Catherine Willows could not find her handcuff key. She’d looked in every pocket, in her purse, and in every corner of her locker. She’d even looked on the floor. “Dammit!” she swore, slamming the locker door closed. She had to go out to a crime scene, right now, and she just knew that if she didn’t take the key with her she’d end up needing it. But if she went to request another one, she was going to be late.
Not to mention that she was going to be embarrassed, since she was a supervisor and was supposed to be ‘setting an example’ for the CSI’s under her. One of whom was leaning against the bank of lockers, chuckling. “Just go ask,” he told her. “Sooner you get it, sooner we can get out of here.”
Catherine snorted, for once not appreciating the younger man’s attractive, muscular build. It wasn’t the first time she hadn’t appreciated Nick Stokes’ sense of humor, however – especially not since becoming his boss. “You go ask.” Nick didn’t move, although his grin got wider, and she scowled at him. She was about to say something, but then her eyes fell on one of the lockers in front of the man she wanted to reprimand.
One of which happened to be partially open. As in not quite closed all the way. And if Catherine wasn’t mistaken, it was the locker that belonged to Greg Sanders. A smile spread itself across her face, and she moved forward, reaching for the locker’s handle. Greg had handcuffs. One good jiggle should do it…
Nick had stopped smiling about the same time Catherine had started. “What are you doing? You’re going to steal Greg’s key?”
“Borrow,” Catherine corrected him happily. “It’s not like he’s using it right now. And by the time he gets back, I’ll have found mine and I’ll put his right back where I found it.”
Nick’s frown deepened. Greg was supposed to be taking a few days off to visit some member of his large, weird family. Still, though… “Listen, I don’t think you should be…”
Catherine waved the protest away with a careless hand. “He’s not here, his locker was…mostly…open, and I’m a supervisor who needs a handcuff key. So I see his underwear and maybe a girlie picture while I’m getting it, so what? I promise not to report him.” She gave another tug and the locker door came open. Then she looked the whole thing over for a minute; out of curiosity, Nick looked too.
Greg’s locker was relatively neat, although pretty full. Extra shoes, extra clothes, a dark-colored jacket hanging on a hanger. A few books, a binder and some stray papers. Obligatory calendar and pinup poster on the inside of the door. Catherine rolled her eyes at the poster, murmuring something about silicone bimbos, then started rooting around in the bottom of the locker. She unearthed some balled-up socks, three of which had obvious bloodstains on them, and a wadded-up tie that looked like it was similarly stained but which on closer inspection turned out to be spotted with salsa rather than blood. “Okay, no key there,” she said, wiping her hands on her jeans and straightening up. “Let’s check the top.”
The top shelf at first yielded a predictable assortment of combs, hygiene products and sticky notes, as well as two battered packets of ramen noodles and a half empty sack of Cheetos. Catherine dug further, coming up with change and chewed pens, candy wrappers, gum, and a fluorescent green highlighter that had obviously been used to circle dates on the calendar. Still no key. She felt all the way to the back of the shelf, touched something solid and pulled it out.
Nick felt his eyebrows climb all the way up to his close-cropped hairline. She was holding a narrow length of polished rough wood, tapering from a cylindrical leather-wrapped base down to a polished point. “That looks like a magic wand,” he observed, grinning. It was like Greg to have toys in his locker at work. It would also be fun to tease the younger investigator about it. “So, no handcuff key?”
“Nope.” Catherine was still examining the wand, though, running her fingers down the length of it. “You know, this is old wood. And the leather is worn.”
“So?” Nick made to take it out of her hand, but she held it away. He frowned. “Catherine, put it back. It’s Greg’s, and you shouldn’t have been in his locker anyway. We can go ask the guy at the desk for a spare handcuff key…”
“I want to know why Greg has an antique ‘magic wand’ in his locker,” she said, shaking her head. Nick’s frown deepened. The look on Catherine’s face was one he particularly didn’t like; it was the look she wore when she was thinking of an angle, of a way to get one up on someone. And too often lately she’d been wearing that look at work around her co-workers, especially when the co-worker involved was someone from Gil Grissom’s team.
Nick didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her, which in the locker room would only have been a few feet. In fact, he wasn’t sure he trusted her that far. “Put it back, Catherine,” he insisted in a hard voice. “It’s his business, not yours.”
“I can make it my business, if I think he may have gotten it from a crime scene.” She turned the wand around in her hand again, looking it over calculatingly. “Like that museum case he worked on a few weeks ago, maybe.”
Nick was trying to decide the best way not to kill his conniving boss when the man Catherine was trying to accuse walked around the corner. Greg stopped dead when he saw what was going on, blue eyes narrowing. “What are you doing in my locker, Catherine?” he asked in a voice that only carried a slight edge.
Catherine just barely glanced up at him, still toying with the wand. “Oh, I was just wondering why you had something from the museum hidden in your locker,” she answered with false pleasantness, a sly look on her face. “Picking up little souvenirs from our cases now, are we?”
To Nick’s surprise, Greg relaxed, looking amused. “Having some problems with Ecklie, Catherine?” he asked, grinning. “Maybe looking for a way to get his attention off you and onto someone else for a while? Or did you have some other reason for digging around in my stuff?”
