watched from the observation deck, trying to distance herself from the proceedings below, and finding it increasingly difficult to do so. She had never flinched during an autopsy before… However, with every skilled stroke of Alexx’s scalpel, she did. Calleigh paced the deck, trying to invoke her clinical detachment, and failing miserably. Maybe Alexx was right; she was just torturing herself …
“The condition of the liver, well, it’s heavily scarred and was developing rigidity-“ Alexx said; the clinical tone of her voice rubbing Calleigh’s nerves raw.
It was all suddenly too overwhelming. Calleigh walked out into the hall to clear her head. She leaned against the cool wall, hugging herself, fighting for some measure of control. Although she wanted to, she refused to allow herself the luxury of grief before she knew just what had happened. Had he been drunk, too drunk to drive and slammed himself into the tree? The last time he had gotten behind the wheel while intoxicated he thought he had killed someone. He hadn’t then, but now he could have.Anger warred with grief and guilt. Anger that he could have been drinking and driving. Grief at the loss of her father,. Guilt that she might have been able to get through to him if she only talked to him one more time. She wiped at her tearing eyes as approaching footfalls echoed down the corridor.
“Horatio said you’d come back to the lab.” Ryan said leaning on the wall next to her. Not the most brilliant conversational opener, but what the hell do you say at times like this?
Calleigh nodded; leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes. “I couldn’t stay at home. There’s nothing left for me to do until Alexx is finished.”
The mention of Alexx made Ryan take a good look at just where they were standing. His eyes widened. “Why are you outside the observation deck? Calleigh, don’t tell me that you were …”
“Watching the autopsy?” She finished for him, nodding. “I was. I was trying to gain some peace of mind, Ryan. I just came out to clear my head.” She turned and reached for the door handle.
Ryan placed his hand on top of hers. “Wait a minute. You’re not going back in there by yourself. No discussion. I’m going in there with you and you will lean on me when you need to and if I think you’ve had enough, we are out of here. Got it?.”
“Ryan, I …” She began, but to the words died when she looked into his eyes and saw the compassion and affection shining there. She relented. “Alright, Ryan, thank you.” She opened the door and they entered.
“Calleigh, are you still with me?” Alexx asked looking up from the table.
“I’m here Alexx, just needed a breather. Keep going.”
“Okay, honey,” Alexx replied. “I’m extracting the contents of the stomach. Do you want me to send this to Tox?”
“Yeah,” Calleigh said quietly.
Ryan moved closer to her. His mentor's eyes were closed as she listened to Alexx’s narrative. Her misery was almost palpable and when she bowed her head, he put his arm around her, drawing her to him. If he couldn’t heal her heart, he’d at least give her physical comfort. She accepted the gesture and leaned her head on his shoulder, fighting tears again. She let out a small sniffle.
“That’s it, Calleigh. We’re done here.” Ryan whispered, he signaled their departure to Alexx through the glass before leading Calleigh out of the observation deck.
Hi all! Thank you for continuing to read. My apologies for not dating sooner. I had the flu. Much better now, so, on with the story!
Eric strode down the hallway, annoyance seeping from every pore. He had been all over the lab for the last half hour looking for Ryan and finding him virtually vanished. The longer it took to find Wolfe, the angrier he got. Eric turned the corner, nearly knocking Ryan off his feet.
“Where the hell have you been?” Eric growled. “You were done in AV almost a half an hour ago. I thought that you wanted to help on the car.”
“Take it easy, Delko. I had something a little more important to do,” Ryan retorted. “You want to back off a bit?”
Eric rolled his eyes and tried to keep himself from punching Wolfe. “What could possibly be more important than-“
“I was in the autopsy theater with Calleigh,” Ryan said flatly. The remark stopped Eric cold.
It took a moment for the information to register. “Don’t tell me she was trying to….I mean, that’s not….” Eric was finding it difficult to fathom why in the world she would have felt compelled to watch her father’s autopsy. She must be in a hell of a state at the moment. “How is she?” he finally managed.
Ryan shook his head. “I had to take her out of there. The possibility that he was drunk and did it to himself is killing her; that’s why I stayed. I couldn’t let her go through that alone. Eric, she’s trying so hard to be strong and stay calm, but….”
