by Sammy Girl
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Author's Note: For Kerry, a late birthday treat. Betaed by a good friend. The story was started before the CSI episode that split up the team was aired in the UK.
"Hey Buck!" JD bounced into Team Seven's office, swinging his helmet like a mace. "You left before the mail came." On his way to the break room he dumped a collection of letters on Wilmington's keyboard.
"JD, I leave before the mail everyday. So should you, if want to get to work on time."
JD glanced up at the clock over the door. "I'm not late," he protested.
Buck finally looked up. "I meant on time without breaking the speed limit."
"Who says I did?" JD challenged.
"Because you couldn't have got here on time if you didn't."
"Prove it." With that JD carried on to the break room.
Buck shook his head and turned his attention to the post. Junk, junk, junk, bill, bill, junk, what on earth? Tossing the junk mail in the bin and tucking his bills into his jacket pocket, he turned his attention to the last letter. Looking at the return address, he wondered why the Las Vegas police were writing to him. For a second, as he pulled the envelope open, he wondered if his juvenile conviction for assault was going to come back to haunt him. Scanning the letter he suddenly came to a stop.
"What the hell?" he spluttered.
Ezra, the only other person actually in the bullpen at that moment, looked up from his paper.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"What? Oh, no," Buck insisted.
Ezra wasn't convinced for one moment. As he continued to watch, he saw all the colour drain from the tall man's face. Whatever was in the letter, it was clear something was very wrong. As he watched, Buck hastily pulled out his cell phone, and - letter still in hand - headed out of the office. Ezra felt a flutter of panic in his stomach. The only thing he could think of that might make Buck react like that was if he was ill, seriously ill or being blackmailed. He was still gazing at the door, when Vin and Josiah strolled in. From the look of them they had just showered, and had probably come in early to use the gym in the basement of the federal building.
"What's up with Bucklin?" Vin asked.
"To what do you refer?" Ezra asked, trying to look and sound calm.
"He's down the other end of the corridor, arguing with someone on his cell phone," Josiah explained.
"I really couldn't say, Mr Wilmington's business is his own," he responded.
Seconds later Chris emerged from his office.
"Conference," he commanded, "Buck!" The others heard him yell, as he strode out of the bullpen in the direction of the conference room.
Despite this command, Buck was the last to join the team for their customary Monday morning briefing. It didn't escape Ezra's notice that he was distracted and preoccupied during what was a very routine meeting, even so he made note of anything Chris told Buck to do, in case he wasn't really listening. He certainly didn't look like he was listening.
Ezra wasn't the only one to notice Buck's state of mind. At some point during the day] Vin, Nathan and Josiah all asked him if he was all right or what was wrong. Buck - typically - denied there was any problem at all. At lunchtime Ezra cornered JD.
"What letters did Buck get this morning?" he asked.
JD shrugged. "I don't know, bills, junk, the usual, I guess. I didn't look. Why?"
"Because, although you may not have noticed, he was most affected by a letter he received today."
"Why? What's happened?" JD might have been so wrapped up in his work that he didn't notice his roommate's state of mind, but he cared about him, and if Buck was upset he wanted to help - if he could.
"I don't know. As you may have noticed, Buck is not the most talkative person when it comes to his personal problems."
I wish he was, I wish he would confide in me, Ezra lamented silently.
Buck knew his team mates were aware he was distracted, he knew he was going to have to tell them what was going on - at least some of it - but until he had more information, he wanted to keep it to himself. Sleep was going to be hard to come by that night and he knew it. Since he didn't want to discuss it with JD, he took himself out for the night. He had intended to go to a movie - something fun and unchallenging - but, in the end, he just drove aimlessly for hours, before fatigue forced him home.
JD was still up, waiting. "You okay?" he asked.
Buck just shrugged. "Night, kid." With that he headed up the spiral staircase to his bedroom.
"Night, Buck," JD called after him.
Alone in his room, Buck took a shower and then climbed into bed. On his bedside table stood a double picture frame. On one side his mother, on the other Sarah and Adam - the three people in the world he had loved and lost. The letter from the Las Vegas PD had come out of the blue, and he still didn't know how he felt about it.
A few days earlier in Las Vegas
Gil Grissom followed the directions he had been given and found his way to room 4032 of the Clouds Hotel, just off the strip. It wasn't one of the A list hotels, but it was still a good enough. Located close to several 'gentlemen's clubs' it had a reputation as a place where single men stayed and all that that implied. As he got off the lift, Jim Brass met him.
"We got another one, at least that's how it looks," he explained.
"Yeah, that's what Nick said when he called."
The two of them headed down the corridor, past the tape and uniformed officers and into the scene of a grisly crime. In the room, Nick and Catherine were doing a preliminary visual search; both looked up as he entered. He didn't need to look at the body to know it was bad, the look on the faces of his two most trusted officers told him that. But there was no way to avoid the horror they were confronted with. A woman on her back across the bed - dead. She was naked and covered in blood. More blood had soaked into the bed and splattered the pillows, bed head and the wall behind the bed.
"So tell me."
Catherine went first. "Vic's female, looks to be in her early thirties, she was found by Mr Takami, when he entered the room at approximately 1:15 am."
"Who is Mr Takami and why did he enter the room?" Grissom asked.
Nick consulted his notes. "Akita Takami, 56, Japanese business man, arrived from Tokyo, via San Francisco, landed at midnight and took a taxi directly here. The room had been empty for two days. The manager says the maid went in yesterday morning, since then he says no hotel staff have been in there."
"Where is Mr Takami now?"
"In another room, with a uniform officer, his English isn't that good, so we've asked for a translator, he's a bit shook up," Brass explained.
"I'll bet," Grissom commented. "Okay, show me what you've found."
"It's just like the last one," Nick pointed out. "One wound from the sternum to the throat. Bed's messed up but nothing seems to be missing."
Grissom sighed as he looked at the victim. Even dead, even covered in blood, he could see she had been beautiful. The room didn't smell that bad, probably because, although it was empty, the air conditioning had been on.
"Right, let's get to it," he announced.
All the evidence pointed to this woman being a victim of the same killer who had murdered Gail Simmons two weeks earlier in near identical circumstances. Both women were killed on the fourth floor of a hotel, in an unoccupied room. Gail had been a prostitute, Gil would lay good money so was this woman. Both were white, both were in their early thirties. Both were killed by some sharp object being inserted into their chest over the sternum, driven up along the bone to the neck and then rammed in.
Nick put down the autopsy report at the case conference. "He's very consistent, and calm," he commented. "There's no frenzy. They have sex, but all the evidence is that it's not rough; he uses a condom, there are no marks of restraint, he knows exactly what he's doing."
"Meaning?" Grissom promoted.
"Gail Simmons wasn't the first victim?"
"Very possibly. Do some research, see if there are any murders, solved and unsolved with a similar MO."
It took most of the night, but he found it, around fifteen years ago, Cindy Wilmington, a thirty two year old prostitute, killed in a hotel room, in a very similar way. Nick presented his findings to Grissom.
"Fifteen years is a long gap. Can we be sure it's the same person?" Grissom asked. "According to this autopsy report, this woman fought back."
"Maybe she was the first. No planning, it just happened?"
"And it speculates that the murder weapon was a stiletto knife. Ours isn't."
"It's a chisel," Nick confirmed.
"Right, a very fine chisel. If we could take a look at this woman's body, maybe we'd be able to match up the score marks on the bones?"
"Why ahead of you," Nick cut in. "Cindy Wilmington, buried in South Ridge Cemetery, one next of kin, a son - Buck."
"Buck?" Grissom raised an eyebrow.
"Apparently that's his name. The police questioned him at the time."
"Where is he now?"
"The last contact address for him is care of the US Army."
"I'll get on to Brass about an exhumation, you find Buck," Grissom ordered.
"You think he's a suspect?"
"I don't think anything yet, let's just find him."
"Okay," Warrick Brown stood at the head of the table in the break room. "Time for 'What is Buck doing now' sweeps stake," he announced, then with dramatic flourish, he had opened six envelopes and laid the paper face down on the table. "Doc said... Dead, such a pessimist. Sarah said, down and out, not much better. Nick... still in the army, not so bad. Catherine, unemployed, likely. Brass, another vote for prison and me? I say unemployed; probably living in some trailer park drinking four six pack a day. The bet was ten dollars, closest to the truth wins, I can confirm that my buddy Nick here." He nodded his head to Stokes. "Gave me his vote before he began to search for Mr Wilmington and the..."
"What's going on?" Grissom demanded as he walked in.
"Err, um," Warrick stammered.
"We're betting on where Buck Wilmington is now," Brass explained calmly.
"You're doing what?"
"Think about it," Nick started to explain. "He was just eighteen when she was killed, no father, his mother was a hooker, he went from high school to the army, what do we think he's doing now?"
"The speculation I understand, betting is another matter - what's the ante?"
While jaws dropped all around the table, Nick just grinned, little by little the real Grissom was emerging from behind the Vulcan mask.
"Ten bucks, pay up and take a vote, 'cause I got the info right here." Nick waved a manila envelope in his face.
Grissom worked his jaw a few times, knowing that if he didn't join in, Nicky was going to give him a hard time about not lightening up. "Okay," he pulled out the money and gave it to Warrick. "Army, he's probably a just left."
"Well if you're right, you're gonna have to share it with Nick That's what he said." With that Warrick opened the envelope, read the contents, and looked at Nick with clear incredulity. "You're kidding me?"
Nick shook his head. "It's the truth."
"Well what is it?" Sarah asked.
"Agent Buck Wilmington, ATF, Denver, formally of the Denver PD."
"He's a cop?" Brass all but choked on his words.
"Federal agent," Nick corrected.
"Well we better send him a letter about digging his mother up, we owe him that at least," Grissom commented. "So who gets the money?"
All eyes fell on Warrick. "Reckon you and Nick get to split it, you were the closet."
Grissom smiled. "Pay Nicky, we can ante up later." With that and a rueful shake of the head he turned to leave again, but stopped in the doorway. "Who's got the case notes, the Wilmington ones?"
"Me," Nick responded.
"Make a complete set of copies."
"Why?" Sarah asked
"If you were a federal agent and someone wanted to reopen your mother's unsolved murder, what's the first thing you'd do?"
"Find out as much as I could," Catherine confirmed.
"Are we gonna let him have them?" Warrick asked.
"He's a fed. It'd be hard to stop him, even if we wanted to." This time Grissom didn't stop as he turned and left.
After a sleepless night, Buck was at the office even earlier than normal, waiting. He'd long ago accepted his mother's murder as an unsolvable random crime, now someone called
Grissom from the Las Vegas crime lab was going to exhume her. Probably had already done it. Well if they were interested in the case, so was he. Going by the half empty box of doughnuts on his desk, Vin was in, probably in the gym. As far as Buck could see, the wiry Texan ran on nervous energy fuelled by sugar. Chris would be the next in, keeping on top of his paperwork, taking advantage of the quiet before the rest of the team arrived, the lull before the storm. The documents he'd requested had been despatched for delivery overnight; at least that was what he had been told by someone called Nick Stokes.
The phone on his desk rang. "Agent Wilmington, ATF," he answered automatically.
"It's the front desk sir, there is a package for you, but you need to sign for it."
"I'm on my way down."
He didn't know why, but as the lift descended, his stomach started to flutter, it wasn't like he didn't know what was in the case files; he'd been there at the time. He'd been asleep when then the police came to their trailer home. Always a heavy sleeper, it took them some time to rouse him, but the moment he opened the door he knew it was bad - why else would the cops come to the home of a hooker at four in the morning?
"Where is she?" were the first words out of his mouth.
The two patrolmen weren't expecting anyone to be home. "Where is who and who are you?" the older one asked.
"Ma... Cindy... where is she?" Buck had demanded.
"Ma?" The patrolman had looked at Buck, all six feet three of him, with undisguised disbelief.
"Boy, if you've been having a bit of fun and paying for it, that's fine, but don't lie about it to me. What's your name?"
"Buck, Buck Wilmington and Cindy Wilmington really is my mother, now where is she and how bad is it?" he had demanded.
The older cop looked at his partner and shrugged as if to say 'who'd have thought', then he turned back to Buck. "Son, we need to talk."
That was how he found out his mother was dead, that the world as he knew it had come to an end. Standing there at the door, in his nightclothes. He'd had to identify the body and then he'd been questioned. Looking back now, with the benefit of long years in law enforcement, he could understand why he'd been questioned, but then he was in shock, he needed a friend, a shoulder to cry on, but all he got was police men who treated him like a suspect. When they were done with him, when - almost four weeks later - they were done with his mother's body and he'd buried her, he'd left Las Vegas to join the army. He and his mother had already discussed him joining the service, as being the only way to get a college education, her death just made him push his plans forward.
Riding down in the lift to collect the papers brought back all those memories again - the sadness, fear and the terrible loneliness of those dark days. He'd thrown himself into his basic training with a gung-ho enthusiasm that even worried the training sergeants, but it got him through. He made sure he was never unoccupied. When he wasn't on duty, he was cleaning, ironing, polishing, studying or working out. That way, when he did hit the sack, he was so exhausted he had to sleep, at least most nights. There were times when sleep wouldn't come and looking back he wondered how he got through without collapsing he was so tired at times, but he made it, and little by little, as he threw himself into army life and study, the pain and anger lessened. The loneliness never really left him, not until he met Officer Chris Larabee, his first day on the job as a rookie cop.
Signing for the bulky package he resisted the urge to pull it open on the ride back up to the office. With any luck he'd have at least half an hour's peace and quiet before the others turned up. It didn't make pleasant reading, he forced himself to look - very quickly - at the scene of crime photos. The more he read, the more he had to remind himself to maintain a professional distance. What he did notice was that the whole case had been poorly handled. The reports were hasty and slipshod, there were great gaps in the evidence gathered, lines of enquiry not followed. As far as he could see the police considered that either he'd done it, but they couldn't prove it, or it was a random crime and they had no chance to find the killer. It seemed no one was interested in one more dead prostitute. While, in his days as a homicide detective, he'd read his fair share of autopsy reports, this one was defeating him. The medical examiner seemed to have use different abbreviations than the one's he was used to, and some of the technical terms were unfamiliar. He was going to have to tell Chris what was going on, that he had accepted. He needed to go to Las Vegas and for that he had to get clearance from Chris, but he hadn't planned on telling any of the others yet. He really wanted to understand everything before he left.
When Buck asked him if he could have a private word, Nathan had mentally shuddered. Like the others he had been worried by Buck's behaviour the day before. As the time for their meeting approached, he found himself running through what he knew of chemotherapy and neurosurgery. So being asked to interpret Cindy Wilmington's autopsy report came out of blue.
"I just wanna understand it all," Buck tried to explain, as he handed over a copy of the report.
"Sure Buck, I'll take a look, no problem," he assured.
"Just between us, I mean I'm gonna have to tell Chris obviously, but not the others."
"Of course, leave it with me and I'll get back to you."
In truth, other then explaining some of the old fashioned abbreviations and the more technical language, there wasn't much Nathan could tell Buck. His mother had died as a result of the stab injury. That was simple enough. She'd had sex just before; straight vanilla sex from the look of things. He made some notes for Buck and was about to put the report away when something caught his eye, something that was wrong, something that made him go to his own files and double check. Buck was in Chris' office, he could see them but not hear. That said the body language was clear. Buck was pacing, fingers running through his hair, the way he did whenever he was worried. Chris had been sitting behind his desk but now got up and moved around to perch on the edge. He was letting Buck work it through saying whatever he need to say before intervening. Finally Buck stood still and turned to face his oldest friend. There was a brief conversation, and then Buck seemed to relax a little, Nathan thought he even detected a slight smile. Chris stood up as Buck turned to leave the office, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder.
As the two exited the office Buck made his way back to his desk and started to call something up on the computer, from what Nathan could see it looked like air tickets. If Buck was heading to Las Vegas, Nathan needed to act, or at least seek advice about what to do, the only person he could ask was Chris.
Chris looked up at the light tap on his door, and beckoned Nathan in.
"This about Buck?" he asked.
"Yeah, he told me he was going to talk to you about the situation. Did he tell you he asked me to look at the autopsy report?"
Chris sat back and sighed. After booking a flight, Buck had told the others he had a personal matter to attend to and was going home to pack before leaving for Las Vegas. Those in the office had just offered their support, but didn't pry, JD looked like he was about to, but Ezra managed to signal to him and he backed down.
"Yeah, he's pretty wound up about the whole thing."
"Can't blame him, those crime scene pictures weren't a pretty sight, can't imagine what I'd feel like if I saw my mother like that."
Chris had to agree, his loss was bad, the kind of thing many men never recovered from. He barely had: it was only down to Buck's stubbornness and patience that he was there at all. So strong was Buck, so good a friend, it was easy to forget the traumatic loss that he had suffered at just eighteen, leaving him utterly alone in the world.
"The thing is Chris," Nathan continued, pulling Chris' thoughts back to the present. "Can I ask you something about Buck, something personal?"
Larabee frowned. "If it's personal I probably don't know, if it's private why not ask him?"
"It not the kind of thing you can just ask someone out of the blue."
"Ask then, but like I say, I probably can't help you."
"What I need to know is, does Buck know he's adopted?"
Chris didn't say anything for a while, the easy answer was no, not as far as he knew, but then who knew? Buck was a very private man in many ways. "What makes you think he is?"
Nathan quickly explained his discovery.
"If this is right, and I guess the people in Vegas may have made a mistake, then I'd have to guess at no, probably not."
"That's what I thought. After all, he showed me a picture of his mother once, told me he had her hair but the rest was all his father - whoever he was. So the question is, do I tell him?"
"Of course we tell him." Ezra closed the door behind him.
"Standish what the hell are you doing?" Chris demanded.
Ezra closed the door behind him. "Worrying about my friend. I was in the office when Buck received a letter yesterday. Never have I seen anyone so distressed by the content of a letter. Naturally, I was concerned. Today he received an express package of documents, which he asked you," Ezra looked at Nathan, "Our resident medical expert, to look at, needless to say my concern grew. When Buck came out of this office and said he was going home, I felt I had to find out what was going on. So I confess I picked the lock on your desk and took a look at the said documents."
"You what!" Nathan exploded. "You got no right!"
"I appreciate that, but I was worried." He shrugged apologetically.
Worried doesn't even come close to my emotions these past twenty four hours. Terrified would be closer, because I now know I can't lose him, to lose him would be to lose everything.
"I can assure you I looked at nothing else but, knowing what a private man Buck is, I suspected no one was going to tell any of us what was really going on, and I needed to know, whatever it was." There must have been something in his voice that betrayed the depth of his concern, because Nathan's expression softened.
Chris sat back and let Ezra explain himself, finding it hard to condemn him for his concern, he was going to have to assure the others that Buck was in no danger, or sooner or later they would all be in his office demanding the truth.
"Now if we could return to the current dilemma. Not to tell him would be to lie to him, and you yourself have informed all of us that when it comes to Buck, the truth is all. 'Tell him the truth, no matter what'. That is what you told me on my first day. 'Buck can handle anything except his friends lying to him'."
"Ezra this is different, this is..."
"Not different in anyway, the truth is the truth. Don't concern yourself, either of you, I will tell him. I have to confess to my espionage anyway."
