Everything is in chaos. In the midst of it is Lady Heather quietly sipping a cup of tea.
“You again,” says Nick as the officers swarm the apartment. She always thinks of him as Nick, though she calls him CSI Stokes. It suits him. Half a name, casual and a little childish. He seems to her a little boy in a bulletproof vest, playing cops and robbers. His gun is pointed at the floor.
“Good morning, CSI Stokes, CSI Willows.” The cup clinks against the saucer as she sets it down. “I won’t bother asking if you’ll join me.”
“I think we’d prefer some answers.” Catherine Willows. Now there’s someone she can respect. Only a slight frown marks Catherine's brow and her gun is already back in its holster. From the next room, Heather hears the voice of Captain Brass telling the officers to clear the scene for processing.
She replies softly. “He’s not here.”
“I can see that. By the looks of it, he’s not been here for weeks.” Nick looks around Grissom’s apartment, the piles of books, the neatly organized specimen cases, the dust dancing in the evening's last sunbeam. Heather pulled those curtains back herself. Tea, like people, deserved to be drunk in the sunlight. “Mind telling us what you’re doing here?”
Heather smiles, and though there is no condescension in her voice, a touch is hidden in the corner of that smile. “Having a nice cup of tea.”
Grissom came to her late at night, as he sometimes did. Her business didn’t close up shop until the small hours. Sometimes his head didn’t, either, and it drove him into his books, or to the streets, or up her driveway. He wasn’t the only one. People came to her for help or for punishment, something to chase away the demons; sometimes expecting or hoping for shelter or therapy, sometimes sex. For the sake of his vanity, she didn’t mention this to him. In any case, she found she turned him away less often than the others.
She didn’t tell him that, either.
LVPD. She could spend every waking moment unraveling the Gordian knot of twisted uses of power, bravado, fear and violence that permeated just one tiny corner of it, but she had better things to do. Poking at the edges of the fine men and women of the crime lab was more than enough. She was drawn to them, as she was to all lost lambs. Part of self-possession was to know yourself, and Heather knew that was a part of her, as well—the need to help and guide others. Grissom gave as good as he got, and Heather found she could respect that. Even so, she suspected both of them enjoyed the other best in small doses. What they had was a little too high-key for family dinners or Sundays at the park.
“Shall I put the kettle on?” She asked as she led him into the living room, her feet bare on the plush carpet, her silk dressing gown trailing behind. “Or something a little more theatrical?”
“Heather,” he said in a broken voice, and she got the feeling tea wouldn’t do. Neither would her special riding crop. “I need your help.”
That was two weeks ago.
“That’s evidence,” Catherine says gently as she takes the cup from Heather. The smell of her rubber gloves ruins the bitterness of the tea still on Heather's tongue.
She crosses her legs and leans back. “Am I under arrest?”
“No, but we’d like to process you, if you don’t mind.”
“Am I free to go?” Heather asks, with emphasis.
Catherine’s demeanor shifts, just a touch. “Yes.”
Heather stands. In her heels she has an inch or two on the investigator. “Then you know where to find me.” She walks out unmolested, only noticing Willows lean close to Nick and say a word or two as she closes the door behind her.
Half an hour later, the desert wind whips dust against her windshield, a staccato of tiny pebbles bombarding her bubble of safety. She can just make out the lights of her tail in the rear view mirror.
“I keep telling my people, one by one, that you have to let cases go.” Heather had always found his voice soothing with its sedate inflections, something from which she extracted all the pleasure she could. “But this one...”
Heather nodded, encouraging him to continue. It was a time to listen.
“It won’t stop. It won’t stop with just what he’s already done. There will be more victims. I have to make it stop. I… some things you can never entirely numb yourself to. Even if everything in the world is telling you you must.”
“Grissom.” She reached for his hand. “I want to help. Tell me what you need.”
The desert gives way to a clutch of buildings low to the ground, bunkers with abandoned vegetable gardens outside. Daytime has shriveled all the greenery that ever grew here, and the present rain has flattened the dry stalks. A tattered sheet of fabric stretched between two poles, once a sun-shade, flaps in the wind in the beam of Heather’s headlights.
She parks outside one of the smaller bunkers on the outskirts. Any disturbed ground has been washed away, but her four-wheel drive will have a challenge climbing out of the grooves of mud she’s just made. This is why every girl needs a pair of flats. Her laced boots dig into the ground but clutch her calves, and she pulls them up with ease for the few wet, drudging steps to the door.
She doesn’t bother knocking. He will have heard the car. “Grissom. It’s me.” There is no reply. “Come now. You know it’s poor manners to keep a lady waiting. Especially in the rain.”
The door swings open, shedding golden light on the mud. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”
She climbs down the few steps into the dry bunker and the smell of earth and coffee. “Not a part of your plan, you mean.”
They can’t hear the other car yet over the patter of rain on the roof. They will soon.
“I need to stop him.”