“Yeah, I know. She’s going to break,” Eric said,internally shaking himself to shove the worry into the back of his mind for the time being, handing Ryan the file he had been carrying. “I found something interesting. somebody cut his brake line. It’s a clean cut done with a knife. So, drunk or sober, Mr. Duquesne was murdered.”
Ryan read over Eric’s report. “Then you’re right about the paint transfer. An accident is one thing. Murder is another whole ball of wax. Who wanted to kill him and why? He was a public defender, not a prosecuting attorney. You can’t tell me that someone he defended was out to get him.”
“Everyone makes enemies Wolfe,” Eric said with a shake of his head.
Ryan’s mind was racing. He began to hurry down the hallway. “I have a theory. I’ll get his caseload from the last couple of months and see if I can come up with some leads. If it was someone that he defended, then we should be able to track them down.”
“You do that. I’m going to check on Calleigh. H said not to leave her alone for too long.” Eric said. “At the risk of sounding like an idiot, which way did she go?”
“She was headed into Firearms when I left her,” Ryan said over his shoulder, eager to see if his theory would pan out.
Calleigh peered at the bullets under her scope, trying to match the striations. The case was pending. Since she was in, she’d try to get a little work done. She suddenly realized that she had now looked at the same set of bullets for the fourth time and she still couldn’t concentrate. She slammed her fist down on her workstation. “Dammit,” she growled, putting her head in her hands.
“Need a break, Cal?” Eric asked, entering and placing a cup of coffee on the table. He stood behind her and kneaded her tense shoulders. “How are you doing?”
The warmth radiating from his body behind her and the gentle hands on her shoulders were incredibly comforting.“I’ve been better,” she admitted with a sigh.
“Been there, done that.” Eric replied “Even though I don’t remember Marisol’s death, it was like she had just died when H told me about it. I know the situation is different with you, but the pain of losing someone you love is the same.” He finished as she leaned her head back against his chest and tried to stifle a sob. “It’s okay, Calleigh. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
Calleigh couldn’t keep the squeak out of her voice. “I know.” She struggled to get herself back under control and Eric’s compassion wasn’t helping any.
Eric had heard the sniffle and tears in her voice. He stopped kneading her shoulders and put his arms around her in a backward hug. “Cut the Steel Magnolia crap, Calleigh;. Let it out. This is me you’re talking to. You don’t need to be tough. Just let it go. How many years have we been friends, huh? I promise I won’t tell anybody. You're safe with me.”
She took a deep, shaky breath; Eric’s coaxing nearly her undoing. He was right. They had been friends for so long and there should be no reason in the world that she couldn’t let it all go....just not yet. “Please stop, Eric.” She said, her voice husky with unshed tears, she took several deep breaths to regain control. “I’m just not ready yet. I need more time.”
“Okay, querida.” Eric agreed, unconsciously adding the term of affection in Spanish. He needed to distract her with something, anything. As if on cue, his stomach growled. “Hey, why don’t we go grab something to eat? I worked through lunch and I’m starving. I bet you haven’t eaten, either.”
She shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
“Then keep me company while I eat; you know how much I hate to eat alone.” Eric coaxed.
“I’m not really good company right now.”
He gave her a little squeeze. “Come with me anyway. Get some fresh air. C’mon, I’m buying.”
She turned off the scope, sighing in exasperation and extricating herself from his arms. “You’re not going to let me say no, are you?” At his soft, lopsided grin, she relented. “Okay, I’ll go. But no pizza. I’m sick of pizza and you’re still buying mister.”
Ryan had not expected a hit on the database so soon after loading everything in, but there it was. Thinking back on it, it might have had something to do with the fact that he loaded all the information in reverse order. Mr. Duquesne's most recent case first as opposed to last. The hit was a husband who’d threatened to harm Duke after he lost a murder case where the guy’s wife went to prison. Ryan cross referenced with the DMV and was rewarded with his second hit of the day. The guy owned a royal blue 2000 Chevy Blazer, which matched the paint transfer. He picked up his cell and dialed.