Even as he was heading down to collect his car, Ezra found it hard to believe what he had just said, what he had just taken on. Why was he - of all people - suddenly so wedded to the truth? The truth and Ezra P Standish had never been particularly close bedfellows, so why now? Why risk his friendship with Buck, a friendship that meant everything to him, when it would have been so easy to say nothing? Maybe these men, his Team, his friends, were finally rubbing off on him? Or maybe he just couldn't lie to the man he loved? Loved? Ezra suddenly froze where he was. Where the hell did that come from? Don't be stupid Ezra, you don't love Buck, not like that, he's just a really good friend, that's what he is. A good friend who has always treated you right and not listened to rumours. A good friend who covers your back while you're undercover. A good friend who has put his life on the line to protect you more than once. A good friend who is tall and devastatingly handsome, with a voice like liquid velvet and eyes like to sapphires and... Damn it Ezra, get a grip! The lift doors opened, taking him be surprise.
"Damn it!" he cursed, heading out toward his car.
His attempts to contact Buck via his cell phone failed and, when he reached the apartment Buck shared with JD, it was empty, but Buck's truck was in the underground parking garage. Clearly he had already left for the airport, probably in a taxi. Ezra headed for the airport, paying scant regard for the speed limits. On arrival he made his way to the check in desk for America West, which had a flight leaving for Las Vegas in about an hour. There was no sign of Buck, so he used his ATF badge to get a call put out, asking that 'Mr Wilmington, travelling to Las Vegas to come to the security check in'. Then he just stood and waited.
"Damn it Ezra!" Buck exclaimed as he jogged up. "I got a plane t' catch!"
"I appreciate that, this will not take long."
Buck looked at the southerner critically. "Ez, are you okay, your looking a mite peeked there?"
"I don't doubt it, at this moment I can think of any number of things I would rather be doing. First, I have a confession to make." Glancing once up at Buck, Ezra pressed on. "I was concerned for you, when you opened that letter yesterday, never have I seen a look of such distress, even devastation on anyone's face. So I did something I shouldn't have done, but only out of concern for you - my friend."
"What did you do?" Buck growled in a low voice.
"I stole a look at the documents you gave to Nathan."
For a moment Buck said nothing, his jaw working slowly as he tried to decide how to react. "You had no right t' do that," he finally said in hushed voice.
As a general rule, the lower and softer Buck's voice got, the more dangerous he was.
"I appreciate that, but I considered incurring your wrath worth the risk, to know that you are not terminally ill."
Buck frowned. "That's what you thought? That I was dying?" Ezra nodded. Suddenly Buck had some inkling of how his actions must have looked to his friends. "Sorry, I guess I didn't think about how you guys would see it."
"We all care about you, we are all worried."
"This is my business, it's private," Buck hissed.
"I appreciate that, but there is something I noticed and I wasn't sure you were aware of its significance."
"The report states that your mother had type AB blood."
"You have type O."
Buck shrugged. "Guess I got my blood from my dad."
Ezra's stomach dropped about a foot, somehow he had hoped Buck knew, that this was just one of the many things Buck was keeping to himself.
"It doesn't work that way. We all have two blood markers or lack of marks - that's type O - we get one from our mother and one from our father."
"Now wait a moment, Chris is type A and Adam was O, same as me."
"A common misconception, people who are A can be AA or AO, the same is true for type B. Chris must actually be AO, and it was the O trait he passed on to his son. Do you follow?"
"I guess, but I don't see what..."
"You mother was type AB, she can only have passed on an A or a B trait to her son, you are type O, you have no type A or B traits."
Buck stood stock still for sometime, all the colour drained from his face, much as it had the day before when he opened the letter from Las Vegas. Before he could even begin to formulate a response, the last call for his flight was made.
"I... I... gotta go," Buck stammered out, then he just turned and left.
Ezra didn't think he'd ever felt so wretched as he watched Buck jog away, and in that instant he made a decision.
Buck spent the flight from Denver to Las Vegas in a silent world of his own. He told himself it wasn't true, somehow there was a mistake; all those years ago in Las Vegas they made a mistake. The whole report was slip shod, so it wasn't hard to convince himself of that. Yet try as he might, no matter how hard he told himself it was a mistake, deep down he didn't believe it. Little by little other questions began to creep in - how, why and most of all, if he wasn't Buck Wilmington, just who was he? He barely noticed the plane begin to drop down as Las Vegas approached. The familiar sight of the strip came into view as the plane made its final approach through the gathering gloom, as dusk descended. With only carry on luggage Buck jogged up past the baggage claim area and over to the first car hire desk he saw. Less than an hour later, he drove away from the airport hoping he could find the Las Vegas crime lab. He hadn't visited what he considered to be his hometown that often since he left to join the army, and when he did it was just as a tourist. There was a time when he knew the place like the back of his hand, but Las Vegas was one big building site, always growing, always changing. He recognised the address, and hoped that even if the buildings had changed most of the road lay-out hadn't altered too much.
When he finally got there, he was more grateful than he ever had been for the clout of a federal badge, as he was quickly accredited and directed to the office of one Gil Grissom.
The examination of Cindy Wilmington's skeleton revealed that the original autopsy had been wrong. The marks on the breastbone indicated the weapon had been a small chisel, not a stiletto. It wasn't the exact same weapon that had killed the two recent victims, but it was very similar. The more Gil looked into the three killings, the more it seemed that the first attack had been an unplanned, frenzied one; the second two killings had been the result of the killer recreating the first. Why? He wasn't sure. Possibly to re-live the thrill, possibly to exorcise the event. Most murder victims know their killer, so when he found out that Cindy's son had left town to join the army soon after she her death, he mentally marked Buck down as the prime suspect. If it had turned out he's recently left the army he would have stayed as the prime suspect, but now they knew he had been working as, first, a police officer and now a federal agent for years, he was no longer under such scrutiny. That hadn't stopped him getting Nick to check Colorado records for similar crimes, but so far he hadn't found one.
Grissom had not really consider what Wilmington would be like, but still found himself slightly surprised by the man that now stood before him.
"Agent Wilmington, we've been expecting you," he greeted.
Buck shook his hand. "Thanks for the letter. I know you weren't obliged to let me know and I appreciate the effort you must have put into locating me."
"Well that wasn't me, that was Nicky. Come on, I'll show you what we've found so far."
"I'd appreciate that."
Once he'd been shown the case notes so far and talked to Nick and Catherine, Buck didn't know if he felt better or worse. The fact that his mother's killer was back meant there was an outside chance of catching him, but two more women were dead. It didn't seem like a fair trade. While he was concentrating on the murders he wasn't thinking of the dilemma over the mis-matched blood, not until someone called Greg mentioned DNA.
Buck had found he liked Grissom and he team. They were professional without being science nerds - with the possible exception of the lab tec called Greg, who reminded Buck of JD. For some reason there was something about Catherine Willows that reminded Buck of his mother, though he couldn't put his finger on what it was. He hadn't met Brown or Sidle yet. Grissom was not like anyone Buck knew really. He had Chris' air of authority but not his air of danger and there was just a little something that reminded Buck of Josiah. Nick Stokes he liked a lot, he reminded Buck of Vin and of himself. Nick he decided, he could talk to.
"Could you get a DNA profile from my mother's bones?" he asked, once he managed to get the young Texan alone.
Nick shrugged. "Sure. Greg can get it from her teeth, why do you want one?"
Nick studied the man before him; there was a pain in those deep blue eyes that was hard to fathom, but also an honesty he couldn't deny. "I'll talk to Greg, no problem," he promised with a little nod of the head.
"Can we keep it between ourselves?
"I'll have to tell Grissom, but so long as it doesn't become pertinent to the enquiry, then I don't see why anyone else has to know."
"You mean so long as I'm not a suspect." No one had indicated that he was a suspect, but he knew he had to be. "Hey, if I was the investigating officer, I'd suspect me," he joked.
"I really couldn't say," Nick commented defensively. "I'll get you that DNA profile."
There was little else Buck could accomplish so he said his goodbyes and headed out, aware that he still needed a room for the night. Getting a DNA profile on his mother and compering it with his was the definitive way to find out if she really was his mother, or, if not, some other relative - a sister or aunt maybe. Of course now he needed to get his own profile done. That wouldn't be too difficult, there were private labs that did them, mainly for paternity cases. He was so deep in though that he failed to notice Ezra waiting for him by his car.
"Good evening." The southerner's soft drawl caused him to stop dead in his tracks.
"What the hell are you doing here? How the hell are you here?" he demanded.
"To answer your first question, I took the next flight then took a taxi here, I knew it would be your first point of call. This," he tapped the car he was standing beside, "Was the only hire car from the airport in the lot. As to why," he paused. "Because I felt I owed you. I was the one to give you information that had to be distressing, I just could not leave it as we did at the airport."
"Can't tell you I'm okay with you prying into my personal business, but I appreciate that you came an' told me what you'd found out."
"It would have been wrong to keep it from you or to just assume you knew." I would not have any secrets between us.
Buck nodded his acknowledgement.
"Have you secured lodgings?"
"If you mean do I have a room booked, no. I'm gonna find a motel right now, and since you seem to be here with no car I guess I'm taking you with me."
"Thank you, I trust you will allow me to pay for the rooms?"
Buck looked at Ezra. Clearly the southerner really did want to make amends and, well, Ezra had plenty of money - let him spend it.
"Why not, I was thinking of the..."
Buck had been moving toward the car, but pulled up short. "The Hilton?"
''I though it more desirable than one of the hotels on The Strip, but if you have some other establishment in mind, I will of course defer to your superior local knowledge."
"Ezra, do you know how much the Hilton costs?"
"It's only money, shall we go?"
Ezra saying 'it's only money' was like Vin saying 'it's only a doughnut' it just didn't happen.
"Sure, let's go, so long as you're paying."
Walking into the lobby of the Hilton produced a very strange feeling in Buck, he'd lived in Las Vegas for four years, and visited it on several occasions since then, but he'd never set foot inside the Hilton. He found himself standing and just looking around while Ezra made the booking.
"Mr Wilmington? Buck?"
Buck looked around, finally registering that Ezra was standing beside him and speaking.
"We have a slight problem. They have only one free room or a penthouse, which is I fear beyond my budget. So we will have to look elsewhere," Ezra explained.
The idea of staying in the Hilton had by now taken root, and Buck was reluctant to give it up. As a boy he had seen it so often, but it was like a fairy palace, unattainable, because he was too poor, didn't posses the right clothes, or the manners. Now he was back, a federal agent, a man of standing, no longer poor white trash, in thrift store clothes.
"That room's got two beds doesn't it?" he asked Ezra.
"I assume so."
"Well we can share, I don't snore."
"That's not what JD says,"
"He's got a furtive imagination."
"Don't you mean 'fertile'?"
"I know what I mean." The banter had lightened the atmosphere between them considerably. "If you don't mind sharing, I don't."
I can't think of anything better. "I can think of no better solution to the problem."
Having left their bags in the room, the two of them headed out to find something to eat. Somehow, in the space of only a few hours, Ezra had become part of Buck's mission, his quest for the truth, and it felt okay. As Buck watched, Ezra scrutinising the menu outside the first restaurant they had come to, that the southerner had deemed suitable, he was surprised how comfortable he felt with that.
"What do you think? Is this place any good?" Ezra asked.
"Ez, I left Vegas when I was eighteen, and believe me we didn't eat in places like this. If it looks okay to you, that's fine by me."
Ezra took another look at the restaurant, it was the kind of place he liked, but not Buck. It was too fancy, they might even demand a jacket and tie, neither of which Buck was wearing. Glancing down the street he spotted a sign reading 'Country Cook House'.
"Let's look a little more," he suggested.
"Well okay but not much longer, by belly thinks my throat's been cut as it is, that Burger King over there is looking mighty appealing."
Over my dead body, 'Country Cook House' it is. Ezra struck out determinedly for the restaurant.
The 'Country Cook House' did them proud. Ezra let his guard down and indulged in southern fried chicken, fries and beans. His liking for tradition southern food was something he normally kept very quiet about, not wanting to damage his reputation as a man of taste and culture. Buck had a huge steak and all the trimmings.
"Ah, now that feels better." Buck sat back and patted his belly with evident satisfaction.
"Indeed, most satisfying."
Buck's hand stretched out and took the menu card again. "Right, dessert."
Dessert? We had appetisers, potato skins and cheese dip - a lot of dip, then entrée - huge entrées - now he wants dessert?
"Lemon meringue, my favourite."
At least he sounds happy.
"Chocolate satin pie, sounds good too. Choices, choices."
Lemon meringue does sound appealing, I don't have to eat it all of it.
"What do you want?" Buck asked from behind his menu.
"I hadn't really thought about it, you choose."
Buck's head popped out from behind his menu. "Sure?"
"I would not have said it if I didn't mean it."
"How about we have a slice of lemon meringue and one of chocolate satin, and split them?"
Without the definitive evidence of the DNA report, and now he knew that his mother hadn't been disinterred without good reason, Buck was in a kind of emotional limbo. He knew he was in denial, but he didn't care. Tomorrow he had to find a DNA lab, but for now he was happy to eat a good meal with a good friend. He looked up at Ezra, eating his half of the chocolate dessert so carefully. Not quite carefully enough as it turned out, as a small dollop of smooth chocolate filling lodged on his chin.
"Ez, you've got a..." He pointed at the offending spot.
Ezra, frowned, and tried to wipe it away, but missed it.
"Left a bit," Buck directed.
Still Ezra failed.
"Here, let me." Buck reached out and used his own finger to remove the offending smudge.
"Thanks." Ezra smiled, trying not to let Buck see how the briefest of mildly intimate contact had set his skin on fire. A fire of pure pleasure.
Back at the hotel, Buck watched Ezra unpack with some curiosity. His bag looked new, and not up to Ezra's usual designer standards. The pants and shirts he unpacked were also new - so new they still had their price tickets on. Similarly the boxers, the wash bag, even the toothbrush were still in their packaging, still with their price tags on. Then it dawned on him: to have reached Las Vegas as soon as he did, Ezra must have quite literally got on the next plane, which, if memory served, was less than two hours after his own flight. With the new security protocols, post 9/11, there was no way he would have had time to get home and back again in time for the flight.
"What did you do with the Jag?" he asked.
"Your car, the one you treat like a spoiledchild, you didn't leave at the airport did you?"
Ezra smiled. "No, I left the keys at the F.A.M. office with instruction to give them to JD when he turned up, then called JD, explained where I was going and asked him to pick up the car."
"You're gonna owe him a fortune in parking fees."
"I'm aware of that."
"Chris is gonna be pissed with you."
"That too, had not escaped me."
"Ezra, I appreciate why you came, but you don't have to stay."
"If you want me to go, then I shall leave in the morning, but I hope I can be of some assistance. I do have certain analytical and investigative skills that might be of use."
"I was a cop while you were still in high school."
"Of course, I'll leave tomorrow, there are no doubt flights available."
"No, no I didn't mean that." Buck took a deep breath, running his hand through his hair, trying to get his thoughts into some kind of order that would allow him to articulate how he felt. He would never have asked someone to come with him; if they had offered he would have said he was fine, and not to worry about him, but Ezra being there did feel - better. That was the only phrase he could come up with to explain it, it felt better. "Don't go."
"If you are sure?" Ezra could see the internal conflict in his friend, but he genuinely wanted to help.
Buck looked over at Ezra, looking deep into his emerald green eyes, searching for pity or curiosity, but finding only friendship and concern,
"Yeah I'm sure."
What was left of Buck's emotional honeymoon evaporated with the light. As he lay in bed his mind drifted to his childhood, searching for any clue he was adopted, but he found none. Honesty was one of the things his mother prized very highly and she instilled it in her son from as far back as he could remember, so why had she apparently lied to him about this of all things? Had she thought he would love her less, that he would seek out his real family? He had never once sought out his father, why would she think he would abandon her for parents who clearly didn't want him? All he had was questions and no answers and worse, after all these years, little chance of finding any. The night passed slowly, as sleep would not come. Beside him Ezra's soft, even breathing, was somehow reassuring, yet his presence made it difficult for Buck to do anything to help pass the time, without waking his room mate. In the end he slipped out of bed, grabbed some clothes, and once he had dressed in the bathroom, he quietly left the room.
Ezra rolled over and opened his eyes, he had hoped Buck would get some sleep, but clearly that was not to be. He would have offered to talk, had he been able to think of a single constructive thing to say. Sitting up and flipping on the light, he tuned the radio on to a classical music station and pulled the book he had purchased at the airport from his bag, soon he was lost in the world of Botswana's premier lady detective. Three hours passed and still Buck had not returned. Las Vegas was a twenty four hour city; he could have gone anywhere, done anything. Fatigue was overcoming Ezra. He'd read the same page three times now, so he gave in, marked his place, placed the book on the night stand and turned off the light. Yet, tired as he was, sleep still would not come and he found himself at the window, gazing out toward the myriad lights on the Strip with the Stratosphere and the Luxor beam at either end, like sentinels, standing guard on the man-made madness below. Of course, the window did not open, opening windows were counter productive when you had year round air conditioning. Suddenly Ezra found he needed real air, he needed to get out and breathe. Like Buck, he hurriedly pulled on some clothes, grabbed his own room key and left.
The hotel's roof terrace offered an even greater view as well as fresh air and a breeze. Nowhere in Las Vegas was ever totally deserted no matter how late, but at that moment there were no more than a handful of people up there. Ezra scanned them, searching for danger, it wasn't that he was expecting it, he just did it automatically. As he looked around he spied a familiar outline. Buck was leaning on the rail. For a long time he just stood beside Buck, offering silent support.
"See that?" Buck suddenly asked
Buck pointed out an anonymous looking bit of the city, illuminated with sparsely spaced streetlights. "That's where we lived. Dirt roads, mostly trailer homes, a few cottages." He gave a little laugh. "Cottages, now there's a joke, they were crummy little four room cabins, hardly room to swing a cat. The power kept going out 'cause it was put in for about half the number of houses that were using it. Sewers all backed up in a storm. Don't get me wrong, the place wasn't that bad. We had a trailer, Ma kept it spotless, we had an AC unit and even a bit of yard with some shade. Even if it's not much, your own place is still better than the best motel room."
Ezra knew little of Buck's childhood, what he had mentioned indicated a nomadic life, living mostly in motels and rented rooms. He had once told them he moved to Las Vegas when he was about fourteen; his mother had been killed shortly after he turned eighteen, four years was probably the longest he had lived in any place, before he settled in Denver. Given the choice between his own privileged but emotionally barren childhood and the dirt poor but clearly happy upbringing Buck had enjoyed, he knew which he would - in hindsight - choose. If you were looking for a childhood that was recipe for turning someone into jail-bait, only son of a prostitute, forever on the move, living in cheap rented accommodation, orphaned by a brutal murder at eighteen, was probably as good as it got. That Buck had risen above that, had become one of the most courageous, honest, loyal, and down-right decent men it had ever been Ezra's honour to call friend, was a testament to one woman's love.
They both gazed out across the city in silence for sometime, before a question popped into Ezra's head so suddenly that it took him by surprise and he had asked it before he'd even realised it.
"So why of all places did you settle in Denver?" he asked.
Buck grinned and looked over at him. "It rains, it snows and the grass is green - oh and the Broncos of course." He turned to lean on the rail. "I ought to hate this place, but I don't, I was happy here. I went to high school, had real friends, that place," He gestured over his shoulder. "It wasn't much, but at least the people accepted us, we didn't have to pretend or hide, they were like us."
Ezra knew about pretending, about hiding your true self. He'd been doing it in one way or anther all his life and to an extent he still was. As a boy he had helped his mother snare rich husbands and lovers, pretended to be unconcerned when she left him with relatives he had never met, pretended he was happy to leave the boarding school where he had found happiness. Pretended the lies spread about him in Atlanta hadn't bothered him. Professionally he pretended to be someone he wasn't all the time. Ezra well understood the pleasure and relief of being able to be yourself.
