ATF xover "CSI"
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
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 and was completed before the episode 'Compulsion' was aired.
Size: Approx: 185K
Contains graphic files which may require a few seconds to download.
"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 couldnt 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."
+ + + + + + +
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. Beds 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, just over twenty 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 Thats 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. Itd 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 hed 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. Hed 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 hed 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. Shed 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."
"Thats 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. "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? Maybe these men, his Team, his friends, were finally rubbing off on him? The lift doors opened, taking him by surprise.
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. "Thats 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 doesnt work that way. We all have two blood markers or lack of marks - thats 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 doesnt 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."
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 doesnt 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 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. Ezra scrutinised the menu outside each restaurant they came to.
"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 throats 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.
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 spoilt child, 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, worried that he'd see pity or curiosity in his friends eyes, but founding 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 even breathing seemed to indicate he was sleeping and 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. Hed 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. Hed 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 squinted at the bag's contents. "Kind of dark arent they?"
"That's what I thought." Grissom continued to look at the enlarged photo of the wood chips.
"You do know it's quitting time - right?
This time Gil did look up. "Already?"
Nick shook his head turned to head home, almost running into Buck.
"Oh hi," he greeted.
"I came for the DNA report?"
"Oh shit, yeah, sorry, I have it, just hang on, I'll get it for you."
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 while 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."
"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.
"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?"
"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!"