“Horatio, I got a hit on Delko’s theory. Three weeks ago Mr. Duquesne defended a Nessita Parker, who was convicted of first degree murder. The husband threatened Mr. Duquesne’s life in open court. Even better, he is the proud registered owner of a 2000 Chevy Blazer, royal blue - and he lives less than a mile from the crime scene.”
There was satisfaction in Horatio’s voice. “Pick him up Mr. Wolfe.”
Horatio removed his sunglasses, and peered intently at the moderate dent and white paint stripe on the Blazer’s driver’s side front bumper; it was a perfect match to the dent and paint transfer on Duke’s car. “It appears that you and Eric were right, Mr. Wolfe. Let’s see what Mr. Parker has to say about this, shall we?” Horatio’s voice was a low rumble that could be taken for satisfaction instead of what it really was, fury.
They walked up the short paved walkway from the driveway to the front door of the small home; a bicycle blocked their way. Stepping around it, Horatio motioned to the patrol officer that they wanted cover. Two more officers entered the open garage and began searching the premises.
Standing on either side of the front door, Horatio and Ryan exchanged looks. Now or never… “MDPD, Mr. Parker!” Horatio shouted, “Open up, please.”
At first there was nothing but silence. Suddenly, from the back yard, came the sounds of struggling and shouting voices. They ran around the side of the house just in time to see Officer Ken Small tackle Mr. Parker to the ground and cuff him.
Horatio couldn't help but wince as Parker hit the concrete of the driveway face first. “That’s got to hurt. Michael Parker, you’re under arrest for the murder of Kenwall Duquesne. Read him his rights.” Horatio growled. He and Wolfe rounded the front end of the house; entering the garage. “Have you found anything, gentlemen?”
“Sir, I think this might have been used to cut the brake line,” A young fresh-faced officer came forward; her name tag read “Rosen”. “You said that there might be brake fluid on it. I think that’s what I have.”
Horatio spared her a small smile. If she continued being so observant, she just might become part of the lab one day. “Good work, Rosen; Mr. Wolfe, bag it.”
Ryan showed a grim smile, “With pleasure, Horatio.”
After finishing at the search at the Parker home, Ryan and Horatio returned to the lab. They sat in the interrogation room waiting for Michael Parker to be processed and lead up to them. Horatio ran his fingers along the edge of the folder containing Alexx’s autopsy findings. He’d read it and was only waiting for Eric and Calleigh to return so that the matter could be laid to rest. Finally, Frank brought Parker in.
Horatio stood and studied the man for a moment. Stocky build, sandy hair, faded blue eyes and a hang-dog expression. The guy looked like he could use a break. Unfortunately the sympathy well was dry. “Mr. Parker, where did you get that dent and streak of white paint on your car?”
“I dunno, maybe the supermarket. I went shopping yesterday,” Parker replied, absorbed in an intense study of the interview room floor. .
“I don’t think so. You know, I’m not feeling very patient right now so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m not going to play games. Is the name Kenwall Duquesne familiar to you?”
Parker couldn’t keep back his response. In an angry voice he replied “That useless old bastard that got my Nessita sent up for 25 for a murder she didn’t commit? Yeah I know him”
“Really?” Horatio mused thoughtfully, gazing out the window. “I thought Mr. Duquesne was a defense attorney and not the prosecution?”
Parker laughed humorlessly, the sound bitter and grating. “That old man couldn’t defend his way out of a wet paper sack! He was just a useless old man biding his time in the P.D.’s office until retirement. If Nessie and I could have afforded a real lawyer instead of that court appointed joke, she’d have beat the rap and been at home with me and our kid.”
Frank, Horatio and Ryan shared a glance at Parker’s use of the past tense. If grammatical use could convict… Horatio nodded. “I see. You’re still very angry with Mr. Duquesne, aren’t you?”
Parker leaned forward in his chair, eyes flashing, “Damn straight I am! He took my Nessita; my life. How am I going to make it without her?”
“Angry enough to kill him?” Horatio asked mildly, a curious look in his eyes. “What about that, hmm?”
“What do you mean?” Parker asked, knowing he had already overstepped himself and trying to backpedal.