They decided neither of them was going to get any more sleep that night; dawn was already paling the sky to the east. Having washed and dressed they sorted out an early breakfast, then used the hotel's Internet facilities to locate the closest private DNA lab, which proved to be in Phoenix. A local twenty four hour medical centre was happy - for a fee - to take a sample of blood from Buck. They then returned to the CSI lab. While Ezra stayed in the lobby and located the office of the courier company the lab used, Buck headed up to find his report.
"Nick?" Catherine Willows called as she crossed the lab.
"Yeah?" Nick didn't look up from his microscope.
"What have you got there?"
Nick sat back, arching his back; it was almost the end of their shift. "Sarah found some fibres caught in the vic's boots."
"Blue denim, if I had to I'd say Levis."
Catherine gave him a sympathetic smile. "That'll narrow it down to a few million."
"Yup, hardly anyone at all!"
"Well I also found something. Tiny wood chips on the hotel carpet, there were a few on the bed as well. I checked with the hotel, there's been no work in that room recently, no reason for they're to be wood chips in there."
"Interesting, where are they now?"
"Grissom, he's trying to identify the wood."
Nick looked at his watch and switched off the microscope. "Tomorrow, 'cause right now it's quitting time!"
Nick squinted at the bag's contents. "Kind of dark aren't they?"
"That's what I thought." Grissom continued to look at the enlarged photo of the wood chips.
"It's time to go home," Nick said softly.
This time Gil did look up. "Already?"
"I know that wood chips are fun, but trust me, home is going to be more fun." Confident they were alone; he leaned in and nuzzled his lover's neck, then nibbled on his ear lobe.
"Mmm, don't do that, I can't concentrate."
"Told you old man, quitting time."
"I'm not old."
"So let's go home and you can prove it."
"Giving in to temptation, it's good for you."
Just as Gil was about to do just that there was a knock at the door.
"Shit!" Nick hissed as he pulled back and looked over his shoulder. Buck was standing at the glass door, smiling. "Aw hell."
He stood up and quickly crossed to the door.
"I err, what can I...?"
"I came for that DNA report." Buck smiled benevolently; he'd actually found the little scene he'd seen rather sweet.
"Oh yes, of course, it's on my desk. I err . . . "
"I," Buck paused to make sure both men were listening, "Didn't see anything - officially. Unofficially, I think you two look good together, and believe me, Buck Wilmington is a man who knows about love, in all its many forms."
"I'll get you that report." Nick past Buck, who stayed in the doorway, looking at Grissom.
"What?" Gil asked
"Tricky situation, you being the boss."
"Love doesn't recognise rank."
Buck walked out of the crime lab to find Ezra waiting for him.
"Were you successful?" he asked.
Buck lifted the plain manila envelope and smiled.
With the DNA report and the blood sample safely in the hands of FedEx and on their way to Phoenix, Buck and Ezra tried to work out what to do next.
"Well," Ezra began as they drank coffee in the first Starbucks they came to. "What does it say on your birth certificate?"
Buck shrugged. "Nothing special 'Mother Cynthia Wilmington, father unknown'."
"I was thinking about where and when you were born. Where was it issued?"
Ezra had to suppress a small smile, Buck pronounced it in the southern way 'Loosiana', he'd always suspected there as a lot of 'deep south' in Buck, despite the mid west accent, there was just something so familiar about his speech patterns.
"It might have been useful to have been able to examine it, perhaps when we get back?"
Buck looked at him over his coffee. Deep in his heart he wanted all this to be a mistake, his Ma was just that, his mother, and somehow the DNA would prove that. The trouble was his brain kept telling him a different story.
"Why wait?" he finally asked, then pulled out his cell phone.
"JD?... Yeah it's me... no we're both fine, I need you to listen to me, kid, just do as I ask, it's important... thanks, knew I could trust you. Can you go up to my room, in the closet there's an old ammo box, it's got a combination lock the number is... what?... Oh okay" There was a pause, presumably while JD went to get a pen. "Got one?... Good, four, four, six, six, one, one, got that?... Okay, I need you to find two big white envelopes, one marked 'me' the other 'Ma'... great. Can you send them to me care of the Vegas Hilton as fast as possible, whatever it costs, just put it on my Visa card, the number's on the bill, which is on my desk... what?... Yes, express."
Ezra tapped Buck's arm.
"Pictures of your mother may be useful," he whispered.
Buck nodded. "JD?... I need you to scan and print the picture of my Ma... yes, the one in the frame by the bed... Yes, send it to me here. Can you tell Chris, me and Ez are gonna be a bit longer and tell him to tell all you guys what's going on." Ezra frowned and mouthed 'you sure?'. Buck just nodded. "No I can't tell you now, just ask Chris, I gotta go now, bye JD."
Ezra was still frowning. "It's not fair to have them worrying. You know that lot, if I don't tell JD and Vin, the chances are we'll turn around one day and there they'll be."
Ezra had to admit that was a very real possibility.
"Wanna go for a drive?" Buck's question caught Ezra off guard.
"A drive, do you want to come?"
"Yes, of course, where?"
Buck didn't say anything more; he just stood up and headed out to his rental car, parked in the lot. Ezra, concerned by this uncharacteristic behaviour, followed. Buck drove out of the centre of town; within only a few blocks they seemed to be a million miles from the Strip. Buck drove more slowly now. They were passing a series of side turnings to their right and Buck was peering up each one, trying to read the name, though as many of them had no name it was making his search more difficult. Suddenly the car stopped, Buck looked up the street, then turned.
"This is it," he announced.
Ezra said nothing; the street appeared to be a dead end, not too long. The unmade road was pot holed and dusty as the car bounced up it. Buck pulled the car to a stop outside a small iron gate. Then he got out.
Ezra was aware that their arrival had been noted and generated some interest. Already four young Hispanic men, clearly sporting gang colours, had gathered opposite and were watching them, large machine pistols visible under the jackets of two of them. Buck was staring at the house beyond the gate. Ezra exited the car, after deftly removing his badge and placing it prominently in his top pocket, then he made sure his own gun was clearly visible as he turned to face the young men. For a moment, federal agent and gang members regarded each other, then the apparent leader of the gang, gave the slightest nod of the head and backed off, he and the other three levered themselves up onto the wall of the house on the other side of the road. Ezra understood they would do nothing unless their community was threatened. He just hoped Buck had no plans to threaten anyone.
"Is this the place, is this where you lived?" Ezra asked softly.
"This is where it was, but we didn't live in that house," Buck admitted.
Beyond the iron gate, Ezra could see what looked like a low single storey cottage with a tiled roof. There was a small front yard, and from what Ezra could see a path leading around the side of the building.
"We had a trailer, it was a lot smaller than that place."
Ezra looked back at the house, which looked tiny to him.
"It wasn't new when we got it, but Ma kept it clean, and she made it nice inside, painted it, new drapes." Buck sat back against the car. "We worked on the garden together." He looked around. "There weren't so many walls then, all the kids played out on the street. It's changed but it's stayed the same," he said enigmatically, yet Ezra knew what he meant. "It was a mixed neighbourhood then, we had a black man living next door to us. Mr Guthry, he was a kitchen porter at the Flamingo." He twisted around and pointed at a property behind them. "There was Mexican family over there, they had eight kids living in trailer only a little bit bigger than ours." He was amazed that he was remembering all this so clearly.
Buck turning and pointing at them had made the watching gang members nervous, out of the corner of his eye; Ezra could see them getting twitchy. He was about to say something, when an elderly woman approached the house.
"Can I help you? Are you waiting for me?" she asked in Spanish.
Buck, who didn't speak Spanish, looked to Ezra for help.
"She wants to know if she can help us, she lives her apparently," he translated.
"Oh, no ma'am, I used to live here, I was just reminiscing." Ezra translated.
The woman shook her head and spoke to Ezra again; the two of them had a short conversation.
"She says you can't have lived here, her husband built this house, I told her you lived here before that, in a trailer. She asked if you were the one who built the garden?"
"Tell her me and my Ma did, but was years ago."
Ezra translated. "She is inviting us in to see the garden," he explained.
They followed the woman around her house to the back, and there Buck stopped and caught his breath. The plot backed onto a high boundary wall, he had helped his mother build a series of terraces against this wall, then they had filled these terraces with desert plants. Some they purchased, some they took from the wild and some they just 'acquired'. Cindy Wilmington knew nothing of gardening, much less gardening in the harsh, high desert climate of Las Vegas and some plants died or failed to thrive, but those that did survive were still there. They had spread and flourished, covering the rough built terraces.
As he stood there, almost overcome by the flood of memories, Buck almost missed that Ezra was speaking to him.
"What?" he asked.
"Our host asks, if you made the terraces and put the plants in?"
"I helped, but it was mostly Ma," he explained.
The lady smiled at him and beckoned with her finger. "Come, see," she encouraged in English.
In one corner she lifted an overflowing plant. There in the concrete were two sets of handprints.
"Oh God." Buck dropped to his knees and reached out to the smaller of the handprints. "Ma."
He couldn't believe he'd forgotten the day they finished the first terrace, how they had both pressed their hands into the wet cement and joked about being movie stars. Tears welled up as he felt the contours of his mother's hand.
As he sat there, Ezra guided the owner away and whispered a quick explanation. She was instantly full of sympathy for Buck and his loss. Her name was Rosa; she and her husband brought the plot from the previous owner after the trailer on the site and several others in the street were destroyed in a fire. Uninsured, the owner had to sell some plots to cover his losses. It was the garden that made them choose this particular plot. She had always known that the builders of the garden were good people and that made this land very auspicious.
"Please, tell your friend, he is always welcome in my garden." Even as she spoke Rosa looked on sympathetically at Buck's hunched shoulders.
In the end, they spent over an hour at Rosa's house; she served them iced tea and reiterated her invitation to Buck.
They a long lunch in a local Mexican restaurant then passed the afternoon shopping at a big factory outlet mall. It was as good a way as any to pass the time. Ezra was in his element, but Buck - who had only agreed because he felt he owed Ezra - was surprised how distracting it was. He allowed Ezra to help him purchase a new suit - something he was in need of - along with new shirts and ties to go with it. They returned to the Hilton for supper and were just finishing their dessert, when a young man from the front desk came up to the table.
"Mr Wilmington?" he asked.
"Here." Buck looked up at the earnest young man.
"This just came for you." He handed over a Fed-Ex envelope.
Buck looked back at Ezra. "I think we need to go upstairs."
"I'll get the check and meet you up there."
"Thanks pal, I owe you."
No you don't, for you I'd do anything, pay anything. "Don't worry about it."
Buck sat down on his bed and looked at the envelope in front of him. For some reason he found he couldn't open it, his hands shook every time.
Get a grip Buck, he chided himself.
With trembling hands he ripped open the packet and let the three envelopes spill out onto the bed. Ignoring the one marked 'Me' he opened the one marked 'Ma'. Inside he found his mother's birth certificate, her death certificate and will, the only other thing in the envelope was the receipt the Las Vegas police gave him for her personal effects. It wasn't much in the way of official recognition for a life, however brief.
The door opened and Ezra let himself in.
"Are you going to open that?" he asked as he sat on the bed opposite Buck.
Buck looked up at Ezra and smiled as he picked up the other envelope. "Why not."
In the envelope he found, as he knew he would, his high school diploma, college degree, military discharge papers. Each one he pulled out, glanced at and placed beside him. The next thing he found was a bundle of papers, which he placed to one side without a second glance. Ezra took the time to look, from what he could see they were citations, and there were a lot of them. It didn't surprise Ezra that there were so many, yet he found his heart swell with pride just at the sight of them. Buck pulled out some medical papers and his will, then the last piece of paper, the one he has been avoiding, his birth certificate.
Slowly he opened it up and took a look at it, nothing had changed, it looked the same to him.
Buck Wilmington. Mother: Cynthia Wilmington. Father: Unknown.
The date, time and place of birth hadn't changed. He shrugged. "It's like I told you."
"May I?" Ezra held out his hand.
"Be my guest." Buck handed over the paper.
Ezra looked it over, then frowned.
"This has been changed."
"Changed, what do you mean changed?"
Ezra turned the paper around. "The issuing date, it's been altered. Here hold this a second." Ezra thrust the paper at Buck and went over to the closet where he'd stored his clothes and retrieved something. Sitting back down he unrolled the black velvet pouch. Inside Buck saw a set of skeleton keys, a small dental mirror and a collapsible jeweller's glass.
"If I may?" Ezra held out his hand again for the certificate. Once he had it, he examined it once more, this time with the glass at his eye. "Definitely altered, quite expertly I may say."
"But it's typed, how do you alter a typed document?"
"With difficulty, but changing an eight to a three, is one of the easier things to do, especially in this type face. But it still takes an expert. From the look of things this certificate was issued when you were five, then altered to look like it was issued at birth. Officially you're five years younger than you are."
"If only that was actually true."
"Don't you see, this certificate and possibly any other copies your mother may have obtained may have been altered, but the official record will still show you to be five years younger. How did you apply for your first passport?"
Buck shrugged. "I didn't, just signed a form, had my picture taken and the army did all the rest." Buck turned way to gaze out of the window. "Guess I don't need to wait for the DNA test, this makes it pretty sure, she wasn't my mother. Why would my real mother need to fake a birth certificate?" He stood up and crossed to the window, running his hand through his thick hair. "I don't get it, why didn't she ever tell me, didn't she trust me? Did she think I wouldn't love her anymore?"
"I can't answer your questions, but I think you should wait for the DNA test, we don't know what may have happened, even if she wasn't your mother, she may have been some relative of yours - sister, cousin, aunt." Buck turned around. "Family relationships can be complicated and back then being an unwed mother was still frowned upon, especially in good old Louisiana."
"I guess." Buck crossed back to the bed and sat down dejectedly. "I was kidding myself, I kept telling myself the cops got it wrong back then, the M.E. made some kind of mistake, dumb - right?"
Ezra looked at his friend sympathetically, resisting the urge to move over and sit beside him.
"No, just human. Humans are very good at not facing unpalatable truths, we all do it."
"Me more than most. When I was young, mother was forever sending me away to boarding school, or the home of some relatives. She always said it was for a few weeks at most and I always believed her."
"She didn't come?"
"Oh she always came, eventually. And she said it was the last time."
"And you believed her?"
"She's my mother."
"And you love her."
"I do, I don't always like her, but I do love her. I always will, as you will always love the memory of your mother."
Buck nodded. "I guess what I need to find out now, is just who I am."
"It was a long time ago," Ezra warned.
"I have to try."
"Would you accept some help?"
Buck locked his eyes on Ezra's emerald orbs. "If you're offering, I'd be grateful."
"I'd be honoured." Ezra looked at the third, unopened envelope. "May I see?" he asked softly.
Buck picked it up. He knew what was inside - a copy of the picture that sat on his bedside table. He saw it every morning, well every morning he slept in his own bed. He had a picture of his mother in his wallet, but that was a small, taken about a year before she died. This one was a studio portrait, taken when she was young and still working as an exotic dancer.
"Of course." He handed it over to Ezra, who opened it with due reverence.
Ezra had never seen a picture of Buck's mother, and the first thing he noticed was that it was a colour picture, somehow he'd been expecting black and white. He had known she'd be beautiful, but he wasn't prepared for just how beautiful she had been. The young woman before him was alluring, with flowing auburn hair - lighter than Buck's - large brown eyes and the low cut dress she was wearing displayed her ample bosom to perfection. Her smile was wide and warm. Had he not known what he now knew, he'd have said Buck had her smile.
"She was stunning," he complimented.
"She was a saint."
Ezra nodded his acceptance of his friend's firm statement.
There was a long silence then Buck grinned at Ezra "So..." he asked, trying to lightened the mood.
"You didn't have time to pack, but you had that little lot with you." Buck pointed at the little black pouch Ezra was now rolling back up.
"I'm never without it. You never know what might happen."
"You ever a boy scout?"
"Good God no! What a horrifying thought!"
Nick snuggled under the comforter, trying to catch a last few minutes in bed before he had to get up. Gil was already in the shower; he'd already pulled up the blackout blinds that cut out the sun, so that the last evening light now flooded in past the light drapes. In the bathroom the water had been turned off. Nick knew he had another fifteen minutes, that was how long it took his lover to dry off and shave.
"Hey! Your turn."
Nick groaned and opened his eyes, silently cursing that he'd fallen asleep again.
"I'm gonna make pancakes, so don't take forever." With that Grisson pulled back the comforter, exposing Nick's naked form.
Tempting, very tempting, be strong Gil, resist or you'll be late.
Nick forked in a second helping of pancakes and syrup. "What do you make of Wilmington?" he asked, mouth half full.
Gil shrugged, sipping on his coffee. "He's still a suspect."
"He was in Denver for the second two murders."
"Denver is only two hours by plane, but worth checking with the ATF, I'll mention it to Brass. What I can't make out is what he wants with his mother's DNA profile."
"I told you, he doesn't know who his father is or was."
"Well his mother's DNA profile won't help him find the man."
"True, but does he know that?"
Gil sat back and thought for a moment. "He's a federal agent, which means he's college educated and must have at least a working knowledge of DNA profiling."
"So what does he really want it for?"
"Intriguing, isn't it?"
"Very, but we need to concentrate on the job in hand. I still haven't identified that wood."
"Well let's get to work, maybe we could even call in a wood expert?"
Gil looked up and glared at Nick; he'd had the same thought but hated to admit there was something he couldn't solve on his own.
With the help of Mr Fenton, of 'Fenton's Exotic Woods' the tiny chips of wood were finally identified as Bubinga.
"Do you sell much of this stuff?" Nick asked.
Fenton shrugged. "Some, we don't keep it in stock so we order direct from the importer when we're asked for it. I'm pretty sure we haven't sold any recently."
"Do these chips give you any clue as to what this is being used for?" Gil indicated the wood chips, sealed in the evidence bags.
"All I can say is it's not veneer, and probably not inlay; this chip here is to thick. There isn't much more I can tell you - sorry." He thought a moment. "If it's being used for cabinets or flooring, you're talking a serious money job and a lot of wood, they might well be buying directly from the importer."
"Who would they be importing through?" Nick asked.
"If, only if, it's a big order, then Lorenz and Son in Miami would be the most likely."
"Hard to see that an ATF agent from Denver would be doing with exotic wood?" Brass commented as he was being updated on the new information.
"Depends where he'd been, this whole city is one big building project," Grissom commented.
"That's true - do we know if the Hilton are having any work done? That is where he's staying, right?"
"It is, and no, Catherine already checked, they are having some rooms renovated. None anywhere near Wilmington's room, none using Bublinga."
Brass shrugged. "It was a thought."
Dawn was breaking outside and with it Grissom's phone rang.
"Hold on," he told the caller, placing his hand over the receiver. "It's Wilmington," he explained to Brass and Nick. "He's heading to Louisiana, personal business he says."
Brass shrugged. "We have no reason to hold him or stop him."
"Thanks for letting us know," Gil spoke to Buck again. "Okay I'm ready." He wrote down a number on his note pad. "I will, don't worry." With that he hung up and turned back to face the others. "He wants me to keep him updated."
Buck's birth certificate had been issued in Alexandria, Louisiana, so that was where they headed. Returning the hire car they caught a flight to Houston. From there they hired a SUV and drove into Louisiana. It was hot. When Ezra first moved to Denver he thought he'd never be warm, he didn't understand how anyone could live with the cold and the rain, but he got used to it - mostly. Now he was back in the south and he'd forgotten how unremitting heat could be and how unpleasant it was. True the car had air conditioning, but they couldn't spend all day in the car. Some time they had to get out.
"Do you remember living here?" he asked Buck as they got closer.
Buck, who was driving, shook his head.
