ATF xover "CSI"
When Nick came into work for his next shift, Grissom was in the lab, still studying the tiny wood chips.
"You been here all since yesterday?" he asked.
"No, but I still haven't identified that wood."
"Well maybe we could 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.
Having admitted defeat, Grissom followed Nick to the break room and acsepted a coffee from him.
Nick took a sip from his own steaming cup. "What do you make of Wilmington?" he asked.
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 mothers DNA profile."
"I told you, he doesnt 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?"
+ + + + + + +
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 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?" Grissom, picking up the phone. "What?" He looked at the clock, the shift was only minuets old. "Say that again?" He requested. "We'll be there."
He strode into the conference room, where the others had gathered for their normal shift briefing.
"People, there's been another one."
"Another what?" Sarah asked.
"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 last killing, he was on a stake out at the time, given that he had already left Las Vegas, before this latest killing, he was no longer any kind of suspect. 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. Lets 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?"
"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? Hes also a doctor but he doesnt 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 arent 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 let's 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 dont 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. Im 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 doesnt it?"
"Why are you here? This is my problem, my mystery!" Buck all but shouted.
Ezra frowned. "Because I'm your friend, because I was worried about you, because I care about you."
"I I apologise, thank you, for everything, you're a good friend Ezra P Standish."
+ + + + + + +
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 and handed Buck a key. "Here, you're in twenty one, I'm in twenty three."
+ + + + + + +
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.
+ + + + + + +
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 sheriffs 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."
"So what are you having boys?" the waitress asked.
"Well ma'am," Ezra began. "It all sounds positively divine, but its been so long, Im 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.
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. Cant 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'. Sheriffd 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?"
"I don't "
"Deloris honey, we arent 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 arent 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 ladys time."
"I believe so. Good evening, dear lady."
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 rooms," he announced, a pair of room keys hanging from his fingers.
Buck picked up his bag. "They've got a laundry room; I'm gonna wash some of my things, you want to do yours?"
Thinking of how much he'd sweated in the Mississippi heat Ezra thought it a very good idea.
While the majority of their clothing was washing, they checked out the local food situation.
They found a restrunt that looked okay, it was famous, acording to the sign outside, for it's catfish.
Fresh from the shower and dressing in newy laundered clothes Buck opened the door to Ezra, assuming it was time to go and eat. Ezra how ever was looking desidedly grim.
"Have you been watching CNN?" he asked.
"Nope, just got out of the shower, what's happened?"
"There was another murder in Vegas, another girl was stabbed, just like the last one," he explained quietly. "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 his room, saying he was going to take another shower, he looked almost as stiff as he had all day.
An hour later he knocked on Ezra's door.
"Guess we need to decide what we're gonna do tomorrow?"
"Please come in." Ezra stood back and let Buck enter. He sat wearily on the end of one of the beds. Seeing the tension in him still Ezra decided to take a risk.
"Do you trust me?"
Buck craned his head around to look quizzically at Ezra. "I think itd be a bit late if I didn't, dont you?"
"Stay where you are. You look so tense, I'd like to see if I can help you."
"When I was younger, I would give mother shoulder massages when she was tense."
"Maude? You used to massage Maude?"
"Why not, she is my mother, for all her faults and failings. Now are you going to let me do this?"
Buck nodded and so Ezra set about trying to work the knots out of Buck's shoulders and neck. He worked steadily and methodically in silence, one by one he kneaded and teased the muscles under his hands into relaxation.
"I'm no expert. I hope I've done some good," Ezra confessed when he was done.
"You did and I appreciate it. So the questions remains, what do I do now?"
"I? Dont 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 Denver, 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."
+ + + + + + +
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 didnt 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 dont remember that much about it. Why dont 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 ladys 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 Nick Stokes in Las Vegas.
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 asked without taking his eyes of his computer screen.
"Someone called Ezra Standish, he's a friend of Wilmington. They have news," Nick explained.
Nick waited for Grissom's razor sharp brain to snap into gear. Finally Grissom looked up. "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's eyes blazing with that fierce intellect of his.
"Did he now? Well let us locate Mr Stevens."
+ + + + + + +
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, didnt 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 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 it's what friends do. 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 doesnt 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 mothers 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 doesnt 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."