“Don’t play stupid genius,” Frank said, his tone implying that Parker was anything but. “Mr. Duquesne was found dead this morning victim of an apparent car accident.”
Parker sneered with false bravado. “Good riddance.”
Horatio clamped down on his emotions. All he really wanted to do was leap across the table and choke the life out of the man… His voice turned glacial. “Mr. Parker, there was paint matching your car’s color on the rear of Mr. Duquesne’s car and his brake line was cut with the same knife that was found in your garage. Care to explain how that all happened?”
“Okay, he took my wife from me. He was a useless old drain on taxpayer money. You should be thanking me.” Parker had the nerve to smile slightly.
Horatio grit his teeth and looked away just in time to see Eric and Calleigh exit the elevator and stop by Reception. His words were clipped, “I want you to listen right now, you heartless bastard. Turn around and take a good, long look at the young woman out there.”
Parker turned. “What, the blonde?”
“Yes, the blonde. That is Calleigh Duquesne, and she is, as you so eloquently put it, that “useless drain’s” daughter. Since this morning she has been tied up in knots of grief so tight that she can’t think straight. You said that Mr. Duquesne took your wife away? You could still visit her in prison, talk with her, and even have conjugal visits. Ms. Duquesne can only visit her father’s grave. That’s it. You take a good long look at the pain you caused an innocent woman my friend, because I want her face to be the first you see in the morning and the last you see at night. Get him out of here.” Horatio stood and strode from the room, file folder in hand, leaving the rest of the booking to Ryan and Frank.
Horatio stopped at Calleigh’s side. “Calleigh, I have the results of the investigation,” he said softly, his voice a world of contrast to just a few moments ago.
A hard knot took up residence in Calleigh’s stomach. “Okay,” she whispered, beginning to feel sick at the prospect of knowing.
Horatio took her gently by the arm. “Why don’t we go to my office for some privacy?”
She was silent for a moment. “Sure.”
“I’ll be around if you need me, Calleigh,” Eric said, turning to leave.
Tears stung the back of her eyes; she reached out, stopping him with a light touch. “I do right now. Please don’t go.” She was holding on by the thinnest of threads. It was almost time. She could do this.
Eric shared a look with Horatio. They both knew that she was at her breaking point if she was showing such vulnerability so openly. “I’ll come,” he said reassuringly.
The three of them made their way through the lab and up the flight of stairs to Horatio’s office. Once inside, Horatio shut the door and drew the blinds for privacy’s sake. “Sweetheart, why don’t you have a seat?”
The sick feeling intensified as she sat on Horatio’s sofa, Eric settling next to her. She reached over and held his hand tightly for strength. He squeezed back. “Give it to me straight, Horatio. How drunk was he?”
Horatio’s own heart hurt to hear the pain and defeat in her voice. He sat down next to her. “He wasn’t. Tox was negative. There wasn’t a drop of alcohol in his system Calleigh.” He watched her struggle with the revelation. He had had to give the victim’s families information like this so often, but it had never been this difficult. “He was killed by the crash, but it wasn’t an accident. He was struck from behind and his brake line was cut. Eric found the evidence and we already have the guy in custody.”
Calleigh processed the information; blinking back tears. As realization dawned, she began to tremble. A single tear ran down her cheek. Horatio’s gentle hand on her shoulder was all it took for that final thread to break. She broke down, curling herself over and weeping into the well that had been formed by her folded arms across her knees. The sound of her crying was loud and raw in the silent office. It was bad enough that her father had died in a car crash, but knowing that he had been murdered was all the more painful. She was grateful that the truth was uncovered, but it didn’t make the anguish any less. Now that she allowed herself to feel the full impact of it, her grief was so sharp that she felt as if she were going to be torn in half.
Horatio and Eric offered what physical sympathy they could; her pain echoed in their eyes. , save for Speed's funeral. The intensity of it shook both men to their cores.
“Sweetheart,” Horatio said gently, “would you like us to go and give you some time?”
When she shook her head no, Eric spoke. “Then let us help you.” He reached around her and gave a gentle tug. “Come here querida.” Unresisting, she went into his arms. He held her, speaking softly to her in Spanish, cooing gently until she calmed and began to pull away. He released her.