“And you can’t, because…?”
“Because I already know who he is.”
Heather tilted her head for a moment. “Inadmissible evidence.”
Grissom nodded. “I had no business searching that apartment. It was a hunch, and the door was open. Warwick saw me drop into that house. If he’s pressed--”
“Let me guess. He will lie for you.”
“And ruin his career. Even our tip-off was tainted, coming from a beat cop who just went down for planting evidence. What could I say, that I thought I heard a cry for help? That house was empty. We’d already knocked on the door.” He took off the glasses he only sometimes wore and pinched the bridge of his nose. He rubbed it in circles, slow, tired. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“That you could save someone.” Heather mimicked those circles on the back of Grissom’s hand.
“Everything that comes from that one act is tainted. There is no other evidence. I can’t take it through the official channels.”
“Tell me everything.”
It’s almost cozy in the bunker now that the rain has cooled the stone and the gaslight casts shadows onto the rough-hewn walls. There is a table and chairs, a folded bed against the far wall with a neat stack of blankets, and she can see a cable snake around the one corner of the room—to the generator, as she recalls. There is a fridge, and she would bet anything it holds no food and a lot of samples. A testing kit lies spread out over the table.
Not bad for a place she found on the dark net and paid for in cryptocurrency. The tins of baked beans she got from her dad's endless hoard of canned food seem to be holding out well, too. Grissom has turned one of the empty tins into a pen stand. “I see you’ve settled in quite nicely.”
“I was almost finished. Did anyone follow you?”
Heather looks around, notices the stacks of papers with photographs. Going oldschool does make sense out here. “It wasn’t a bad plan, Gil. Assemble the evidence, make it look like legitimate research, leave it on your desk or at your home to be discovered. Disappear before they can press you for details. Officers would be following up on the leads in good faith.”
“Need closure. I know. But you meant to kill him.” She turns to him. “Didn’t you?”
Grissom says nothing, but he doesn’t seem surprised. Heather could swear he almost smiles. “You know, I’m still not sure if I can do it, when it comes right down to it. I was going to... try, I suppose.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry about it anymore. It’s done.” She turns her back on the look on his face. Let him steam. He has lied to her, manipulated her, tried to make her an accomplice in his own destruction. She will not be so used. “You really thought I would help you destroy yourself? Even if you survived arrest, you would have lost everything.”
“Heather.” His voice pleads. “You didn’t--”
“I didn’t, not exactly. Not by my own hand.”
He hears it a split second after she does—the low rumble of a car pulling up.
Mayoral candidate found dead; suspected link to killings
Mr Devon Acton was found last Tuesday at his home in Tule Springs dead of apparent suicide. Police are investigating the death in connection with a series of killings over the past six years, mostly of pre-teen boys. When asked if Mr Acton was a suspect, Cpt Jim Brass of the LVPD refused to offer comment until after the preliminary investigation is over.
Detectives were tipped off by the fact that the car that one of the victims was kidnapped in was parked on Mr Acton’s driveway. The plates had been changed, but the chassis number identified the vehicle. More evidence may have been found inside the house.
Mr Acton’s wife and daughter are being questioned, but are not considered suspects at the moment. When asked if the discovery is linked to the recent disappearance of the LVPD crime lab supervisor Gil Grissom, the police stated only that Grissom is not involved in the investigation. Grissom was in charge of processing evidence for several of the related deaths and had only recently returned to town in a colleague’s car after a surprise absence of two weeks.
He was afraid of her, but not in the way other men with pretensions of dominance were. It was something more primal under that slick exterior, the rota flirtation, the smile-like-men-are-supposed-to-smile-at-pretty-women.
He didn’t hit his wife, she was sure. He was the kind of man who would take out the locks on bathroom door instead. He’d take out the door, if he could get away with it.
Grissom was concerned with trace evidence. Heather had no access to that. She had found the car he’d repainted and sold. She'd found the photographs hidden rather cleverly in his garage, in a fake a ventilation chute.
She watched his exterior slip away as she explained the situation, the forwarded files, the car now on his driveway, how DNA attached to everything we ever touched. The phone call she had just made. She gave him a choice.
And she walked away.
It was only a short way to a bus stop and a direct ride to Grissom’s apartment, and it was much easier to avoid CCTV on foot.
She gives her car keys to Catherine without any further complaint. The rain will not be letting up for hours yet; its song accompanies them to the back of the police car. The car is unmarked, but the reinforced glass between them and a silent, angry Nick at the wheel makes it clear this is no joyride.
“...Out here, playing fucking Bonnie and Clyde...” Brass’s voice floats in through the staccato of raindrops and a window that has been left open just a fraction. They glance at one another, and everything is forgiven. For the moment, everything is as it should be; the only way it could be.
“We probably shouldn’t see each other again for a while,” he says softly.
They pass the rest of the drive in silence, but his hand inches closer to hers, and she closes the gap. Just for now.