Ezra frowned to himself, if they were right, Buck had been here when he was about five, he should have some memory of it.
"You didn't go to school here?"
"Don't know, don't remember school before the second grade."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Since you're asking, I have to assume it's personal."
"Well it would depend on your definition of personal."
"Ask whatever you want."
"Okay, what is your earliest memory?"
Buck glanced over at him for a second, then turned his attention back to the road. "Um, well, I remember a picnic, just me and Ma, we were in some woods and there was a river, as I remember it was a sort of end of summer vacation treat."
"So how old were you?"
Buck shrugged. "Seven, I think, I was about to start second grade, we were living in Texas."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Texas? You've never told us, or indeed our resident Texan you used to live in Texas."
"No, I haven't and you're not going to either - right?" Buck gave Ezra a quick hard look.
"Everything on this trip will remain between us, you have my word."
"Yeah, I know, sorry. It's just that, well, I don't have too many great memories of Texas."
They drove the rest of the way in silence, but for the radio. Since they couldn't agree on music, they were listening to a local station that was broadcasting a baseball game. They arrived in Alexandria just after half past four, and after locating the Rapides Parish Health Unit, where the births were registered, they decided to stay the night and see what they could find out in the morning.
"Hello?" Nick said automatically, picking up the phone. "What?" He looked at the clock, it was at least an hour until the alarm would go off, Gil was behind him, Nick could feel his reassuring weight against his naked back. "Say that again?" he requested, realising he hadn't been listening properly. "Right, got it, we'll be there."
Nick had moved in with Gil after the Nigel Crane case, no one thought anything of it, who would want to continue living alone after that, let alone living in the same house? That a temporary arrangement had become permanent seemed to have gone unnoticed, that they were sharing a bed was known to no one, except possibly Catherine and if she did suspect, she had said nothing.
"Hey, lover!" he gave Gil a shove. Their lovemaking that night/day - it was hard to call it a day when you slept through it - had been very physical. Although the age difference didn't bother him in the least, Nick was aware he did tend to wear his lover out, especially when he was feeling particularly amorous.
"What?" Grisson asked, barely awake.
"There's been another one."
Gil rolled over and frowned up at Nick. "Another what?"
"Murder, another hooker stabbed in the neck."
The Lucky Chip hotel was located close to several lap dancing and pole dancing clubs, it did little to hide what was going on in its rooms. Lucia Delmarco had been just twenty-two, she died as the others did. The time lag between the killings was getting shorter, their killer was getting more desperate and time was running out. Denver confirmed Buck had a cast iron alibi for the killing of Gail Simmons, he was on a stake out at the time. The autopsy proved that Lucia was a victim of the same killer, though there had been little doubt.
They had tracked down three firms that had Bubinga in stock or were using it. One exotic wood wholesaler had been eliminated, all their Bubinga wood was still in the warehouse, untouched. Another wholesaler and a company fitting out a new casino were still to be checked out.
Buck stood out side the building and took a deep breath.
"Ready?" Ezra asked.
"As I'll ever be," he admitted.
It wasn't the birth certificate they needed - they had that - what they needed was the original hand written 'record of birth', which would tell them who had attended the birth. It turned out the office no longer kept the originals, but they did have microfiche copies. It took some sweet-talking and the flashing of some federal badges to get a look at the vital film without having to make a formal request and pay a fee, but it told them what they needed to know. The attending doctor was one Carl Mitchell. All they could do now was head for Leesville and hope he was still alive.
Leesville owed its existence to the railway and the military base on its doorstep. It was a small, working class town, sweltering under the southern sun, and like any 'army town' it had more than the average number of strip clubs and raunchy bars, mostly on Lake Charles Highway.
"Do you remember living here?" Ezra asked as they pulled up in the centre of town."
Buck shook his head as he looked around. "I should, shouldn't I?" He looked over at his companion. "I mean I was five, I should remember something - right?"
"I don't know, I'm not an expert on child development and it was a long time ago. Maybe we remember things because we remain in the location so we're continually reminded of past events - maybe you weren't here long enough." Ezra remembered things from when he was five, lots of things, and he never stayed in one place long - he didn't tell Buck this.
Buck was looking around the town again. "I guess. Well let's see if we can find this doctor. Looks like that's the courthouse. Wanna try there first?"
"They will have a phone book at the very least. Let's go."
Doctor Mitchell wasn't hard to find, since he was the only one in the phone book and he was apparently still alive. The lady in the courthouse was happy to tell them what a great doctor he was, thought he was now retired and living out by the golf course.
It was a fine house, fairly new, probably custom built for the doctor, traditional in design, with white weatherboards and a veranda running around the whole building.
"Ez?" Buck asked hesitantly as they exited the car.
"Mind taking the lead?"
Ezra turned to face him, seeing the fear in the face he loved so much. "Of course not."
"Thanks I... I just don't know how he'll react, if he says something about her, if he..."
Ezra understood and conveyed that with a simple nod of his head, before he turned back to continue up the drive, Buck following him. A lady, her short cut hair clearly dyed to hide the grey answered the door.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
"Good day ma'am. We are looking for Doctor Mitchell?" Buck could see and hear Ezra laying on the southern charm an inch deep. "We were told this was his house?"
"Well I'm Angela Mitchell, but did you want my husband, who's retired, or my son, David? He's also a doctor but he doesn't live here."
"You must be very proud of him, but I believe it was your husband we wanted, Doctor Carl Mitchell?"
A silver haired man, with a goatee and wire rim spectacles appeared behind her. He was carrying a putter.
"Can I help?" he asked.
"That's me, what are you selling?"
Ezra smiled sweetly and pulled out his badge. "We aren't selling anything, we're looking for information."
The doctor peered at the badge. "What in the world do the ATF want with me?"
"Perhaps we could speak privately?" Ezra cast a meaningful glance at Mrs Mitchell.
"Whatever you have to ask you can ask in front of my wife."
Ezra looked doubtful. "Well if you insist. Do you remember a patient of yours named Cynthia or Cindy Wilmington?"
He didn't react, indeed he looked somewhat puzzled. "No I don't think..." he began.
"This would have been more than thirty years ago, this is she." Ezra showed him the picture.
"Wilmington? Wilmington?" the doctor muttered as he studied the picture. Then clearly the penny dropped. "Oh, um, yes I think I do." He looked up. "What has she done?"
"Nothing," Ezra told him.
"So why do you...?"
"She's dead," Buck informed him darkly.
Mitchell's head snapped up, fear flashed across his face, then he glanced back at his wife. "Perhaps it would be best if I speak to these gentlemen alone, dear." With that he stepped out on to the veranda.
"Very well." Mrs Mitchell nodded to the two agents and closed the door.
There were some comfortable wooden chairs on the veranda and the three of them sat down.
"You do remember her, don't you?" Ezra clarified.
"Yes, she was - stunning, quite the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen." He looked up and smiled. "Don't tell my wife that."
Ezra ignored this and continued with his own agenda. "According to the records in Alexandria, you were the attending physician when Miss Wilmington was delivered of a son."
"Um, well yes."
"Our evidence is that that child was five years old when his birth was registered."
"Well then there has been some kind of mix up."
Ezra hadn't been working under cover, playing poker and living with Maude for all these years without knowing a lie when he heard one.
"You are not a suspect, we aren't looking to prosecute you or tarnish your professional reputation, we just need the truth."
"If we start asking questions, are we going to find anyone who saw this woman pregnant, who saw or heard this infant?
Mitchell sat back and looked at the neatly dressed, smooth talking agent and his mostly silent and very tall companion. Ezra had removed his designer sunglasses, but Buck's Aviators were still in place, which made him look somewhat threatening.
"No," he finally admitted. "She did have a small boy, I saw him with her in town once, but she was never pregnant, not when I knew her."
"So why did you sign to say she did give birth? You could have lost your licence for that, even been prosecuted?"
The older man sighed, then glanced back at the house. "She . . . she blackmailed me, I had no choice, she had pictures of me and her..."
"Very compromising. She was a stripper, she..." he took a deep breath. "She gave me a 'private performance'." He squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. "Look you have to understand, I was young, the twins were only nine months old, still not sleeping through the night, my wife was pregnant again, I just wanted some..."
"We're not here to judge you, we just want to know what happened." Ezra cut in.
He shrugged. "I told you, she made me fill out that form, told me what name to put on it, birth weight, etc. I simply filled it in."
"Did you ask why?"
"What do you remember of the boy?"
"Not much really, you say he was five?"
"Well as I recall he was rather small for a five year old, other than that he had very dark hair and it was somewhat long, I don't remember much."
Ezra turned puzzled eyes on Buck, no one would ever have described him as small, was it possible that the child with Cindy back then wasn't Buck. But then he was only five, a child can do a lot of growing in the next thirteen or so years. He turned his attention back to the doctor.
"This Dogwood Park, that she gave as her address, is it still there?"
"No, no it's gone, it was a trailer park, back then it wasn't too bad, but it became something of a..." he hesitated. "Well lets just say it wasn't somewhere you'd want to raise children. It was bulldozed about six or so years ago, to make way for a strip club and a truck stop - kind of fitting somehow."
Ezra decided not to comment and pressed on with his last question. "Miss Wilmington is listed as having been born in Clay Cross, Mississippi, do you know when she came here?"
The doctor shook his had. "Girls like that, they come, they go, who knows where from or where they go," he admitted.
"Someone should care," Buck commented softly.
Mitchell looked over at the tall man, his expression hidden behind the sunglasses.
"Yes I suppose they should in a perfect world, but the world's not perfect. How did she die?"
"Murdered. Stabbed," Buck informed him.
"Oh." Mitchell looked back at Ezra. "Is there anything else I can help you with Agent...?"
"Standish, and no, I don't believe so, unless..." He looked over at Buck, who shook his head. "No, that will be all, thank you for your time."
As they stood, he turned to Buck. "I don't believe I caught your name?"
"Buck Wilmington." With that Buck turned and strode off the porch and back towards the car.
"I, err I..." the doctor stammered.
"It's all right sir, it's a complicated situation, and you've actually been very helpful. Answered a lot of questions," Ezra assured.
"Yes, thank you again." Ezra shook his hand and then he too turned to leave.
Buck drove. He kept his glasses on and his eyes on the road, and went out of town, heading north.
"Guess we're going to Mississippi?" Ezra asked softly, but he got no response.
Suddenly and without warning the SUV turned sharply to the right and careered off the road heading into the woods onto an unmade track. After a short, bumpy ride a clearing opened up and Buck spun the car to the left and pulled up so fast Ezra was slammed into the seat belt with such force that he was afraid the air bags would deploy. He was still catching his breath and rubbing his chest as Buck exited and strode off into the deep shadowed woodland around them. He sat and watched Buck but when he disappeared from view he thought he ought to follow. Buck wasn't thinking straight and he didn't want him to get lost in the deep woods. Jogging over to the spot where he last saw his tall friend, luckily he could see Buck not too far ahead. He had come to a halt and was just standing, from the way his shoulders were moving Ezra surmised his was crying, possibly even sobbing. So he removed his jacket, placed it on a convenient log and sat himself down with his back to Buck and waited. He had no intention of intruding on what was clearly a very private moment.
The woods were alive with the sound of life - birds and insects and called, hummed and chirped all around him. The undergrowth rustled, but Ezra tried not to think about what that might mean. As time passed he quickly got used to the noises around him, so used to them, that he was easily able to pick up Buck's footsteps as he approached. Not sure how Buck was feeling, he just sat still and waited. He heard rather than saw Buck sit down beside him.
"Sorry," he said softly.
"Throwing the car around. Dragging you all the way out here. All of this."
"There is nothing to apologise for." Ezra risked a sideways glance at Buck, shocked to see how distraught he looked; those normally clear blue eyes red, puffy and cloudy with recently shed tears, the trails of those tears still wet against his cheeks. Ezra wanted to say 'How are you doing?' or 'I understand how you feel.' But he didn't know how he felt and he could see all too well how he was doing.
"It was my fault," Buck said softly, after a long silence.
"It was my fault she became a hooker. I'm the reason she ended up in that life, that she was killed."
Ezra turned to face him, though Buck continued to stare at the ground. "What makes you think that?"
"You heard the doc. She was a stripper. Nothing wrong with that, but she sold her body and then blackmailed him for me, to get him to fill out that form." He lifted pain filled eyes to Ezra again. "Why? Why would she do that, for me? I'm not her son, she ruined her life for me - why?"
"How can you even ask that?" Ezra challenged. "Did you love her? No don't answer that, it was a stupid question. I know you did and still do. Anyone who's ever met you knows that, it's evident in every fibre of your being whenever you mention her. Love like that can't be one way, she must have loved you very much, and for love there is no sacrifice too big."
"I saw what it did to her. I saw the pain, the shame, the way it took a little piece of her every time - it wasn't worth it, nothing is worth that."
"Was she happy when she was with you? Did she laugh and sing? Did you two have fun? Did she take pride in your achievements?"
Buck nodded silently.
"Then think about what her life might have been like without you. If she hadn't had you, what would she have spent her money on? Alcohol? Drugs? Even if she stayed as a dancer, she would have been alone. From your descriptions she was blessed with a particularly strong maternal instinct, without you she might never have had the chance to be a mother, a role she was clearly born to fill."
Buck listened, his eyes fixed on the trees ahead of him, but made no comment.
"I just want to know who I am," he admitted. "Why did she need to take me in? Why did she need to sneak about getting illegal papers and altering them?" He looked over at Ezra.
"That's what we're trying to find out isn't it? We are professional investigators after all."
"That leads to another question doesn't it?"
"Why are you here? This is my problem, my mystery."
Ezra frowned. "Because I'm your friend, because I was worried about you, because I care for you." He hadn't meant to say that, he'd meant to say 'I care about you' not 'I care for you', cursing inwardly, he hoped Buck hadn't noticed. No such luck. He stood up and started walking back to the car.
"You care for me?" Buck called after him.
Ezra kept walking. "Slip of the tongue."
But Buck wasn't so easily convinced. He followed Ezra and, as they approached the car, his longer strides had carried him to within an arm's reach.
Still Ezra didn't stop or look around.
"Come on, talk to me." Buck reached out, placing a hand on Ezra's shoulder and turning him around. Ezra could have resisted, even stopped him, but he didn't. Instead he relished the contact. When they were face to face, and Buck was gazed down into his eyes. "Ezra, I had no idea, I mean, I always knew you were gay, but I didn't know you had feelings for me," he confessed.
"Gay?" Ezra blustered. "Says who?"
Buck raised an eyebrow, "Remember who you're talking to here. I don't know if it's common knowledge, I've never said anything, but to me at least it's blindingly obvious."
"What is so obvious?" Ezra demanded.
"Well the way you watch Vin and Chris' asses as they walk past your desk, for one."
I'm that obvious? Oh shit, I do that, I do, his too.
Buck smiled reassuringly. "Don't look so worried, it's cool, really, it is. I..."
Thunder, so loud and so sudden that it made both of them jump.
Ezra had never openly admitted his sexuality to anyone, at least no one in the 'straight' world. Not his mother, not his friends in Denver, not in Atlanta, though there were rumours and, he suspected, that was the real reason he was hounded out.
"I'm sorry, I should have been honest with you, I should have told you. It wasn't fair." Before Ezra could flounder any more, the heavens opened, drenching them almost instantly. Ezra just turned and made a dash for the car
I was going to say I don't mind, because I think I'm beginning to feel the same, Buck said to himself as jogged after Ezra.
They drove back to town and since it was getting late, found the only motel Ezra considered habitable. What they weren't to know was that their arrival had coincided with the first weekend leave for the new recruits at Fort Polk, which explained why there was only one room left.
Ezra turned away from the reception desk. "Looks like we'll have to head out tonight after all, see what accommodation we can find en route."
"Why? We shared a room in Vegas. It's got two beds - right?" Buck looked over at the young man behind the desk.
"Oh yes sir, two queen size beds."
"See, no problem."
Ezra looked uncertain. "I thought that now you knew, that you wouldn't want to..."
Buck grinned. "Now Ez, I've near five inches and twenty." He stopped, leaned back a fraction to take in Ezra's muscular physic. "Okay, fifteen pounds on you, what are you going to do? Overpower me and have your wicked way?"
Ezra gulped, Buck had just described one of his best self-pleasuring fantasies.
"Well..." he began as Buck raised an eyebrow. "Nice as that might be, no, no I'm not."
"Well there you go." Buck slapped him on the back. "Come on, hoss, let's get this room and into some dry clothes, then find some food, I'm starving."
Ezra watched Buck stride back out to the car. He wasn't sure if the sudden return to the jovial Buck of old was a good thing or a bad thing. Shaking his head he turned back to the reception desk.
"We'll take the room," he told the young man. Only then did he see that the lad's jaw was hanging down. "Oh for goodness sake, close your mouth, this is the twenty first century."
In Las Vegas, progress had been made, but no suspects identified. One of the bars at a new casino was being fitted out with an African theme, including a Bubinga faced bar. That made not just the carpenters, but everyone who'd been on site a suspect. The other wholesaler had sent out three orders of Bubinga, some of which had been cut before dispatch, which made everyone in their warehouse a suspect. One order had gone to a workshop constructing a custom-made kitchen. One had been sent to a company installing parquet flooring. And, worst of all, some had been sent to a huge craft fair and convention, where it was used in demonstrations and small blocks were given away as free samples. They could reasonably eliminate the woman, since all the victims had had penetrative sex, and men under thirty, since the first killing was fourteen years ago, but that still left thousands of suspects, some of whom would never be identified.
On the bright side, Greg had managed to get a DNA sample from the skin they had found under Lucia's fingernails, so if they ever did find a suspect, at least they would have some way to tie him to at least one killing.
After a quiet and uneventful night Buck and Ezra drove back to Houston, where they caught a flight to Jackson, arriving late in the evening. The next day they would drive to Clay Cross. The long drive and flight had given Buck time to think, not about his mother, or the apparently missing part of his childhood, but about his feelings for Ezra. He'd never had feelings for a man before. He wasn't against it; he didn't dismiss the idea that he could have a homosexual relationship; he'd had offers - plenty of men had made their interest in him clear - but he'd never been that attracted to them to risk it. And a risk it would have been. As a solider it would have been a crime, as a cop it was a career killer. Ezra was a different prospect. It was risk free, and more importantly, he cared for Ezra, he was attracted to him, maybe he could even be falling in love.
Damn it, you're getting way too far head here! he chastised himself. For all you know you're as straight at an arrow and 'Little Buck' has no interest in Ezra.
Except 'Little Buck' seemed to actually be quite interested in the whole idea. There was that pleasurable tingle in his groin whenever he thought of his companion with his beautiful green eyes, soft, smooth southern accent and that wonderfully hard, sculpted body.
Clay Cross was a small town of the mostly one-storey buildings lining wide streets. Leesville had been hot, Clay Cross positively sweltered. The heat radiated off the roads and buildings in shimmering waves. The railroad ran through the town, but hadn't stopped there in over fifty years. It wasn't a one horse town as such, but it wasn't far off. As its name suggested, the town had grown up around a crossroads. Centred around this intersection, which didn't even warrant a stop light, there were two bars, a diner, a grocery store, an outfitters, a store selling all kinds of hunting and fishing supplies and pool hall. Just past this central area to the north was a church and some kind of clinic. There was a second church on the road heading west. Set a little back from this was a small elementary school. On the southern road there was a gas station and auto repair shop, opposite it was small sheriff's office and firehouse - no doubt manned by volunteers. There didn't seem to be any kind of hotel, motel, guesthouse or even a good old fashioned boarding house. Nor apparently was there any kind of courthouse.
Once their short driving tour of the town was complete, Ezra pulled up in the centre of town.