Slyness was replaced by anger. Catherine’s fingers clenched around the wand. “I’m a supervisor, I have the authority…”
“You’re not my supervisor,” Greg informed her. “So no, you don’t have the authority unless Ecklie told you to do it – which I know he didn’t do since I was just in his office and he asked if I’d seen you. He was looking for you.”
“Well then, I guess I’d better go find him.” Anger spawned an unpleasant smile. “I’ll just take this little toy with me. I’m sure he’d like to see it.”
Nick decided to see if he could put a stop to the escalating situation. “He’d probably also like to know why you were digging around in Greg’s locker, now wouldn’t he?”
Catherine blinked a meaningful, slightly threatening glance at him. “You’re here too.”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t the one who got into my locker and dug through my stuff. And I can prove that,” Greg said, still smiling. He held out his hand. “Accio, wand.”
The wand jerked out of Catherine’s still-clenched fingers with enough force to make her yelp, and shot into Greg’s waiting hand. “What the…”
The tip of the wand glowed. “Silencio,” Greg commanded softly, and the older woman’s open mouth suddenly stopped producing sounds. Her hand flew to her throat and he laughed. “Don’t worry, it isn’t permanent.” He gave the wand a little twirl, a faint rainbow of sparks following its tip. “And this isn’t stolen; Grandpa Olaf gave it to me on my eleventh birthday. It’s about 200 years old, family heirloom.”
Nick had forced himself not to back up when he saw the sparks. This was Greg, he reminded himself. Greg was his friend. “Fam-family heirloom, huh?”
Greg grinned at him. “Yeah. Magic runs in the family. Usually the wand stays at home, but today I’m going straight from here to the airport and I didn’t want to leave it in the trunk with my luggage.” His blue eyes swung back to Catherine. “I figured it would be safer in the locker, less likely that someone would mess with it.”
“Yeah, it should have been.” The agreement was automatic for Nick, and he was rewarded with another smile from Greg and a disbelieving glare from the still-muted Catherine. He considered the situation for a bare second, then shrugged and decided he’d trust the friend with the magic wand over the bitch who’d tried to screw over almost everyone at the lab at least once. He could work out whether or not he actually believed in magic later. “So how do you want to handle this, Greggo? I vote for turning her into a toad.”
The younger man laughed, shaking his head. “Nah, that’s too old school. Modern, mature wizard here; we’re gonna do this right.” He looked thoughtfully at Catherine, then smiled again. “You know what? I have a plane to catch, I really don’t want to be standing here messing around with you. So I think I’ll let someone else do it.” He slid the wand up his sleeve and then looked Nick straight in the eye, serious for a moment. “You came in when I did, we walked around the corner and saw Catherine digging in my locker. Okay?”
Nick nodded, a little surprised by the intensity of the words…and by the fact that suddenly they were true. He remembered meeting Greg at the door, teasing him about his family as they walked in, and seeing Catherine digging in Greg’s locker. He also remembered her threatening to tell some lie about Greg stealing from a crime scene if he complained to anyone about the incident. Nick shook his head. Weird. For a minute he could have sworn he’d actually come in before Greg had shown up…
The sound of the door shook Nick out of his preoccupation, and he thought he heard Greg mutter something in another language under his breath. And then Ecklie came striding right into the middle of their little tableau. “Hey, have you guys seen…Willows! What’s going on here?”
“We came in and found Catherine digging around in my locker,” Greg told him.
“She said she needed a handcuff key,” Nick added, giving Catherine a dirty look. “She also tried to tell us that she has authority to get into a subordinate’s locker any time she wants, for any reason. And she tried to threaten Greg.”
Greg made a face when Ecklie gave him a look that said he wanted more details. “She said if I complained, she’d tell you I was stealing stuff from crime scenes.”
Ecklie’s hard, pale eyes swung back to Catherine, who desperately tried to dig herself out of the situation. “I did not…I was just joking with him! I need to get out to that scene in the suburbs, I misplaced my handcuff key somewhere, and when I saw that his locker was partway open…”
“You just thought you’d see if you could ‘borrow’ CSI Sanders’ key, I see.” Ecklie took two steps, bringing him to the bench where Catherine had set her purse. He lifted the loaded keyring that was dangling from one handle and shook it. “Your handcuff key is right here on the ring, Willows. Unless this is Stokes’ purse.” He raised an eyebrow. “Anything you’d like to share, Stokes?”
Nick choked back a laugh. “Um…no, no sir. But I’m due out at that crime scene myself, and Greg here is running to catch a plane.”
Ecklie waved a careless hand. “Go,” he said. “Grab someone to assist you on your way out, I’m afraid Willows isn’t going to be able to make it. Sanders, have a good weekend; you and I can discuss this when you get back.”
Greg beamed at him. “Thanks, sir; I appreciate it. C’mon Nick, I think I saw Sophia hanging around one of the labs earlier. She’d probably go with you…”
Nick agreed that Sophia might, letting Greg pull him out of the locker room and nodding along with the younger man’s flow of conversation. He was just a little bit confused, though. Because aside from the faint, nagging feeling that he was forgetting something…he could have sworn that before they’d turned around to leave, the girl in Greg’s poster had waved goodbye.