Horatio handed her tissues and took her hand. “Let us take care of you. You’re always watching out for us. It’s time we returned the favor.”
She nodded, letting out another sob and beginning to break down again. Horatio reached over and pulled her into his arms, rocking her and murmuring softly. Slowly, she began to calm, sobs softening into hiccups, then giving way to soft breathing. When she didn’t pull away, he looked down at her.
“She’s asleep,” Eric whispered, not wanting to wake her. He reached out and stroked her hair. “Poor thing. She’s exhausted.”
“Do you blame her?” Horatio whispered equally as soft. “She’s been through hell today.” He held her a little closer, a little more securely.
“How long are you going to let her sleep, H?” Eric asked.
Horatio looked down again at her tear stained face, now peaceful in sleep. “As long as she needs.”
She had slept for maybe an hour nestled in Horatio’s arms. It was just the two of them in his quiet office when she awoke. She pulled away, sitting up and trying to put herself back in order. “I’m sorry about that,” she said quietly shaking her head slightly to clear it.
He released her, watching her carefully. Her usual façade hadn’t automatically fallen into place, and allowing him to see her completely vulnerable; a truly remarkable show of trust. “You have nothing to be sorry for. You’ve been holding it back all day, I’m sure, and you needed to release it. You just lost your father in a horrible and violent way. Sweetheart, you aren’t being weak. Don’t you dare apologize for feeling grief and grieving.”
“No, I know that. It’s just…I didn’t plan on…I mean…” She looked over at him. “I cried myself to sleep on you.”
“I didn’t mind. You needed it.” Horatio took her hands. “Once in a while we all have to let our guard down and let others take care of us. That’s exactly what Eric and I were doing for you, what we will continue to do for you for as long as you need it. Do you understand me?”
She gave him a small, grateful smile, “I do, and I appreciate it.” She rose and straightened her clothing. “I need to finish taking care of things. I can’t let dad sit in the, uhm, …take up any more of Alexx’s space. I need to make a couple of calls” She looked directly into his clear, blue eyes. “I could use the company if you don’t mind.”
Calleigh sat on a cold metal folding chair in the morgue, Horatio and Alexx were waiting patiently outside, giving her time to be with her father. She gazed down at her father’s face. “Hey, dad. I want to apologize to you. I need to. You see, dad, when I saw the wrecked car and you in the driver’s seat all I could think of was how much you’d had to drink. That you had one too many and chose to drive yourself home again. All I could think of was the last time you hit something while driving drunk and thought you killed somebody. I was angry, no, furious; furious that you’d been drinking and driving again. Alex gave me the coins from your pocket, dad, all three of them. Three AA coins that tell me that you hadn’t had a drop to drink in nearly a year. You were serious this time, weren’t you? I’m sorry I didn’t have enough faith in you, but do you blame me? There were all those times you promised you’d quit, and you tried but ultimately failed. I would get the inevitable call from Dana and have to come get you, load you into my car, and drive you home – it broke my heart. I’d hide it from my friends, my coworkers, but they knew and they wouldn’t ask. Nearly a year, dad. I barely spoke to you in that year.” Calleigh’s eyes welled with tears, tears she didn’t know she still had. “If I had, I would have known about the AA and told you how proud I am of you. Even though we had a lot of difficulties and, daddy, you broke my heart more times than I can count, I never stopped loving you. I couldn’t. We're family, you are my father and you’re part of me. You’re my dad. I love you.” She couldn’t go on and sat there with her face in her hands, weeping wordlessly. She didn’t know when Alexx and Horatio entered or when he led her away while Alexx pushed her father’s drawer shut.
Horatio drove Calleigh home and made himself comfortable as she made the final arrangements for her father. When the work day ended, the rest of the team showed up with some take out, just to touch base with her and be comforting presences. They didn’t stay long, just long enough to remind her that they were there for her and to support her when she needed someone to lean on; to carry her when she couldn’t stand on her own. She was deeply touched and it made her cry a little, though this time it wasn’t in grief, but from love.