"And my mother wonders why I left the south," he commented to no-one in particular.
Buck just made a soft snorting sound in response to this. "Well we can look in the phone book I guess?"
"Why not? My I suggest we try the diner, however grim, I am in need of sustenance."
Buck shrugged. "I could eat," he admitted.
The diner was showing its age, but it was clean and apparently well patronised as there were no free tables and only a few stools at the counter. Buck eased himself down and scanned the menu board above them. Southern cuisine had never been his first choice. While he did appreciate a good steak and wouldn't turn down a burger, a hot dog or even some fried chicken, truth be told, his favourite cuisine was Chinese or Italian. There was chicken a-plenty - southern fried, spicy Cajun, smothered in gravy, even Chris' favourite, chicken and dumplings. He just wasn't in the mood for any of it.
"Why did I leave the south?" Ezra asked wistfully, scanning the board. "So much choice."
Buck grinned to himself as he turned his head and looked at Ezra, who, he had to admit, looked positively edible himself, as he sat there gazing at the delights spread before him, dimples showing as he grinned happily.
"So what are you having boys?" the waitress asked.
"Well ma'am," Ezra began. "It all sounds positively divine, but it's been so long, I'm gonna stick to the classics. I'll have the fried chicken with hush puppies and corn bread and a side order of grits."
Buck lifted an eyebrow. "You're gonna eat all that?"
"Oh you bet, and when I'm done I plan to have some peach cobbler, or maybe even some pecan-raisin bread pudding."
Now Buck was laughing. "What?" Ezra asked indignantly.
"Guess you can take the boy out of the south, but you can't take the south out of the boy."
"True, I never claimed to be anything or anyone I'm not."
Buck raised an eyebrow and gave him a withering look.
"Well, not often, and never to my friends."
Buck slapped him on the back. "I believe you, hoss, though thousands wouldn't!"
The waitress was watching the scene with some amusement. "What about you, sir?" she asked Buck.
"Um, well, much as it pains me to say it, I don't have ol' Ez's appetite, so I'm gonna have a plain old burger and fries."
"Nothing plain about our burgers, honey. You want all the fixin's?"
"Sure, so long as it's not spicy, I ain't in the mood for spicy."
She smiled at him. "Cheese, onions, barbecue relish, lettuce and tomato. That sound okay to you?"
"Sounds perfect darlin'."
"What can I get you two gents to drink?"
Buck shrugged. "Coke."
Ezra thought a moment. "Root beer."
"Coming right up."
As she placed their drinks on the bar, Ezra read her name-tag.
"Shelly?" he asked.
"Something I can get you?"
"Yes, I was wondering if you have a phone book I could look at?"
She gestured to the back of the room. "Pay phone's back there, there's a yellow pages."
"It was the white pages we were interested in."
She frowned, but then seemed to soften to the two men. "Well sure I guess we've got one in the office, I'll get it for you."
It didn't take Ezra long to scan the book and ascertain there were no Wilmingtons living in the town or close by; at least none with a phone listing. He'd just finished when their order arrived. Buck finished his simple, but very tasty, burger relatively fast, Ezra was working his way through the mountain of food in front of him with relish. This was a side of Ezra Buck had never seen - he always went to great lengths to present an image of cultured refinement, so seeing him sucking on a drumstick of fried chicken with undisguised glee was something of a shock. It was also a comfort. If - and only if - he did decide to see if he really did have feelings for Ezra that went beyond friendship, knowing that deep down he and Ezra weren't as poles apart socially as he'd first imagined was going to help him make that decision.
Ezra finished off his grits and turned his attention to dessert. Despite his earlier resolution, Buck joined him, choosing a simple apple pie with ice cream.
"So," Shelly began. "What brings you gentleman to our little town?"
Buck looked up. He was aware they had been, albeit discreetly, the centre of attention as soon as they'd walked in.
"Maybe we're just passing through."
"No one passes through Clay Cross. Not unless they're lost, and you don't ask for the phone book if you're lost."
Buck gave her his best, 'Buck charm' grin. "Anyone ever tell you you'd make a great detective?"
"It's part of my job, so..." She looked over at Ezra. "What are you looking for?"
"We're trying to trace a family called Wilmington," Buck explained, aware he was speaking to the rest of the room.
Shelly thought a moment. "I don't believe I know anyone by that name, why are you looking for them?"
"It's confidential," Ezra explained. "Any information given will be treated with the utmost discretion."
Shelly looked from Buck to Ezra and then looked along the counter toward an older man sitting a couple of seats away.
"There's no one of that name living here now," the man explained.
"But there used to be?" Ezra prompted.
"Sure, Dan Wilmington, he used to be the mechanic down at Harper's garage."
Buck turned to the man. "You remember him?"
The man shrugged. "He used to fix m' car. Can't say as I knew the man, he's been dead ten years or more."
"And Mrs Wilmington?" Ezra asked.
"She left town, after he died, at least I think she did. You know what, you want t' talk to Windy."
"Windy?" Ezra asked incredulously.
Shelly suppressed a little laugh. "It's not his real name, Tom Miller, he used to work at the garage."
"So why's he called 'Windy'?" Buck asked. "Man eat too many beans?"
"No!" She laughed. "But he surely does like the sound of his own voice. Did you see the pool hall in town?" Buck and Ezra both nodded. "Well you'll find ol' Windy outside, you buy the man a beer and he'll tell you anything you want to know and then some."
Windy turned out to be an elderly African American. As predicted he was sitting outside the pool hall, taking in the sun and watching the world go by.
"Mr Tom Miller?" Ezra took off his sunglasses.
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"Do you mind if I join you." Ezra indicated the empty chair beside the old man.
"It's a free county son, you sit if you've a mind to."
"Thank you. It's hot today."
"Hot most days."
"Indeed. My friend has stepped inside to purchase some libations, I hope you'll join us?"
Miller looked at him quizzically. "Libations?"
"Who's for a cold drink?" Buck asked as he came out, three bottles in his hand, two beers, one Coke.
Ezra turned to his new friend. "Care to join me in a beer?"
The old man all but licked his lips. "I call that right neighbourly of you."
Buck settled his hip on the porch rail, and took a pull on his Coke while Ezra started making small talk with the old man; finally he broached the subject of the Wilmingtons.
"So you worked at the garage, Harper's is it?"
"Oh sure I worked there, lot a years."
"You remember Dan Wilmington?"
"Of course, Mrs Harper hired him to fix the cars, after her husband died. It should have been her boy, Ricky, but he got killed in Korea. That's how she lost her husband, old Mr Harper. He saw them two from the army, the chaplain and the other one, saw them pull up and come toward the house, he knew, knew right off his boy was lost and dropped dead right then and there, his heart give out on him, poor man."
"That must have been hard on Mrs Harper."
"It was, but she was a strong woman. There was a daughter, but she'd married some Yankee and moved up north, didn't even come home for the funeral." He shook his head sadly. "Must be a terrible thing to have an ungrateful child."
Buck cast a look at Ezra, knowing Maude had used very similar words to Ezra's face. Who knew what went on behind a family's closed doors.
Oblivious to this interaction, their narrator continued. "So of course then she needed someone to work in the shop. I was pumping gas, washing windscreens and such while Mrs Harper kept the books and ran the shop. Dan Wilmington was fresh out of the army; Korea just like her Ricky. Had him a wife and a little baby."
"So what was he like?" Buck asked.
Miller shrugged. "He was a hard man, a big man. Can't say as I ever liked him much, always figured him for Klan."
Ezra could almost feel Buck flinch. "You sure about that?"
"Got no proof, but you can usually tell. Things were different back then, not like it is now." He shook his head. "I'm not saying it's perfect now, but compared to then... well it's a whole different place. His boy was no better, he was a mean one, but they lost him. Sometimes I think that place was cursed. First young Harper, then the Wilmington boy, he was killed out in Vietnam."
Miller fell silent for a moment.
"What about Mrs Wilmington and the girl?" Ezra prompted.
Tom's face changed, a soft smile crossed his face. "She was a saint, that woman, what she had to put up with." He shook his head. "She wasn't like him, she always treated me decent, polite and respectful. Like I said, he was a hard man. I used to see her with bruises, black eyes, split lips. In them days if a man hit is wife no-one would do nothin'. Sheriff'd say it was a family matter, not for him; 'cause he was Klan too. I asked her one time, when she was so beat up she couldn't even go out, 'why do you stay with him?'."
"What did she say?" Buck asked.
"Said it was her duty, she promised to love, honour and obey until death, so that was what she had to do. Don't reckon woman would do that now."
"You'd be surprised," Buck commented sadly.
"What about the girl, Cynthia was it?" Ezra asked.
"Oh little Cindy, now she was princess, prettiest thing you ever saw. Tell the truth I don't know how that man had a child that pretty. Sometimes I'd wonder if she was his, but there was so much of her momma in her it was hard to tell. Mind you he treated her about at well as he treated his wife. It was crime the way that man treated his children. The boy couldn't do no wrong in his Pa's eyes, poor little Cindy couldn't do anything right, least that's how I saw it."
"Do you think he suspected he wasn't her father?" Ezra asked.
"Reckon he might have."
"What happened to her?"
"She... she got into trouble. That girl grew up fast, real fast and when she did, wow! Only fourteen and she had every man and boy from twelve to eighty following her around with their tongues hanging out, it was only a matter of time before one of them snagged her."
"Do you know who it was?"
The old man looked over at Ezra. "As a matter of fact I do, or at least I had a good notion. His name was Harry Stevens. His daddy owned a factory, just out of town, made tables and chairs and such. Around these parts, that made him a rich boy, a real catch. Course, Harry had two older brothers so he wasn't gonna inherit squat, but he was still better than the losers around here."
There the story seemed to come to an end.
"Do you know what happened to her?" Buck asked.
"Now maybe I do, maybe I don't, but I've said enough."
Ezra could see Buck getting impatient. "Mr Miller, it really was Miss Cindy Wilmington we were interested in, if you know anything more, anything at all, I'd appreciate it."
Tom Miller looked from one man to another. "Now I've told you plenty, probably too much, I talk too much, I know it. Folk around here call me 'Windy' on account of it, but you two haven't told me anything, I don't even know your names. I ain't telling you anything more, not unless I know why you're asking."
With a quick look at Buck, Ezra started to tell him some of it. "My name is Ezra Standish, that is Buck. We're both federal agents." He pulled out his badge for Miller to inspect. "Cindy was murdered, some time ago, the murder was never solved, but now it looks as if her killer is back. We have to investigate every possible line of enquiry." Miller was still listening so Ezra pressed on. "You said she got into trouble, you mean she got pregnant?"
"You say the poor dear is dead?"
"Well I guess it can't hurt no more. Yes she got pregnant. She wasn't much more than a baby, I don't even think she understood how it happened."
"Are you saying she was raped?"
"I was the Negro boy who pumped gas, would she tell me that?"
"Fair enough, do you think this Stevens boy was the father?" Buck asked.
"I always thought so. He was older than her, seventeen or so."
"So what happened? She left? Her dad threw her out? What happened to the baby?" Ezra asked.
Tom Milled looked into Ezra's eyes. "You're both federal agents?"
"And all you're interested in is what happened to Cindy?"
"So if someone could help you, tell you more information, even if he or she had broken the law a few years ago, you're not interested in them?"
"No," Buck cut in before Ezra could speak; he was beginning to get an inkling as to what Miller was alluding to.
"Well okay then."
While they were driving to the address Miller had given them; Ezra's cell phone rang. It was the DNA testing lab, confirming what they both now knew, Cindy Wilmington hadn't been Buck's mother, in fact there was less than one chance in several million they were related.
"It's okay, you don't have to say anything, I knew way back in Denver, I just didn't want to admit it," Buck said without taking his eyes off the road ahead.
Miller's directions took them to a nursing home. They were to speak to a woman called Deloris and say to her that Windy sent them to see 'Ma Del'.
Deloris turned out to be a very elderly black lady, who was so slim and frail it looked like one strong gust of wind would blow were away.
"Well my, isn't this nice, I don't get many visitors," she greeted the two tall strangers.
"Ma'am, is there some place we can speak privately?" Buck asked, his voice smooth with Wilmington charm.
"Well sure, you boys look tired, why don't I get young Lucy to bring us out some iced tea?"
"That would be lovely."
Deloris levered herself up, and using a walker, made her slow way out to the front porch. There she settled into the glider, while Buck and Ezra took two of the seats against the wall.
"So what do the ATF want with me?" she asked, eyes bright with inquisitive intelligence.
"Ma'am, we need you to think back a-ways. A man called Windy over at Clay Cross told us to speak to you. He told us to ask for 'Ma Del'." Buck explained.
Deloris frowned. "I don't know who you're talking about."
"Yes you do, old man who sits outside the pool hall and talks too much. He sent Cindy Wilmington to you when she was in trouble."
"I told you, I don't know who you're talking about."
Buck pulled out the picture of his mother. "This is Cindy, she was a bit younger when she came to you, and you helped her, didn't you?"
"Deloris honey, we aren't gonna cause you any trouble, this will go no further, your name will never be used, but I have to know what happened," Buck insisted softly. "You took care of her problem didn't you? That's what you did, you made the problem go away."
"Do you remember her?"
"I don't..." Then she looked up into Buck's pleading blue eyes. "Tell me why you need to know so badly?"
Ezra gave her the same story they gave Miller.
"No, no there's more to it than that, I can see it in your eyes, especially you." She turned back to Buck. "Tell me the truth, I'll know if you're lying."
"She was my mother," Buck admitted, he pulled out his I.D. to prove it to her.
"You may have the same name as her, but you're not her son," she stated firmly.
"Perhaps I could clarify a little, what Buck meant to say was, she was the woman who raised him as her own," Ezra clarified.
Deloris seemed to come to a decision. "Yes, I remember her, I didn't see many white girls, and she was the youngest one that I did see."
"Did she come alone?" Buck asked.
Deloris shook her head. "Her mother came with her."
"Do you know who the father was?"
"No, but I remember she was desperate to get rid of it."
"How did you know Buck wasn't her son?" Ezra asked.
"Because..." She dropped her head. "You have to understand I was doing my best for these girls, some of them were white girls who'd been with black men, do you know what would have happened to them if anyone had found out? Some of them had been raped. What were they meant to do?"
"It's alright," Buck assured. "We aren't here to judge you, I'm sure you did your best."
She nodded. "Cindy, she was so slight, she was just a girl, and well..."
"Something went wrong?"
She nodded. "I told her mother to take her to the doctor, to get some help, but she said she couldn't. I had a supply of penicillin, not much, I gave her some, but I knew there was no way she would ever carry another baby."
Her little grey head hung in shame and regret. Buck's large hand reached over the rubbed a gentle circle on her bony back.
"It's okay, you did your best, no-one is blaming you," he assured.
"I don't know what happened after she left me. You say she raised you?"
"I'm glad she lived." She sat up, looked Buck in the eye, then patted his hand. "Looks to me like she must have been a good mother."
"She was, ma'am, she was."
Just then Lucy came out with their tea and a selection of cookies. They sipped tea and ate cookies in silence for a while.
"It looks like they treat you well here," Ezra commented, by way of polite conversation.
"They do." Deloris turned her head to one side, and looked at the two handsome men before her. "Now I am an old lady, and I've lived right here or in a cabin, not twenty miles from here all my life, but I do own a TV. I like the police shows and in all those shows, if the policeman or federal agent is personally involved in the case his - or her - boss tells them they can't work on the case. Now they don't always do as they're told, but that's TV for you. So what about you two? Are you disobeying orders, or does the boss not know the truth?"
Ezra couldn't help but like the old lady, who's mind was clearly still as sharp as a scalpel.
"We are working on our own time, you might say," he explained.
"I hope you find the answers you're looking for, especially you." She patted Buck's knee.
"Thank you ma'am." He turned to Ezra. "I think we've taken up enough of this young lady's time."
"I believe so. Good evening, dear lady."
While Buck carried the tray inside, Ezra held the door open for Deloris.
"Does he know?" she whispered.
"Does he know what?"
"How you feel about him."
"How I... feel?" Ezra all but spluttered.
"You love him, I can see it in your eyes. Oh don't look at me like that, I've seen it all, doesn't bother me. So does he?"
"Um, yes, he knows."
"And do you know how he feels?"
"How he feels?"
"He has feelings for you too."
"He does? How do you know?"
"I'm an old lady, I must be allowed some secrets, but I'm right."
Since it was getting late they drove into the centre of the town, a much larger settlement than Clay Cross. This place had a motel. Aware that Ezra had bankrolled the whole trip so far, Buck made sure he was the one who was making the reservations.
"I got us a room," he announced, a single room key hanging from his finger.
Ezra frowned. "We seem to be cursed to book the last room in every inn we visit."
"Weren't the last room." With that Buck picked up his bag. "They've got a laundry room; I'm gonna wash some of my things, you want me do yours?"
Still not sure what was going on, and with Deloris' words still fresh in his mind, Ezra found himself wrong-footed. "Oh, um, yes, that would be a good idea."
Buck unlocked the room, tossed his bag on the first of the two beds, stripped off the shirt he was wearing and wrapped his other soiled clothes in it before pulling on a fresh one. With the bundle under his arm, he turned to face Ezra.
"Well?" "Well what?" "Clothes?" "Oh, yes. I'll just get them." "I'll check out the food situation while I'm out, maybe pick up some stuff for the road."
Ezra watched Buck leave, feeling more than a little confused. Happy. But confused, although he couldn't explain why he was happy. Why had Buck booked one room when he could have booked two? Was he just saving money? Or was there more to it? Maybe he just wanted some company?
Or maybe you should stop second guessing the guy, after all he's dealing with a lot right now.
Shaking himself out of the trance-like state he'd fallen into, he pulled out his washbag and headed for the bathroom.
An hour and a half later, when Buck returned with clean laundry, he found Ezra watching the news.
"There's a restaurant at the end of town. It looks okay. Apparently it does great catfish, you like catfish?" he explained, putting Ezra's clean clothes on top of his bag. As he stood up, he suddenly noticed the look on Ezra's face.
"There was another murder in Vegas, another girl was stabbed, just like the last one," he explained quietly. "It was on the news. I called the CSI office, they confirmed it, definitely the same killer."
Buck took a deep breath and sat down on the other bed. "He's escalating."
"Looks that way."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to add to your worries, but I felt I should tell you."
"I appreciate your honesty."
Ezra smiled. "I hope you can always rely on that."
"I know I can."
The restaurant Buck had found turned out to be something of gem, serving excellent traditional southern cuisine with gourmet touches. It was located in an old mill about a mile from the motel. Tired of being cooped up and both in need of a real drink, they decided to walk. Between the two of them they'd drunk a bottle of white wine and a shot of bourbon each, not to mention brandies. Ezra had hoped that this would help Buck to relax. Not surprisingly he'd observed not just sighs of mental tension, but a tight stiffness in his movement that was quite unnatural for Buck, who was normally so loose-limbed and relaxed. Unfortunately, as he watched Buck disappear into the bathroom, saying he was going to take a shower, he looked almost as stiff as he had all day.
When he came out, dressed in the soft, grey, cut-off sweat pants he used as pyjamas, with droplets of water still clinging to the sparse hair on his chest and dropping from the soft curls of hair that hung down behind his ears, Ezra had to force himself not to gasp out loud.
As Buck sat wearily on the end of his bed, Ezra, already dressed for bed, decided to take a risk.
"Do you trust me?"
Buck craned his head around to look quizzically at Ezra. "I think it'd be a bit late if I didn't, don't you?"
Ezra just smiled and picked up something from his washbag, as he stood up and crossed to Buck. "Stay where you are. You look so tense, I'd like to see if I can help you."
