by Burked and Mossley
Rating: PG-13, just to be safe
Archive: Please ask first I might say yes.
Disclaimer: We have no rights to CSI. It belongs to CBS, Alliance Atlantis, Anthony Zuicker and any number of persons and entities other than us.
Feedback: Love it, but no flames please I'm fragile!!
Author's Note: Many thanks to Marlou and Ann for consenting to beta for us.
Summary: This story is the second part of a two-parter begun with Burked's "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream." A little of this fic may not be clear if you haven't read it, but it's not critical.
"I'm tired of playing games with you, Gil Grissom. I think it's time I show you just how serious I am." Angela Wyeth, the Angel of Death, "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream"
Chapter 1: The Proof is in the Puddin'
Chairs flew every direction as the four CSIs and their supervisor, Gil Grissom, bolted from the break room at the sound of a series of blood-curdling screams. The terror was evident in the high-pitched screeching coming from the front part of the building.
Scared and curious faces gathered at the doors to the labs as all the technicians tried to see what was happening. Grissom shouted at them to get back, not only to clear the hallways, but for their own protection, not knowing what might await them.
Brass met up with them at the junction of two corridors, his weapon drawn and held towards the ceiling. Barking at the CSIs to let him go first, Brass slowed when he got to the receptionist's desk, scanning everywhere for the cause of Judy's alarm.
Grissom and Brass slowly walked up to her desk, which she had abandoned, pressing herself back against the wall behind it, staring in stark terror at the desk that was partially hidden by a short cubicle wall.
"What is it, Judy?" Brass asked, taking another moment to quickly scan the approaches to the area.
She was completely unable to utter whole coherent words, stammering and gasping, as she pointed down to the desk.
Grissom rounded the short cubicle wall, his eyes immediately drawn to an opened box, still sitting on the brown shipping paper that Judy had apparently carefully removed. Inside the plain cardboard container was a gallon-sized plastic ziplock bag - the kind commonly used to store food.
Blood obscured much of the view into the bag, but it obviously contained an organ of some sort, its dark skin kissing against the plastic in places.
"Who's got a glove?" Grissom snapped, looking around quickly. Eight hands began digging and patting at pockets. Nick was the only one already wearing his vest, and was the first to find one, handing it over to Grissom.
Snapping it on in one fluid motion, he grasped the bag just below the ziplock, figuring that the top would be the most likely place for prints. He lifted the bag to get a better view, giving the other CSIs their first decent look at it.
Judy threw a clammy palm over her mouth, squelching another peal, and began to gag. Her terrified eyes avoided the bag, instead seeking reassurance from her co-workers, but finding none as they all were mesmerized by the object of her revulsion.
"Wha... What... is that?" she choked out between waves of nausea.
"It would appear to be a human heart," Grissom said, cocking his head and turning the bag around.
"Oh my God!" Judy gasped, turning to bolt towards the ladies room.
"Sara," Grissom called, jerking his head towards the direction Judy had run.
"I'll go talk to her," Sara answered, knowing that this was no doubt the first time that Judy had come face-to-face with the sort of gore they dealt with almost daily.
"This could be quite a time-saver. Just mail the bodies in," Brass joked, though his face was anything but jovial.
Setting the bag gingerly back in the box, Grissom slid out the brown wrapping paper from underneath it, turning it over to see the front. It was sent to the lab in general, the machine-printed label giving up no immediate clues.
The return address said it was from the Journal of Forensic Sciences, but the postmark was Las Vegas instead of West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, where the journal is published. The postage showed it was sent USPS overnight express, using postage that could be purchased out of machines at any post office.
The Medical Examiner made his way through the burgeoning crowd, having already heard through the grapevine that there was something that would interest him at the reception desk.
Looking up at the clock instinctively to note the time, Robbins stated the obvious as he pulled on a set of latex gloves. "Based on my many years of vast medical experience, I'd venture that this person is dead." He took the bag from the box to take a closer look, holding it carefully midway down.