Eric was the last to leave, Calleigh seeing him to the door while Horatio cleaned away the take out. “Thank you for everything, Eric,” she said wearily. She put her arms around him, hugging him. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
He held her close, able to feel her utter and complete mental and emotional exhaustion in the way she rested against him. He kissed the top of her head and then rested his cheek there. “After today, I think I do. Querida, you’re completely exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. You need to get some rest. If Horatio wasn’t staying to take care of you, I’d stay and put you in bed, myself.”
She sighed, knowing he was right. “You would, wouldn’t you?”
“I would. I know how it is to lose someone you love so much.” He kissed the top of her head again, willing it to remove some of her pain. “Get some rest.”
The day of the funeral was overcast and humid. The threat of rain hung in the air as a small group of people stood by a lone graveside. Calleigh sat in the white folding chair, alone; her mother and brothers declining being there. She had been the only one in the family to understand and forgive. She had tried to explain about the coins and the near year her father had been sober; but none would listen, so she sat alone, not listening to the words the minister spoke. He was just the one supplied by the cemetery’s chapel and she knew that he knew nothing about her family, or her father beyond the fact that he had been a public defender. Behind her stood the team, on either side like a protective shield, just the same way they had for Tim’s parents when he was killed. She was grateful beyond words for their presence. Horatio’s hands resting lightly on her shoulders gave her untold worlds of comfort.
Horatio gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze as he looked around at the small knot of people that had gathered. There were some recognizable faces from the public defender’s office, Kenwall’s co-workers. They had expressed how sorry they were, and how much he was liked by everyone. She had smiled softly and thanked them. Nearer to them stood a few members of Calleigh’s family. Not the ones she really needed, but family nonetheless. Kenwall’s sister, Romona, and her husband, Richard, had flown in from Chicago to be there. Her cousin, Michael stood next to his parents. Horatio mused on how much her aunt, cousin and she looked alike. All had the same blonde hair and green eyes, the same lightly freckled skin and warm smiles.
The service ended and folks started to leave as the rain threatened to come down at any second. Calleigh’s aunt came and enfolded her in a tight embrace. “Don’t you be a stranger to us, you hear?” she instructed her Southern accent still very evident despite the decades spent in the North. “You come up to Chicago; spend Christmas with us.”
“I’ll try, Aunt Mona,” Calleigh said, extricating herself from the woman’s embrace. “Or you and Uncle Rich can snowbird down to Miami for the holidays. It’s beautiful down here in December.”
A light punch landed on her arm. “You’re just afraid of the snow and cold, wimp.” Michael said, mischief in his eyes. He was a big man, built like a linebacker. “You come up and I’ll give you a tour of my police department. I’ll even throw in a look-see into the crime lab, if you’re nice.”
She threw her arms around the big man. He lifted her off her feet. “Mikey, you are so competitive! I’ll try.” In spite of the somber day, she had to laugh at little. “Okay, now put me down.”
“I’m sorry that Marjorie and the boys couldn’t come,” her Uncle said. He leaned down and kissed his niece on the cheek. “It’s not fair of them to treat you this way.”
“Uncle Rich, you know how it is. I don’t have to tell you,” she said, not really wanting to get into that particular subject, which was still very raw and smarting.
Mike persisted when his father wouldn’t, giving voice to the sentiment that was on everyone’s mind. “But you shouldn’t have had to go it alone. That’s cruel.”
Calleigh shook her head. “I didn’t. You know how it is with partners, Mike.” She gestured back to the team, standing at a discrete distance, yet still protective in their proximity. “We’re a team, partners. They’re like family and they never left my side since the very beginning. I’m lucky to have them.”
“We’re lucky to have you,” Horatio said, coming up behind her. “We’ll be waiting by the cars when you’re ready.”
“Give me a minute, please.”
“Yes ma’am,” Horatio said, nodding to her relatives and returning to the waiting group. He watched as her family embraced her, finally moving off to their own vehicles.
The first tentative raindrops fell as Calleigh approached the coffin. She touched the lid ever so lightly as a few fresh tears mingled with the rain on her face. She raised her fingers to her lips, kissed them and brushed them across the lid again before turning toward the waiting cars and leaving.