Too tired to care, Buck just nodded. Ezra knelt up on the bed behind his friend and set to work.
"Ah! That's cold," Buck exclaimed. "What is it?"
"All I had. Hand cream."
Ezra stretched out one cream covered hand so that Buck could see it. "One has to maintain a certain tactile sensitivity."
"The better to cheat at cards and pick locks with?"
"I do not cheat. I could, if the need arose, but you have my word I have never cheated a friend."
"So how come you always win?"
"I'm just that good. Now are you going to let me do this?" He went back to trying to work the knots out of Buck's shoulders and neck, using the cream to help his hands to move more smoothly over the skin. He worked steadily and methodically in silence, one by one he kneaded and teased the muscles under his hands into relaxation. Buck seemed to particularly enjoy it when Ezra pressed his thumbs against his spine and ran them down.
"Feels good when you do that," he admitted.
"I'm no expert. I hope I'm doing some good."
Ezra worked a little while longer, feeling the muscles finally begin to relax.
"What do I do now?" Buck asked eventually, once the massage and the alcohol finally began to kick in.
"I? Don't you mean we?"
Buck nodded his head to the side, acknowledging Ezra's continued willingness to participate in this odyssey they were on.
"And to answer your question, we go back to Clay Cross. We need to find out more about this Stevens boy. Then there's Mr Miller."
"Who knows more then he's telling us," Buck added his own thoughts.
"I need to call Chris, ask for more time off I guess."
"I hope you won't think I was interfering, but I called while you were out doing the washing. I should have told you, but the news item about another killing in Las Vegas put it out of my mind."
"It's okay, what did he have to say?"
"That so long as they don't have a big case, we can take as long as we like, but we're not getting paid."
"JD said to tell you..."
"That he'd cover your half of the mortgage for as long as you needed him to. Look if you need a loan I can..."
"Ezra, it's only been a few days, JD's worrying over nothing, I got more than enough in the bank to cover the mortgage, not to mention savings. I'm okay, I can pay JD back, if he needs to cover for me."
"Oh, well good to know, I didn't mean to imply that..."
"It's okay, I know what you were doing, and I appreciate it."
Ezra said no more, but went back to massaging Buck's shoulders. Little by little his hands slipped further over the shoulder, working the muscles around the collarbones, every now and again, his fingertips would brush against the soft hairs on Buck's chest. He longed to let his hands drop down, to map the hard pectoral muscles, to feel the tempting dark haloed nipples harden under his touch. Distracted by his erotic daydream his hands began to act without his conscious instruction. Only when he encountered a hard nub under his palm, did he realise what had happened.
"Oh! I'm sorry," he spluttered.
Mortified with embarrassment, he tried to pull his hand back. But he couldn't, Buck's larger hand now covered his. "It's okay, it was... nice." He craned his head back. "Maybe, when all this is settled, we can see what else feels 'nice'?"
Ezra's mouth was suddenly dry; rational thought fled and he actually felt his hands tremble. "You mean that you . . . that you'd . . . with me?"
Buck turned around more. "I'm not promising anything, I'm just saying I'm willing to explore things."
"I hadn't hoped for even that much."
They headed back to Clay Cross the next day. The Stevens' family business was still there and still in business but it no longer made tables and chairs. Unable to compete with mass production and with not enough customers to support a bespoke trade they had diversified into custom-made solid wood kitchens, home offices and display cabinets. They were welcomed into the office of Michael Stevens, a slight man, with long fingers and narrow features.
"My secretary said you're federal agents?" he asked, clearly confused.
"Yes sir, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives," Ezra confirmed.
"Oh, well I don't know what I can help you with, but if I can I will."
"You have a brother called Harry?" Ezra began.
"Henry, yes, what about him?"
"We would like to speak to him."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Has he escaped?"
Stevens looked from one agent to another. "Well he's been in jail. Isn't that why you're here?"
Ezra shifted uneasily in his seat and glanced at Buck. "I'm sorry, we should have explained, we are actually here seeking information about Cindy Wilmington. We were unaware of your brother's connection to Miss Wilmington until yesterday. Can you tell me why your brother is in jail?"
Stevens sat back and regarded the two men before him. "It's not something my family is exactly proud of."
"I can appreciate that, still it would save us the time of looking it up, one way or another we will find out."
"I guess so. He killed a man. I don't know the full details, there was a fight in a bar. The man died, some sort of internal bleeding, Henry would have been convicted of manslaughter but they found out he'd boxed professionally a few times so..."
"That made it murder."
"Exactly, it was stupid. He only had three fights, lost them all."
"Where is he incarcerated?"
"In caser...? Oh, Arizona, in Florence."
"Arizona is a long ways from Mississippi," Buck commented.
"Henry was what you might call the black sheep of the family. Our father made all three of his sons learn the business from the bottom up. We had to learn every job, until we could make anything in the basic catalogue. We made furniture in those days. I started when I was twelve, sweeping up in the evenings after school. Henry didn't appreciate it much, seeing as he's the youngest and didn't see any future with the family firm. He was drafted, did some boxing in the army, came back from Nam and tried to be a boxer. When that didn't work out he came back here for a while, but then he took off again. When the court in Phoenix contacted me as his listed next of kin, it was the first I'd heard from him in years."
"A most unfortunate tale. Can I bring you back to the main reason for our visit, Miss Wilmington's relationship with your brother."
Buck pulled out the picture of his mother and showed it to Stevens.
"We believe she and your brother were close, when he was about seventeen?" Ezra asked.
Stevens studied the picture. "Yeah, I remember her some, but this was a very long time ago."
"We appreciate that sir, but anything you can remember would be helpful."
"I remember she was trash," he said with a sneer.
Even without thinking, Ezra's hand shot out and came to rest on Buck's forearm, silently reminding him not to react.
"She was just a kid, but she looked older, led the boys on, teased them. I always thought she was only after Henry for his money."
"I thought you said he wasn't going to be getting any, being the youngest," Buck pointed out, barely keeping the anger out of his voice.
"That's what Henry assumed, but who knows what the old man would have done with his money if he'd stuck around, Henry was always the old man's favourite."
"Do you know why the relationship ended?" Ezra asked.
"I presumed they lost contact when he was drafted. I don't remember her being around when he got back from Nam. Mind you he didn't stick around long, but she was definitely not around by the time he came back the second time, when the boxing thing didn't work out." Stevens looked from one man to anther. "Look I really don't remember that much about it. Why don't you go and ask Henry?"
"Yes, we'll do that. Thank you for your time." Ezra rose and turned to leave.
"You knew her well?" Buck asked, without standing up.
"Sorry?" Stevens looked lost.
"Cindy Wilmington, you must have known her very well."
"I hardly knew her at all, I thought I made that clear."
"Yet you knew she was trash?"
"Well, anyone could see that."
Buck shot to his feet, stepping into Stevens' personal space, making the most of his height and weight advantage. "Next time you think about besmirching a lady's name, you make sure you got the evidence to back it up, you got me?"
"I... I'm sorry."
They were almost back at the car, when Stevens came running after them. "I remembered something," he explained as they turned to meet him.
"What?" Buck demanded.
"My mother told me once, that when he got back, from the war, Henry asked her about Cindy, he wanted to know if she'd heard anything about Cindy having a baby."
"And had she?" Ezra asked.
"I honestly don't know, that really is all I can remember."
"Are you okay?" Ezra asked, as Buck strode back toward the car.
Buck stopped, raising his head and taking a deep breath. "People look at someone and they make a judgement. They assume they know it all, just by looking."
"I know, believe me. My mother relies on it. She says 'appearances are everything'. She exploits it."
"Just because she was pretty, just because she had a good figure, just because men found her attractive, they called her slut and trash and... well you know what. Is it any wonder she ended up doing what she did?"
Ezra could have replied, but he didn't, he pulled out his cell phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"JD, we need to track down Henry Stevens."
While Buck paced, trying to calm himself down, Ezra spoke to JD. Finally he snapped the phone shut and crossed to Buck. "He'll call us back. We need to get back to town."
Windy was just were they left him, sitting outside the pool hall.
"Well how do you do, again," Ezra greeted, sauntering up to the old man.
"Did you find her?" he asked.
"We did," Buck confirmed, leaning up against a post. "Now we need more information."
"I told you gents all I knew."
"No you didn't." Ezra sat down beside him, tilting his chair back onto two legs and he could rest his heels on the same post Buck was leaning on. "We want to know where she went. Where did Cindy Wilmington go when she left here?"
"Sir, I was just the poor black boy pumping gas. I don't know where the boss' daughter went."
"So you keep telling us. But you told the boss' wife where she could take her daughter to get an abortion. That sounds to me that you were more than just the hired help, to them at least."
Ezra took over the questioning. "So let's start with that abortion. There she is . . . pretty white girl, pregnant, to a boy with prospects, son of a successful local businessman. Why didn't she just make the boy marry her?"
"He was in the army by then, or at least that's what I heard."
"That wasn't unusual in those days. Indeed it might have given Henry the chance to get home early. Deloris told us she was desperate to get rid of the baby, yet, from everything we know about her, Cindy loved children, but not only did she want to get rid of it, her mother helped her - why?"
When Ezra had begun this line of questioning he hadn't really thought about the possible answer, he just knew that at the back of his mind, something didn't add up. From the look on Buck's face he'd come to the same unspoken conclusion he had.
"Sir, I really don't know. Mrs Wilmington came to me one day, when her husband was out of town. She was upset. She asked me what black girls did when they got in trouble, was there someone who helped them. I told her yes, I know someone who could help. Then I made the arrangements."
Even though it was Ezra doing all the talking, it was to Buck that Miller turned his gaze.
"I didn't ask questions and that's the truth."
Buck, nodded to indicate he accepted this. "So where did she go, when she left here?"
In response the old man licked his lips. "A man gets thirsty."
"Information first, then beer," Buck explained coldly.
For moment it looked as if the old man was going to be stubborn, then he smiled. "I'm not sure it's the answer, but I got an idea," he began. "See when the boy, Todd, was drafted, Dan needed someone to help out, weekends and evenings, but he was too cheap to pay anyone. So he made Cindy do it, and she was a quick study. Pretty soon she was doing simple jobs on her own; oil change, fitting new batteries, lights, patching exhausts, stuff like that. Now he wasn't paying her but she was getting tips, and looking like she did, and wearing them short cut off jeans and tight shirts, they were big ones. When she got more experienced, he started letting her work on Saturdays on her own, gave him more time for 'other things'. She was meant to give him all the takings, but I knew she didn't. She saved all she got, hardly spent any of it. All the other girls were getting new dresses and such, but she made do with what she had."
"What was she saving for?" Ezra asked.
"To run, to get away. She was a cheerleader in school, guess that's where she got the idea to be a dancer. She asked me were she should go."
"What did you tell her?"
"That I wasn't sure, I didn't know were white girls got paid to dance. Then she told me she remembered this letter her brother sent to her dad, about his basic training, about the show he'd been to, with dancing girls. So she told me she was planning to go to some place where there was a military base"
"That's a lot of places," Buck commented.
"She also told me she wanted to see the sea."
"Interesting, that does narrow it down some." Just then Ezra's cell phone rang and stood to take the call, strolling a few paces away.
"I really don't know any more," Miller told Buck. "They got the news that Todd was dead, Dan started drinking even more heavily and she left one night not long after that."
"You really don't know where she went?"
"No, I think she kept it secret so as not to get me into trouble. She was such a good girl, she'd never have done anything to cause trouble for me or her mom."
Buck nodded. "Yeah, she was," he admitted softly, turning his attention to Ezra, who was beckoning to him. He pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and handed to Miller. "Here, buy yourself a beer."
Buck reached Ezra just in time to hear him say 'Bye JD'.
"What is it? We have to head home?"
"No. But I do have news."
"Henry Stevens was released on parole two months ago."
"Very. We need to call Grissom."
Buck handed Ezra the business card Gil had given him, then pulled the road atlas out of the car as Ezra spoke to the CSI in Las Vegas. He looked up when he heard Ezra close the phone.
"You know I think that Mr Grissom is sharing a bed with a young man," he commented.
"A Texan if I'm not mistaken."
Buck grinned. "He is. Name's Nick Stokes, what made you suspect?"
"Because said young man answered his home phone, there were 'background noises'." He grinned wickedly. "How did you know?"
"Walked in on them, back at the lab, they were very 'tactile'." Buck smiled affectionately as he remembered the incident.
"They work together?"
"Stokes is one of his team."
"That must be... complicated."
"They make a good looking couple." Buck looked back at the lone figure drinking beer outside the pool hall. "Who do you think it was?"
Ezra followed his gaze. "Based on everything I have learned so far, my gut instinct is the father."
"Yeah, me too - bastard."
"Who was that?" Gil mumbled without lifting his head out of the pillow.
"Someone called Ezra Standish, he's a friend of Wilmington. They have news."
Nick waited for Grissom's razor sharp brain to snap into gear, as he rolled over and eyed his young lover. "What news?"
"As a teenager, Cindy Wilmington had a relationship with a man called Henry Stevens. He spent several years training to be a furniture maker and was released from prison in Arizona two months ago, after serving fourteen years for second degree murder."
That did it, Grissom was awake, eyes blazing with that fierce intellect that Nick found so damned attractive. He reached over and slipped a hand behind Gil's neck.
"Let's celebrate," he purred.
"Tempting, but we don't have time, but..."
"Mmm." Nick was nuzzling at his neck.
"If this cracks the case I promise you a celebration you'll never forget."
"Can't wait that long."
With more resolve than he gave himself credit for, Gil pulled out of Nick's seductive ministrations. "I'm going to take a shower, you call Brass and put the coffee on."
Buck and Ezra headed south out of Clay Cross, given the information they now had, Biloxi or Port Arthur seemed to be their best bets, but with no new information they had no idea where to look. Ezra had been toying with an idea, but was reluctant to mention it, but with every road sign they passed he knew the decision was getting closer.
"Buck?" he began hesitantly.
"Yeah?" Buck was driving so didn't look at him, which made it easier.
"You remember we briefly touched on the fact that you don't remember any of your early childhood."
"Well I was thinking, those memories must still be there, locked in your mind somewhere, what if we could unlock them?"
Buck, keeping his eyes firmly on the road, didn't reply for a long time. "There may be a good reason I can't remember. Do I want to remember?"
"Do you want to know who you are, how you came to be in your Ma's care?"
"I... yeah, I do. What's your plan?"
Ezra cast his eyes ahead, along the road. "There's a rest stop just head, pull over, I think we need to talk."
Buck pulled of the road, and stopped in a small parking area surrounded by picnic tables. He turned off the ignition and twisted in his seat to face Ezra. "Ok, what's the big idea?"
"Oh no, no one's gonna put me into a trance and make me cluck like a chicken every time someone says eggs!"
"It's not like that, I'm talking about a clinical hypnotist, like the one I saw."
Buck was stunned into silence for a moment. "You saw a hypnotist? Why?"
Ezra settled back into his seat. "My father, my real father, Patrick Standish, was a wealthy man, from an old family."
"As in a really 'old' family?"
Ezra nodded, barely suppressing his smile of pride.
"You know I always wondered about that."
"Well it's a very distant connection. The thing is he was diagnosed with cancer just after mother found out she was pregnant. There was nothing they could do, but he did have time to set up a trust fund for me before he died."
"Did he ever get to see you"?
"No. Maude raised me on her own - if that's what you can call it - but when I turned eighteen I should have got control over the trust fund."
"I didn't even know there was a trust fund. I came home early from boarding school one weekend and happened to see the papers on her desk. She came back from the bathroom before I could do more than skim read them. But I'd seen enough to know I should have been given control of the money when I turned eighteen, which had been two months earlier. So I confronted her about it."
"What did she say?"
"Let's just say, she was less then co-operative. I was about to go to college and I wanted the money. Knowing Maude as I did, I calculated it was going to take months, possibly years to get control of it. So either I wasted years in arguments and lawyers' letters, or I could just access the account and empty it. I had seen the information on her desk - name, number, holding bank. I hadn't had time to memorise it, but I had seen it all. So I went to a hypnotist, to see if he could retrieve it."
"And did he"?
Ezra raised his eyebrow. "Oh yes, I accessed the account that afternoon, took out all the money and re-invested it. Which brings up another point. I really am independently wealthy - the apartment, the car, the clothes, holidays, it pays for all of it. So this trip, any expenses, it's not going even going to put a dent in my finances. I'm not trying to be charitable or grand or anything, it's just that... well, you're my friend and I care for you and this is something I can do for you. I want to do it."
"Whoa there, going way too fast here, pal." Buck warned. "I've always known you had money and I assumed it was some kind of family money. I've never thought you were making some kind of gesture, you're my friend... and possibly something more. If there was something I had that would help you out in a jam, you'd have it, same as I'd give it to any of the others. That doesn't mean I can't pay my way, I can pay my share."
"I know you can. What about the hypnotist?"
"I'm thinking on it."
"Why don't I make some calls, see if Mr Le Brun is still practising?"
"Well, I guess, where does he live?"
Buck shrugged, for now at least that was in the right direction. It took Ezra more than a few phone calls to track down Le Brun, but he was still practising. A couple of hours later they reached the point were they had to decide; carry on south east to New Orleans or turn off and head for Biloxi. Ezra held his tongue as Buck approached the turn, and silently let it go as they passed it and drove on toward the city.
Dr Thomas Le Brun had prospered in the years since he'd seen young Ezra. A therapist by training, hypnotherapy used to be something he did on rare occasions, as a complement to more traditional therapy. On even rarer occasions he worked with the police, helping witnesses to recall what they had seen. These days most of his practice was hypnotherapy, mostly helping people - rich people - to lose weight, stop smoking, get off drugs, be more assertive, control their anger; any number of things about their life that they wanted to change. Recovering lost childhood memories was something he tried to stay away from, it was just too fraught with professional grey areas, some of them so grey they were positively black. Yet somehow he had agreed to see Mr Wilmington. He wasn't quite sure how or when during his conversation with Mr Standish he'd agreed, but apparently he had, because it was 8.30am and here they were.
Buck insisted that Ezra stay in the room the whole time, only that way would he be able to relax enough to let Le Brun put him under. It took a lot longer then normal, Buck was strong willed and even through he wanted to do it, he had trouble letting go, but eventually he was under. Working on the detailed notes he'd taken before they started, and with Ezra on hand with a pad and pen, ready to prompt questions if needs be, he began. The session would be taped and Buck would get a copy of the tape. The first thing he did was take Buck back to his earliest memories.
"Can you tell me when your birthday is?"
"It's... um, I think it's on May the fiff."
"Today is May fifth, and it's your fifth birthday, okay?"
"I know your name is Buck, but do you have any other names?"
"My real name's William Foster, but I like Buck."
"Okay Buck, what are you gonna do for your birthday?"
"I don't know, nothin'. Mom has to work tonight."
"Where does your mom work"?
"At the club, I have 't stay in back, and not make no fuss." He sighed deeply. "It's boring, sometimes I go t' sleep."
"Do you know what your mother's name is?"
"Of course, sorry. Do you have any friends?"
"Cindy's my friend, she's nice to me. She buyed me a present for my birthday, it's a colourin' book with cowboys and Indians and horses and she got me this real big box of crayons. It's yellow."
"Wow, that sounds great. Do you have any friends at school?"
"I don't go t' school, I'm not smart enough."
"Who told you, you weren't smart Buck?"
"What did she say to you?"
"She gets angry when I can't do stuff and she says 'you're such a idiot' and 'stupid boy' and 'dumb kids can't go t' school' and stuff like that, I'm not so smart, not like regular kids, so I have t' say inside."
