A/N: Back again after too long an absence. My apologies to all. Life (and a bout of writer's block) intervened again. I won't bore you with the details, but I really do feel bad about taking so long to update. Thanks to all who sent reviews and inquiries about my well-being. Unfortunately, I was only able to answer a few of them.
Also, thanks to my beta Maekala for making sure each entry is as error-free as possible.
This was not the way Catherine Willows had planned her Saturday. She should have been off hours ago, relatively rested and ready to help chaperone a birthday skating party for Lindsey's best friend. Instead, her mother was once again filling in the parental void, and Catherine was breaking speed limits on her way to Grissom's townhouse, hoping to arrive in time to prevent undue damage.
In retrospect, she realized she should have anticipated something of this sort. Garza was determined to dig up some kind of dirt he could construe as evidence of complicity with Dan Stevens' larcenous schemes. What surprised her was that he'd actually been able to secure a search warrant on nothing more than his own unsupported suspicions – until she found out which judge had signed the warrant. Robert Laird had yet to deny IA any request submitted, no matter how flimsy the justification.
Grissom's call had found her still at the lab, struggling with the inevitable paperwork that was part and parcel of even temporary supervisory duties, and his words had impelled her to abandon the shift reports unfinished. "Get over to my place now," he'd commanded. "Garza got a search warrant, and he's on his way. I don't suppose he's called you about meeting him there like I asked him to?"
Of course she'd gotten no such call from Garza.
She saw them as she pulled to a tire-screeching halt. Garza and a uniformed officer were two steps from the front door. One of them carried a short pry bar that would irrevocably destroy the lock. Catherine let loose a long blast on the horn, drawing their attention to her as she killed the engine and threw open the door.
"Hold up!" she yelled. "I've got the key."
For a moment she thought Garza was going to ignore her and order the officer to pop the door by force. His face tightened with annoyance verging on anger. The uniformed man, however, stepped back, giving Catherine time to approach.
"What are you doing here, Ms. Willows?" Garza asked abruptly. "I'm carrying out a lawful search."
"That's a matter of opinion," she said curtly. "And I'm here to keep you from pissing off any more people more than you already have. Why didn't you call and ask for the key?"
Garza answered her with a seemingly negligent shrug. "You were supposed to be off duty. I tried calling you at home, left a message."
"Yeah," Catherine said dryly. "I'll just bet you did."
"Grissom called you?" Garza surmised as Catherine unlocked the door.
"Right after you left," she confirmed. "I guess he knows your style well enough by now to realize you'd take any excuse you could find to do more damage."
Garza bulled his way past her into the townhouse, forcing her to take a step back or be knocked down. "You've done your duty," he said dismissively. "You can leave now."
Catherine followed him inside. "Not a chance," she countered.
"Then stay out of the way."
"I'd like to see the warrant," Catherine said flatly. "I want to know exactly what the scope is."
Garza regarded her with disdain. "Are you the owner of this property, Ms. Willows?" he asked. "Or the owner's attorney?"
"No. But I am acting on Grissom's behalf, since he's unable to be present for this farce. But then, you know that, Captain Garza," she added, "since he specifically asked you to contact me to gain access to his home."
Garza made no other comments as he handed over his copy of the warrant. He didn't wait for her to read it before he began rifling through the contents of every shelf and drawer he could find. He wasn't particularly tidy, leaving books flopped over on their sides, papers disarrayed. Catherine bit her tongue to keep from objecting to his disregard for personal property, but knew that it would do no good and might just cause the IA captain to be even more careless.
The scope of the search warrant was limited to financial records and correspondence, both written and electronic, that would indicate either a motive for involvement in the second theft of the SunWays money or an existing relationship with Dan Stevens outside normal work contacts. Garza carefully boxed up three years worth of bank statements, cancelled checks and routine household bills, Grissom's laptop computer, and another sizeable file containing investment records. Catherine made sure he listed everything – and in excruciating detail – on the seizure inventory form.