The doctor glanced at his patient's friend and could clearly see the effect the revelations were having.
"Can you remember the name of the club were your mom works?"
"Um, I'm not sure, I don't read but it's got this big sign with a wheel I think it's real old."
"That sounds neat."
"It's like the wheels on cowboy wagons."
"What town is it in?"
"Can you remember were you live in Biloxi?"
"Um... I can't 'membered it."
"It doesn't matter, you're still a very clever boy. Buck I want you to think back to the last day you saw your mom."
Buck, who had been beaming at the doctor's praise, suddenly frowned. "I don't want to."
"Please Buck, it's important for us to find out what happened and only a clever boy like you can help us."
"I'm not clever, I'm a stupid waste of space."
"No you're not, you're a good, clever boy. Can you remember what happened? Please?"
"Mom said she was gonna take me on a picnic, I never been on a picnic. We went t' the river and I got sleepy."
"What's the next thing you remember after that?"
"Ma was hugging me and she said she loved me and she kissed me. Can I see my Ma now? I want my Ma."
"Buck I'm going to count backwards, when I get to one, you'll wake up and remember everything. Five, four, three, two, one."
Buck opened his eyes and sat up, suddenly he twisted around, desperately looking for Ezra.
"Do you remember?" Ezra asked hesitantly.
He nodded slowly.
"Doctor, thank you, I think we have our answers." Ezra stood up.
"Mr Wilmington?" Le Brun addressed Buck, who looked over to him. "If I can be of any further assistance, please call me, I'll make room for you. I would strongly recommend that you have some further counselling."
"Thanks doc, I think about it."
Ezra drove as fast as he dared towards a spot he knew, a quiet out of the way beach. Buck sat silently beside him, staring out of the window. Finally they pulled up in under the trees behind the sand dunes.
"Come on, let's get some fresh air." Deliberately not waiting for a response, Ezra climbed out of the car and, removing his shoes and socks, began to climb the closest sand dune.
After a few moments Buck followed suit. Cresting the dune, they sat down among the sand and long grass and looked out over the sea.
"Have you remembered anything more?"
"No. William Foster, it's not a bad name, don't you think?" He looked over at Ezra.
"It's a fine name."
"But he wasn't wanted was he. William? He was in the way, a stupid brat that ruined her life."
"You are Buck and you are not stupid, you are not in the way and you didn't do anything to ruin anyone's life," Ezra reminded firmly.
"But I did, because of me Ma became a blackmailer and a hooker and my mother...? Well who knows?"
"You listen to me, Buck Wilmington." Ezra moved so that he was kneeling in front of Buck, invading his space. "You were a little kid, you had no power, you had no control, you had no choices. You mother treated you abominably. I have the tape of that session; you should listen to yourself! She put you down, told you were useless. Believe me I know what that's like. You were lucky, you didn't remember it, it didn't poison your every view of yourself. No one has the right to do that. My guess would be that she took you to the river that day, drugged you and abandoned you. She may even have tried to drown you. She doesn't deserve your sympathy. On the other hand, your Ma - Cindy - not much more than a girl, had already lost the ability to be bear a child. She befriended you, she took you in. The things she did, she did out of love. No one made her do it. Do you remember what the doctor in Leesville said?"
"He described you as small for a five year old. Now maybe you were a late developer, maybe you weren't five; maybe you were only four - maybe. But you know what I think?"
Buck duly shook his head.
"I think your biological mother had been neglecting you, you were 'failing to thrive' as they say. Even if she didn't actively try to kill you, she was starving you. Cindy saved you. She lavished on you all the love and care she would have given that lost baby. You made her life complete; she made you the man you are. A good man, a brave man, my friend, the man I love." And with that he leaned in the last few inches and brushed a gentle kiss to Buck's lips.
Buck didn't respond, he just sat there, staring into Ezra's green eyes, trying to work out what had just happened. Finally he raised a single finger to his lips, traced them once and smiled.
"I'll try to remember that," he finally said.
"It's all I ask."
Wasting no time, they got back on the road to drive the hundred miles to Biloxi. The chances of finding the club 'little' Buck had described were slim at best, but they were seasoned federal agents and if it was findable, they'd find it. Following their successful tactics in Clay Cross, they ate at a small local diner while checking the yellow pages for clubs. And it worked. They found a listing for 'The Wagon Wheel', which sounded as if was exactly what they wanted, in addition they found 'The Golden Wheel', 'Fortune's Wheel' and "The Ship's Wheel'.
'The Golden Wheel' turned out to be only seven years old and 'The Ship's Wheel' was, and always had been, a cabaret club. Next they visited 'The Wagon Wheel'. The building looked new, but there was a large, old wagon wheel above the door.
"Do you remember anything?" Ezra asked.
"Nope, not a thing." Buck looked critically at the building. "It doesn't look old enough."
"A lot can change in almost thirty years."
The club wasn't open, but there were staff inside. The security guard wasn't much help but he managed to find a cleaner who'd been there for years. She confirmed that the building was only seven years old but it replaced a much older one and that the club had been around since the fifties.
"What about the wheel?" Buck asked.
"Oh that's the original, it's famous around here," she explained.
"Ma'am, is there someone I can talk to who was here, say, about thirty years ago?" Ezra asked.
"Well there's Larry, he owns the place. I mean he's retired now, mostly, but technically he owns it. Back then I guess he was more hands on."
"Where can we find this gentlemen?"
"All I know is, he goes fishing every day."
"Do you know where?"
She shrugged. "I know he owns a yacht, so I guess you could try the marina. If not, come back here after six. Someone in the office will have his address."
"One last thing, what is Larry's full name?"
"Oh, sorry, White, Lawrence White."
The yacht club was reluctant to provide information, until Buck pulled out his badge.
"You know we really have no right to use our badges in this investigation," Ezra commented, as they strolled toward berth 512.
Buck grinned. "If anyone complains we'll just tell them to deal with Chris."
"That's not really playing fair; I love it."
The yacht on berth 512 was called 'The Burlesque' she looked to be about thirty five feet, modern but of indeterminate age. She was prow on to the berth and at the rear there was a blue awning over the cockpit.
"Hello The Burlesque?" Buck called.
The yacht rocked slightly then a man's head, the face shaded by the dark cap he was wearing, appeared around the side of the awning.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Mr Lawrence White?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, what do you want?"
"We'd like to talk to you about your club," Buck explained.
"I'm retired." With that the man disappeared.
"We know," Buck called. "It's the old days we want to talk about, the old club."
The head appeared again. "The old days?"
"Well you better come on board. Mind you take your shoes off first."
Larry White was a small man, shorter than JD, somewhat solidly built, who, when he removed his cap to wipe his brow, was mostly bald, and what hair he had was white. The cap bore the club's emblem - a wagon wheel.
Ezra briefly outlined who and when they were interested in.
Larry shook his head. "Boys, it's a long time ago now, I'm an old man, but I remember Cindy all right. She was something else."
"What's that meant to mean?" Buck demanded.
"She was a looker; had a figure to die for. I mean it, she always topped the bill, the guys loved her. But she was a good person too, even though she wasn't the oldest by any means, she sort of ended up as the den mom, the others went to her with their problems. She even used to help some of them fill out forms and write letters."
"What about the other one, we think her name was Foster, and she had a son, a small dark haired lad," Ezra reminded him.
"Foster, Foster? With a boy you say? Jocelyn? No that's not right, Jo, Jo, Joanna - yes! Joanna Foster, my God I haven't thought about her in a long time."
Clearly the old man was on a roll, so Ezra pressed on. "What about the boy?"
"Buck, beautiful child, had the biggest dark blue eyes you ever saw. I used to let him stay back stage, I think she used to make him up a bed under the stairs. He was never any trouble."
"Can you remember what happened to them, Cindy, Joanna and the boy?" Ezra asked.
White took a deep breath. "Now you're asking. Joanna wasn't the easiest person, she was ambitious. You have to remember back then it was still called 'Stripping' not 'Exotic Dancing'. It was still a tease then, the climax was when the girl took off that final bit of clothing. Now they just take it all of as fast as possible and cavort on a pole." He shook his head. "It's just not the same, I mean they're very athletic, but it's not the art form it was then."
"Um, Sir, you were saying Joanna was ambitious?"
"Oh yes, well I may be remembering this wrong, there were a lot of girls, but I think she left to marry an officer - that was what they all wanted to do then, marry an officer, doctor, lawyer, dentist. Some man with status and a steady income that could give them kind of life the magazines and the TV told them they should want. Two point four children, house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, two cars and a dog - the whole nine yards."
There was clear disdain in his voice.
"What about Cindy, when did she leave?"
White thought about it for a moment. "You know I think they left at about the same time, I remember because it was almost the fourth of July and I was suddenly two girls short. Joanna was no big loss, but Cindy, now she was gold mine. Yes I remember now, damn that was a nightmare. No idea where they went. I never heard from Joanna again, but I do remember lots of gossip about her and an officer. I remember Cindy called me the night she didn't come in. Told me she was okay, not to worry but she had to leave town, some sort of family emergency. I told her she always had a job with me, but she never came back." He looked up at Ezra. "Is that any help?"
"Would you still have picture of Joanna Foster?" Buck asked.
"You know I probably do, back at the club - have you been there?"
"Yes, we understand that it's not the original building?" Ezra responded.
"No, the old place went up in flames, blessing in disguise." Larry stood up and started to lock up the boat then head for the prow carrying his shoes. The two agents followed him.
"Doesn't sound like a blessing," Buck observed.
"Gave me a year's break, chance to rebuild and change. My kind of place couldn't compete anymore, not with the big shows and the casinos. I didn't want to go into lap dancing, that's just not... well it wasn't what I wanted to be doing. Then I saw a new market, so I went for it, I'm making more money now than I ever was with the old place."
"So what kind of place is it now?"
"I though you'd been there?"
"We didn't go in."
"Ah, well it's a gay bar, lots of dancing, drag show three nights a week, karaoke on Tuesdays, pretty boys dancing in g-stings. I'm raking it in! And I tell you what, those boys are a darn sight better behaved than the guys in the old bar, even when they're blind drunk." He stopped walking when he sensed the two agents had stopped behind him. "Is there a problem with that?" he asked, trying to decipher the men's expressions.
"No, no problem," Ezra assured. "It's just... ironic." He glanced at Buck who was trying to suppress a smile.
"Oh, are you two...?"
"Not as yet, but we're working on it," Buck admitted.
"Good for you."
They all drove back to the club. "It's bigger, it's safer, it costs less to run, and it makes me more money than the old place, but it doesn't have any heart," Larry lamented nostalgically, as he let them in via the staff entrance. His office turned out to a large room, with a desk a wall of filing cabinets, a sofa, a very expensive recliner and a large TV, not to mention a bank of CCTV monitors showing every part of the club.
"I thought you were retired?" Buck asked, taking in the office.
"I'm still the owner, the manager runs the place day to day, I just like to keep an eye on things."
Ezra grinned. "Keeping them on their toes?"
"That's it. You gents take a seat, I'll see if I can track down that picture. I was lucky, the only things that survived the fire were the wheel and most of my old office. The files even survived the sprinklers and the fire hoses. Ironic isn't it? The only thing that survived was an old wooden wheel and a bunch of paper."
"The sprinklers didn't put out the fire?" Buck asked.
Larry snorted in disgust.
"Should have, that's what I paid for, that's what the fire regs say they're meant to do. We were having a drought; water pressure was so low all that came out was a trickle. Fire took hold of the roof, by the time it burnt down it was so hot the water just evaporated. If it had been at night, when we were open." He shook his head ruefully. "I don't even like to think about it. Anyway, I sued the water company. That's how I built this place, that and the insurance."
"Mr White sir, you are a man after my own heart," Ezra complemented.
"Here you go." White pulled out a file. "I always reckoned I paid for the pictures I should at least get to keep some of them." He rifled through the folder for a moment. "Joanna Foster. Yup she was hot in a trashy kind of way, and Cindy Wilmington, who was just plain hot, in every way." He handed over the pictures.
Buck recognised the one of his mother; she'd used it many times to get work. Passing it to Ezra, he looked at the second picture, at the woman who was very probably his mother. All the evidence pointed to her being inadequate at best, abusive, possibly even a murderess, at worst. A fake blonde with a slight squint looked back at him. What, he wondered, would have become of him in her care?
"Um, can we get copies of these?" Ezra asked.
Larry, who was puzzled by what appeared to be very intense reactions to both pictures, went back to his folder, he'd shown them the large prints he'd used to publicise the shows, but he had smaller versions. Pulling out a 3 x 4 of each picture he offered them these.
"Have these, I have the negatives after all."
Buck put the large picture down, and took the two smaller ones.
Ezra returned the picture he was holding. "Do you have any documentation on them, employment records, social security numbers, anything like that?" he asked.
"I may, no guarantees, why don't you fire up the Xerox, damn thing takes an age to get ready to do anything." He began to rifle through drawers of old files.
Larry eventually found the hand written 'personal information' sheets for both women. With photocopies of these Buck gave White a perfunctory 'good-bye' and left.
Ezra watched him go and then turned back to their host.
"Thank you sir, you have been very generous with your time and very, very helpful in our investigation," Ezra explained as he prepared to leave.
"Well, I'm always happy to help the good guys - you know? Besides, in this game it pays to keep the law on your side."
"I can imagine that it does, and you have indeed been of great assistance. Good-day."
Buck sat in the car and waited for Ezra to join him. The air conditioning made the small place bearable. The two of them sat there, in silence for a long time. Finally Ezra decided he needed to say something.
"What do you want to do now?" he asked quietly.
Buck looked back across the car park at the club. "Go back to Las Vegas," he finally said. "I've got a bad feeling about this Stevens guy. If they find him, I want to be there."
"Very well, we'll need to get some tickets and return the car."
"Do we need to go all the way back to Jackson?" Buck asked, looking over at Ezra.
"No, we can drop it at the airport if we go from New Orleans."
Buck's response was to fire up the ignition. They'd been on the road about twenty minutes before Buck spoke again. Until then the only sound had been Ezra, booking their flights on his cell phone.
"I guess I can do some more research when we get there. Las Vegas. Now I've got her social security number and birthday."
"It shouldn't be too difficult," Ezra agreed.
"I meant I might even be able to find my original birth certificate too, maybe even..." his voice tailed off.
"Maybe what?" Ezra asked softly.
"Find out who my father was, I always wondered about him."
"Well you may yet find out, but then again."
"I know, the chances are she didn't know or didn't record it."
Ezra could hear all too well the emotion in the voice of the man he now knew, beyond doubt, that he loved.
"I feel I should apologise again, I had no right to interfere, it might have been easier if you had never known."
Buck was so affected by Ezra's words he almost lost control of the car. Once he had it under control he spoke, keeping his voice as even as he could.
"Don't say that. The truth was there, on the page in black and white, sooner or later it was gonna come out. I'd rather hear it from you than some stranger, given enough time I might even have worked it out on my own, then I'd have been out here on my own. And that..." He took his eyes off the road for a second to smile at Ezra. "...that would have been bad. My life has just turned on its head, I don't know who I am, or even what I am, but in all this I have always known one thing - that you were here with me. I don't think I could have done this without you."
"You know how I feel, I'm your friend, hopefully I can be more, but whatever you need, if I can help, I will."
"I know. Damn, listen to us will you? We're turning into a damn Hallmark movie! Find something on the radio to cheer us up!"
Ezra smiled as he flicked on the radio and searched for a station they could both enjoy. He found one playing 'California Dreaming'; they both sang along.
They had sung along to three more songs when Buck reached out and flicked off the radio.
"How do you alter a birth certificate?" he asked. "You said it was expertly done?"
"It was. On white paper like that it's not that hard. I'm not an expert you understand. But I believe to do a simple job like that, changing an eight to a three, you use bleach. That's what I saw, close up you can just see that the edges of the three aren't as crisp as they should be and the paper is a fractionally lighter shade were the ink had been bleached out. But it requires a huge amount of skill and experience to only remove that little bit of ink and not leach into the rest of the number or destroy the paper."
"Ma and Joanna left just before the fourth of July and the birth was registered on the eleventh, so..."
"So she didn't waste much time."
"Right!" With that Buck executed a perfect U-turn and started back for Biloxi.
"What are you doing?"
"My mother was no master forger, so what are the chances that she was going to ever meet one and get him, or her, to work for her? Answer none, yet she got that birth certificate as soon as she possibly could. Now we know why she did it - right?"
"She needed proof that you were hers, she needed papers to get you into school, mostly she needed a social security number." It suddenly dawned on Ezra what must have happened. "Of course - social security number! Once she had that, she would probably never have to produce that certificate again. All you had to do to get a number for a child was produce a birth certificate. In those days, before computerisation, they weren't going to go all the way to Alexandria and check the original, they'd just take the copy they were shown."
"Right, and once she had that, a genuine social security card, she could get me Medicare, get me into school, driving licence, it got me into the army, college."
"It made Buck Wilmington a real person. Chances are William Foster was never issued with one, since he didn't go to school, as far as the government is concerned, he doesn't exist."
"She knew she wasn't going to be able to get one for a kid of five. I mean I know you can, but it's a lot of hassle, lots of questions; so she gets a regular birth certificate and since five years is too big a discrepancy to hide, she must have already known how to get it altered. And who did she know who could have helped her find a forger?"
Larry had returned to his boat, which was where they found him.
"White!" Buck shouted, climbing on the boat, not bothering to ask permission or take his shoes off.
"What the hell!" By the time White had realised who it was and what was going on, Buck was in the cockpit and in his face.
"I want the truth. All of it!" he demanded.
"I told you what I remembered, it was a very long time ago. Now get the hell off my boat."
Buck didn't move.
"Mr White sir, you would be well advised to relinquish any further information you may have - for your own safety," Ezra advised lazily.
Larry swallowed as he looked from Ezra, then back to the truly dangerous looking man before him.
"What I told you, it was true, all of it, it's just..."
"Just what?" Buck demanded.
"Cindy called me, about a month after she left."
"She wanted me to get Morty to do a job for her, said she could pay him."
"And just who or what is a Morty?" Ezra asked.
"Morty Roux, he was a customer, a regular. See Morty was an artist, he painted the sea, the lighthouse, boats, that kind of thing, if he sold more than three pictures a year he was happy, but he always had money. It doesn't pay to ask too many questions, so I didn't, until..."
"Until what?" Buck prompted.
"I caught him try to pass a fake twenty. It was a good one; chances were he's done it before. Anyway, I pulled him in to my office and told him if I ever caught him again he'd be banned and I'd turn him over to the cops, no second chances."
"She knew about this?"
He nodded. "She overheard the whole thing."
"So what was this job she wanted done?"
"I honestly don't know. Morty agreed to the job, Cindy sent me a letter containing a package - the job, plus the money. I just handed it over, he returned it and I posted it back to her. She called me a few days later and told me to pay him."
"Where did you post it?" Ezra asked.
"Post office box in Texas, that's all I remember."
"You're telling me you didn't look inside that package, that she trusted you with the money?"
"Why wouldn't she trust me? I looked after my girls, I didn't take advantage of them, I treated them fair... especially her."
Buck pounced on that. "What does that mean?"
"Cindy was different, she wasn't interested in the house, husband, kids and happy-ever after all the others seemed to want. In fact, if you ask me, she didn't trust men who wanted to marry her, and there were plenty of them. I guess if you looked like she did, then most men who pay you attention are only after one thing."
That stuck a chord with Buck, his Ma always had a somewhat cynical attitude to the traditional family unit.
"Yeah, that was true right enough, she didn't trust men," he commented. "Thanks, again, for your help. I'm glad you were there for here when she needed someone."