Catherine's cell phone rang while Garza was busily delving into the depths of the bedroom closet, looking for exactly what, she wasn't entirely sure. She didn't recognize the number that came up on the caller ID, but assumed it was something at least quasi-official since very few people had this particular number. She retreated to the far side of the room for a semblance of privacy while she answered the call. By the time she flipped the phone shut again, her dislike of the IA team had swelled even more, and she had to grit her teeth to keep from lashing out at Garza.
The captain had apparently overheard her end of the conversation. His face assumed a false smile as he turned to see her glaring daggers at him. "Is there a problem, Ms. Willows?" he asked.
"None at all," Catherine replied, her own smile as counterfeit as Garza's. "And, by the way, don't imagine for an instant that we part company at the sidewalk when you're done here." She allowed a hint of venom to color her voice. "I'll be going with you when you search Nick's house, too."
His dark eyes expressed nothing to indicate how he felt about that pronouncement, which Catherine assumed was probably just as well. She certainly didn't want to get into a prolonged exchange with him about his tactics. Her temper was already frayed at having her plans abruptly tossed into disarray, and the call she'd just received from one of the nurses at Desert Palms hadn't helped. Apparently, Garza had made a stop by Nick's room as well. Nick had been sleeping at the time, and the IA captain had so considerately refrained from waking him, choosing instead to serve the warrant by depositing it on the injured man's bed for him to find when he woke on his own.
She couldn't quite contain the annoyance that bubbled to the surface. "Were you born a jackass," she queried, "or did you have to practice to get this good at it?"
He answered her with only a coldly cryptic smile before he announced, "I think we're done here." He walked out of the room and out of the house without waiting for her to lock up and follow.
The man drove like a maniac. Catherine lost sight of him several times on the drive to Nick's house. She finally gave up trying to follow his exact route, instead relying on her knowledge of the faster, if less traveled, roads to reach her destination at the same time as Garza. She was unwilling to trust that he would wait for her.
Again she reviewed the warrant, and again she found that its scope was strictly limited. Garza, standing with his hands planted firmly on his hips, spent a few minutes visually surveying the interior of Nick's home. His gaze swept the space, pausing with considerable interest on the new 42-inch flat-screen television, a sophisticated sound system, and the almost new laptop computer sitting on the table that served as both dining space and desk.
"Your boy certainly seems to like his electronic gadgets," he commented thoughtfully. "It looks like he's got quite a bit invested in them – and all fairly recently."
Catherine perched on one of the stools at the breakfast bar separating kitchen from living area. "Do you remember those storms we had a couple of months ago?" she asked. "The ones that knocked out power to half the city? Well, this neighborhood was pretty hard hit. In fact, lightning struck a transformer just down the street. The power surge fried home electronics all up and down this block – including Nick's."
Garza appeared unappeased. "How fortunate that he was able to replace everything with top of the line equipment," he observed. "But maybe he was expecting a windfall?"
"Only in the form of an insurance check, which covered a lot of the cost," Catherine replied with a tight smile. "But you'll see that for yourself if you actually bother to look at his finances."
As Grissom's had been, Nick's personal records were well organized. Catherine had noticed early on that the organizational skills honed on a job that demanded careful documentation and order tended to spill over into all of their personal lives. She silently blessed those habits; they meant Garza would be able to collect his spoils and free her from her responsibility that much sooner.
She once again made sure that every scrap of paper, every computer diskette, matched the seizure list the uniformed officer compiled as he boxed up the materials Garza indicated. As soon as he was done and started carrying the boxes out to Garza's sedan, Catherine turned to the IA captain. "I hope you've already started drafting your apology," she said bitterly. "You're going to owe both these guys a big one when this is over."
Garza's flat stare reminded her of a venomous snake's. "I don't apologize for doing my job, Ms. Willows."
"You're not doing your job," Catherine retorted. "You're just getting your jollies by making life miserable for two honest men."
This time when Garza brushed past her to leave, she didn't even try to follow.