Larry looked up at Buck. "Just who are you?"
"I'm Buck Wilmington." With that Buck turned and headed off the boat.
Larry stood there, a look of utter confusion on his face. Ezra patted him on the back as he passed him, following Buck off the boat. "Don't worry, you'll work it out."
Henry Stevens was located working for the company fitting out the new casino, all the carpenters were asked for a DNA sample and all supplied one. While they waited for the results, the police kept him under surveillance. The DNA linked Stevens to all the three latest killings. He was arrested at his apartment and brought in for questioning.
"What have you found?" Grissom asked Greg as he came into the lab.
"The murder weapon." He held up a slim chisel. "Blood from all three victims."
Grissom raised an eyebrow, as he took the clear bag containing the weapon. "What about Cindy Wilmington?"
"Well it was a long shot. Thanks."
"Mr Grissom?" Gil turned to find Buck Wilmington, who, despite the clean clothes and fresh shave, was looking somewhat the worse for wear. Just behind Buck was another man, who, since Gil didn't recognise him and he was wearing a visitor's badge, he assumed had to be Standish, the man Nick had spoken to on the phone.
"Welcome back and thank you for the information."
"You got him?" Buck asked.
"Yes and before you ask, yes he did it, well the last three at least. His DNA matches samples we gathered at the crime scenes and from the victims. Their blood was all over one of his chisels."
"What about Ma?"
Gil shook his head. "Sorry, we've got nothing to link him with her killing, other than circumstantial evidence."
"Can I see him?"
Grissom hesitated, Buck Wilmington was an ex army, ex cop, Federal Agent, he should have the control to face his mother's killer and not jeopardise the case or his own career. On the other hand, he was a big man, no doubt trained to kill. If he lost control he could do a great deal of damage in a very short time. Gil's feeling of unease wasn't helped when he saw the look of concern on Standish's face.
"You may observe," he finally conceded.
Stevens looked a lot like his brother, thin and angular. He sat in the interrogation room, feigning indifference, apparently relaxed as he slouched in the chair. Yet the foot that rested across his knee twitched maniacally, flicking up and down at a frantic pace, and every now and again he'd lift his eyes to the uniformed officer standing beside the door then across at the wide mirror that took up most of one wall.
Buck and Ezra, behind the mirror, watched Grissom enter, still carrying the chisel in a clear evidence bag. With him was the dour looking man in a suit, who had been introduced to them just minutes earlier as Jim Brass. The uniformed officer left.
"Mr Stevens," Grissom began. "This is the chisel we took from your tool box."
"Yeah, so?" As soon as he spoke the thick Mississippi accent was clear. "What of it?"
"There is blood on it."
"So, I cut myself sometimes, its part of the job." To illustrate his point he held up a finger, the tip of which was encased in a grimy Band-Aid that looked like it was at least a week old.
"It isn't your blood, it's the blood of Mary-Jo Edmonds, Gail Simmons and Lucia Delmarco. They were all murdered with this chisel."
"You can't prove that it's mine, I leave my tool box open all day, anyone could have put that chisel in there," Stevens protested.
"You identified it as yours," Grissom reminded.
"It's a common brand, one chisel looks a lot like the next."
"Well that is possible I guess," Brass began, "but they found your finger prints all over the chisel."
"And we found your epiphilials - your DNA - at the crime scenes, we even found Bubinga wood," Grissom explained.
"You're guilty as hell Stevens. You hired them, you had sex and then you rammed a chisel into their chest, drove it up their breastbone and into their throat. We're not here to get a confession, we know you did it and we know you killed Cindy Wilmington, just before you were sent to prison." Brass sat back, staring at the men before him with a look of cold, clinical, professional detachment, that didn't quite hide his disdain.
"I want a lawyer," Stevens demanded.
"You'll get one, first tell us about Cindy."
"Cynthia Wilmington, AKA Cindy. You and she had a relationship just before you went to into the army," Grissom reminded.
"Never heard of her," Stevens sneered. He was guilty and they knew it, but he saw no reason to make it easy for them.
"Sure you have." Grissom sat back, folding his arms across his chest. "You were in Sin City, the pleasure capital of America, hedonism on tap. So you booked yourself a hooker, little did you know it was going to be your ex girlfriend. You had sex, then there was some kind of argument, about what I don't know, but you ended up killing her. And you know what?"
"It was a thrill. That night was the single most intense moment in you life since the war. Back in Vietnam you were in the infantry - a grunt - you were at the sharp end, living on the edge. Then you came back home and went back to carpentry. That's some change in pace isn't it? I don't think you meant to, you certainly didn't plan to, but it happened and it gave you a buzz didn't it? It got you high. It was like being back in the jungle wasn't it? That's why, when you got out of jail, you came right back here and you recreated that night. But the buzz didn't last did it? So you had to do it again, and again."
Stevens just stared at the two men. "They pay you to do this? Come up with stories?"
Behind the glass Buck had a flash of insight, one of those moments of clarity that you can't explain, when everything drops into place.
"Keep him here, don't let them end the interview," he instructed Ezra even as he headed for the door.
"Pardon? Where are you going?"
"Just keep him here, I'll be as quick as I can."
Buck ran down the corridor, headed back to the CSI labs.
"Stokes!" he called, spotting Nick near the door.
"Oh hi," Nick spun around, recognising Buck and smiling.
"I need something, something my mother would have had on her, I didn't get it back, so - with any luck - it's still with the evidence."
To his credit, Nick didn't stop to ask what was going on. "Well the evidence box is still here, let's take a look."
Nick removed the sturdy cardboard box from the locked cupboard. "Well, this is it."
Buck took a deep breath and removed the lid. Clothes, shoes and her purse. That was what he wanted. He forced himself to concentrate on his goal and not be distracted by the flood of memories that the bag produced. In the slim wallet containing her driver's licence and credit cards were two pictures, one of him on his seventeenth birthday and one of him with Cindy, aged about ten. That was what he wanted.
"I need to borrow this," he told Nick, holding up the wallet.
"You need to sign for it."
"No time, come with me."
Then, before Nick could react, Buck was headed back to the interrogation room. He knocked and walked in, not waiting for a response.
"Howdy boys!" Buck greeted cheerfully, dropping down into the only empty chair. "Mind if I join you?"
Grissom and Brass looked uneasy but nodded.
"Um, who are you?" Stevens asked. He turned to the two Las Vegas officers. "Who's he?"
"I'm the Fed, and I've been doing some research into your relationship with Cynthia Wilmington." Buck pulled Stevens attention back on to him.
"I told, them." Stevens pointed angrily at Grissom and Brass. "I never head of the woman."
Buck was on his feet again; he paced just to the side of Stevens.
"Sure you have Harry, you met her in Clay Cross, a dirt poor, dirt road, one horse town in Mississippi. That's where you went to school, isn't it? Where you grew up, where you learned carpentry in your daddy's factory and where you and Cindy had a relationship just before you joined the army. Then you met her again, right here in Vegas and you happened to see this."
Pausing, Buck pulled out the wallet and tossed it down on to the table in front of Stevens, opened up, so that both pictures were visible.
"I don't know how, but you knew something about her having a baby. When you saw this you assumed this boy was yours, you challenged her about him."
Stevens looked at the pictures, there was a slight change in his body language, a hint that Buck had struck a chord.
"This is what you argued about, isn't it?"
Stevens made no response.
"You thought she was carrying your child when she left and never told you," Buck challenged.
To their credit, Grissom and Brass kept quiet, letting Buck lead, trusting whatever insight he'd had into their suspect.
"So what happened? What did she tell you that made you snap?"
Grissom watched Buck as he paced again, never had he seen anyone look so much like a caged lion, there was a power there that he just hoped Buck had the control to keep in check. Stevens was feeling it too; he all but flinched every time Buck came close to him.
"Did she tell you he wasn't yours? Did she tell you the baby she had been carrying back then wasn't yours either. Or..." Buck stopped and leaned over the table to confront Stevens face to face. "Did she tell you the truth. That this boy wasn't your son, couldn't be, because she'd had an abortion, that she'd killed the baby. Your baby."
"Bitch," Stevens spat out. "She deserved to die."
Buck began to pace again.
"So tell us, tell us that happened." Grissom took over the questioning.
Relieved that the infinitely less threatening Las Vegas officer seemed to be back in charge, Stevens began to talk. Why shouldn't he? He had nothing to lose and they should know why he did it. He had had a good reason after all, she had deserved to die.
"I saw the picture. I only found out she was pregnant after I joined the army. Her best friend wrote to me, told me Cindy was having morning sickness and she though I should know. I wrote to her - Cindy - but she never replied. I tried to get home, but the army wouldn't give me compassionate leave on the basis of a schoolgirl's suspicions. When I got home, she'd gone. All I wanted was a chance to know my boy, I asked her, I pleaded but she kept saying he wasn't mine. So I asked her where my baby was, eventually she told me, she'd got rid of it, had an abortion. She murdered my child."
"So you killed her?"
"Yeah! We were fighting, I don't remember how it happened, but suddenly I found my chisel in my hand and I stuck her with it. An eye for an eye, that's what the bible says, a life for a life."
"Except the baby she aborted probably wasn't yours at all," Buck cut in again. "Not unless you raped her?"
"I never did!"
"Then it wasn't yours, she would never have aborted a baby unless she had no other choice."
"What the hell are you talking about? Just how would you know what she'd do?" Stevens accused angrily.
"I know, because that's me." Buck's hand slammed down on the table beside the pictures. "Me and my mother - you murdering bastard! She loved me and she loved life and she would never have killed that baby unless she had a damn good reason! You fucking bastard!"
Buck was right in the man's face now and he reacted by pushing his chair away and standing up.
"You killed the most beautiful, kind and loving woman in the whole word." Buck advanced on Stevens who backed away. There was something going on, some hidden agenda that Gil couldn't quite fathom, he could see it in Wilmington's eyes, in his body language, yet he couldn't work out what it was. Beside him he could feel the tension in Brass, and knew the experienced detective was trying to work out how much leeway to give Wilmington.
Stevens, fear now evident every faltering backwards step, had all but circled the table with Buck looming over him. And then it happened, Stevens moved just far enough to be beneath the CCTV camera recording the interview and Buck pounced! In no more than a heart beat Buck launched himself at his mother's killer. Taking hold of the man's shirt he propelled him backwards, pinning him up against the wall.
"I should slit you open right here like you did her!" he growled into his victim's ear, so close and so quiet that no microphone could have picked it up.
Even as Grissom and Brass were pulling him away, Buck was letting go of the man. However much he wanted to beat the wretch to a bloody pulp, it wasn't worth his career; his mother wouldn't want that.
"He can't do that!" Stevens protested.
"Can't do what?" Brass asked.
"That! He can't touch me, I got rights."
"I didn't see anything that infringed your rights."
"He hit me!"
"No he didn't," Grissom commented.
"You tripped, he stopped you falling."
Brass went to the door and called the uniformed officer back in to take the suspect away for processing.
Behind the glass Nick and Ezra had watched the whole encounter.
"Damn," Nick commented as they watched the explosive climax of the interrogation.
Ezra turned to look at the man beside him, easily reading the look on his face. "Hands off," he warned.
Nick turned and lifted an eyebrow. "Hands off?"
"I'm not in the market, but that doesn't mean I can't look."
Ezra just gave him a look, then headed out. He needed to get to Buck, who, ever since he'd let go of Stevens, had been standing in the corner of the small interview room.
Gil pulled down the blind over the two-way mirror. "Take as much time as you need," he told Ezra quietly as he left the room.
"Hi," Ezra said quietly.
Ezra sat down on the table, facing Buck, he didn't want to crowd him. "Stop that."
Buck lifted his eyes from the floor, puzzled. "Stop what?"
"Blaming yourself. Yes, he turned aggressive and killed her when he saw the picture of you and your mother, but that doesn't make it your fault. It was no-one's fault but his."
Buck nodded his acceptance of this, his logical brain told him it was true, but deep in his gut he still wasn't convinced.
"He killed her and it wasn't even his kid," he observed sadly.
"You're sure about that?"
Buck nodded. "I know my mother, no way she aborted a child without a real good reason. I just have this feeling about her father." Ezra nodded, he'd had the same feeling. "I'll never know for sure, but I just feel it."
"You're a good investigator, you have good instincts."
Buck shrugged. "This state has the death penalty."
"Lethal injection," Ezra confirmed.
Ezra had no way to know if this was a good or bad thing to Buck. From what he could remember, he always had the feeling Buck wasn't in favour of the death penalty. If his feelings had changed, he gave no indication.
Buck took a deep breath, raking his hands through his thick hair. "I don't know what to do. I keep thinking there is something I should be doing, something missing, but I don't know what it is."
"We don't need to do anything more to bring your mother's killer to justice. He killed her, he admitted that. The forensic evidence against him for the last three killings is overwhelming. He is going to be convicted, and in all likelihood he'll receive the death penalty."
Ezra stood up and closed the distance between them. "You are still you. You are Buck Wilmington. William Foster is dead; he died the day his mother took him to the river for a picnic. What happened that day? Who knows? Maybe he fell asleep, maybe he was drugged, maybe he was abandoned, maybe he got lost, maybe someone tried to kill him - we'll never know. But little Buck somehow came into the care of Cindy Wilmington - the only friend he had - and she made him her son and she loved him and cared for him and they made each other happy."
Ezra had been moving slowly toward Buck all this time. Now he stood right in front of him.
"And you are still my friend, I still care for you, so very, very much."
Then he did something he'd wanted to do for what seemed like forever, but had never dared attempt, he hugged Buck Wilmington. And Buck accepted the embrace, wrapping his own arms around Ezra, holding on to him for all he was worth.
That was when Buck knew what was missing, what he needed, this - physical contact, being held, being loved. He dropped his head down, resting it on Ezra's shoulder. It might have been a conscious decision or it might have been pure instinct, but he brushed a kiss to the smooth skin behind Ezra's ear.
"Thank you," he whispered, then he kissed Ezra again, more strongly.
"Nothing to thank me for," Ezra managed to say.
Buck moved so that their faces were just inches apart. Their eyes met and there was a connection as mutual desire and need was silently acknowledged and lips were joined. It wasn't a deep kiss, it wasn't a lustful kiss, but it was loving and caring and healing.
Grissom returned from watching Brass book Stevens on four counts of murder to find his lover watching a monitor outside the interview room. Looking over his shoulder Gil saw an image of the two men from Denver embracing. He reached around the flipped the monitor off, noting with relief that tape had been removed from the video.
"I pulled the blinds to give them some privacy," he chided.
Nick looked up and smiled. "It was sweet."
"Hope you haven't forgotten what you promised if we broke the case?"
Grissom let a seductive smile cross his face. "Oh believe me, I haven't forgotten."
Stevens appeared before the arraignment judge and was remanded into custody on four counts of murder. Three days after that, with all the evidence logged, Cindy Wilmington could finally be re-interred. Buck stood beside her original grave, with the original head stone he'd purchased when he came out of the army. It was a typical Las Vegas day - hot and dry, the sun beating down out of a clear blue sky.
"Well Ma, you're home again, the sun's shining, I got you some carnations, I remember you like those. Sorry you were disturbed, but it was in a good cause."
He had been standing, but, as he placed the flowers on the grave, he sat down cross-legged beside the newly turned soil.
"I know now, I know, well I guess not all of it, but some of what happened. I know what you did for me, how much you gave up. I know who I am; I'm your son, that's all I have ever been. There's something else I want to tell you. It's taken some time, but I think I may have found someone, someone special. It's early days and I'm not sure how it will work out, but I get this feeling in my gut whenever I'm with him, so keep your fingers crossed for us Ma." He looked over toward the entrance to the cemetery. "See, that's him over there, the one with the sun glasses on, sitting on the bench, pretending to catch some sun, while behind those fancy designer shades he's really watching me. See Ma he cares about me, he's stuck by me in all this. You'd have liked him." He stood up. "Bye Ma, I love you."
Ezra sat up as soon as he saw Buck walking back toward him.
"All right?" he asked.
Buck smiled, a genuine 'Buck' smile. "Yes, it's over."
A hesitant smile came over Ezra's face. "What?" Buck asked.
"I think we need to go back to the car."
"Ezra? What's going on?"
Ezra turned toward the gate. "I need to show you something." He looked back over his shoulder. "Trust me?"
Once they were sitting in the air-conditioned rental car, Ezra pulled a folder out of the glove box.
"I did some research on your behalf, one arrived yesterday by courier, the others I received by e-mail."
Ezra pulled the first document out and handed it over. It proved to be Joanna Foster's birth certificate, she was born in New York, her father had been a fireman, and judging by the dates, she was only sixteen or so when Buck was born.
"She was a long way from home," Buck commented.
Ezra pulled the other two documents out. One was a birth certificate for William Matthew Foster.
"Texas! Lubbock Texas? Oh my God."
Ezra tried not to laugh. "Sorry."
"That damn, scrawny assed Texan is never gonna let this go. Ah hell! He's gonna expect me to support the fucking Cowboys."
"Um," Ezra said, clear warning in his voice.
"That may not be the only thing he's not going to let go, check out your father's middle name."
Buck hadn't registered that there was a name listed for his father; he'd just assumed it would be blank.
"Oh. My. God!"
"Oh fuck. Are you sure this is..."
Ezra pointed to the box marked 'Occupation', which was filled in as 'deceased'. Then he handed Buck the third document. It was a death certificate issued in Winslow Arizona. Buck read it carefully. It told him of the death of one Matthew Foster, a seventeen year old ranch hand, killed instantly when his horse was spooked by a snake and threw him, breaking his neck. His listed second name, just as it was on Buck's real birth certificate, was Two Feathers.
"Hum," Buck commented.
"That is one way to look at it."
"Or even, as JD would say, awesome." Buck turned and looked at Ezra, head slightly on one side. "Winslow? Navajo you reckon?"
"That would be most likely."
"Says here his father's name was Raymond Evans and his Ma's maiden name was Bel-Hso."
"You will notice that under race it is marked MR, possibly for 'mixed race'? One could surmise that Matthew Foster was Native American on his mother's side." Ezra paused for a moment. "It occurs to me that Mr Tanner is very proud of his Native American inheritance."
"Well now he ain't gonna be the only one. Vin's only one eighth Comanche, looks to me like I'm a quarter Navajo."
"You can form a war party," Ezra commented dryly, pleased to see Buck suppressing his laughter in response to the comment.
"It's wired." Buck turned his attention back to the piece of paper in his hand. "I never had a father, never knew his name or anything about him and now, after all these years, here he is, in my hands. A seventeen year old, half Navajo ranch hand, who was killed before I was even born. Poor guy, he didn't have much of a life did he?" He took a deep breath and let it go slowly; finally he looked over at Ezra and smiled. "Guess that's were I get my dark hair from."
"Quite likely, not to mention your fine bone structure. One might then surmise Joanne..." Ezra was most careful not to call her 'your mother'. "...was the one with the lovely blue eyes."
Buck took a moment to think about that. "You think my eyes are lovely?" he finally asked.
"Indeed, quite beautiful."
Ezra was touched and a little amused to see a blush rise in Buck's cheeks. "Shall we go home?"
"Home, damn that sounds good. Feels like I've been away forever." He gave a little chuckle. "Won't be going back the same man I was when I left, and that's for sure."
Ezra had to agree. "You're going back with a father and a whole new ethnic heritage."
"Well there is that, but what I meant was, I'm going back with you."
"As in with you."
"Oh, well, oh... I'm..."
Buck leaned over and kissed Ezra on the lips. "Damn you're cute when you're lost for words."
With that Buck started the car and pulled out of the cemetery car park, heading for the airport.
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