"Ya think?" Catherine quipped.
"Nick, get the wrapping to Questioned Documents right away. Tell Ronnie it's hot, to push everything else aside. Have Jacqui go to QD to work with Ronnie. I don't want any possible prints compromised."
"Will do," Nick answered, picking up the paper with a gloved hand, barking at the crowd to part as he headed for his destination. The paper could eventually get passed to Greg to search for epithelials, and the last thing he needed would be DNA donations from half the lab.
"Catherine," Grissom said, handing her the assignment slips for the morning. "Sara and I will work the heart. You three cover the rest."
"Sure," she said, mindful of standing in a crowd of onlookers. "Can I talk to you a second?" she asked, nodding towards the locker room.
Once the locker room door was closed, Catherine glanced around quickly to ensure they were alone.
"Gil, are you sure Sara should work with you on this one?"
"Why shouldn't she work with me?" he asked. They hadn't worked together in over a week, not since he had first spent the day at Sara's house, finally giving in to his obsession with her. He had a little difficulty at first adjusting to working around her, but he had just begun to overcome that.
"That's not what I mean," Catherine said, sensing his discomfort. "I mean, she's pretty much just recovered from the effects of sleep deprivation and being poisoned with psilocybin. This case strikes me as the type that could take a while. You know her. She could get too wrapped up in it. Maybe her load should be lighter for a few more days."
"I'll keep an eye on her," he promised, averting his gaze, hoping to not give away the fact that he had been keeping a very close eye on her for a week, almost twenty-four hours a day, as a matter of fact.
"So, you guys getting anything worked out?" Catherine asked, lowering her voice slightly, despite the emptiness of the room.
"I'm trying to be a more attentive supervisor," Grissom said evenly.
"That's not what I'm talking about," Catherine said, shaking her head.
"Oh. Well, I'm also trying to be a more attentive friend," he ventured, hoping to deter Catherine from further prying.
"That's closer," she nodded, laughing softly at his reticence. "Gil ..."
"Catherine, you've got a lot of cases to get started tonight. I've got a disembodied heart, and a secretary who could probably use a shot of thorazine. We'll need to continue this conversation some other time," he said, reaching around her for the door.
"Just checking on your heart," she said gently, moving back from the door.
"My heart's fine," he assured her, giving her a small smile
* * * * *
It was hard work, for the second time in as many days, but she'd never been one to avoid effort. While she had lived in Las Vegas for the past few years, she hadn't been raised a city slicker like so many of the people she saw here. Most of them had never seen a callous, much less developed any.
Soft and weak. They'd never survive if they didn't have a grocery store on every corner. Paying other people to raise and kill their food. No way they'd have the discipline to butcher their own meat. They wouldn't know how to do for themselves or go without. Weaklings.
Her gloved hands sticky with blood, she pushed her hair out of her eyes with the inside of her arm, giving up as it fell back into her face. She had been anxious to get this chore done and had uncharacteristically forgotten to put her hair up. She wouldn't make that mistake again. She never made a mistake twice, if at all humanly possible.
Rinsing the blood from each part of the carcass wasn't just to make it more presentable, but to allow a thin coat of ice to form around it, protecting it further as she slipped each piece into a separate bag before stacking it neatly in the chest freezer.
That's two carcasses. A full chest freezer. They should last a while, if I pace myself.
She meticulously cleaned the food preparation area and butcher block, putting the cleaver and knives in the dishwasher after rinsing them in hot water to remove the blood. Even though the dishwasher would do the same thing, she didn't like the idea of all that blood circulating over the other dishes.
She removed the blade from the jigsaw, also rinsing it and putting it with the other sharps in the dishwasher. She reminded herself to take it out immediately after the wash was done, to dry it before it had a chance to rust.
Unplugging the power tool, she meticulously cleaned the outside. Sometimes it would come in contact with the meat she was butchering, and she hated the idea that it might not be perfectly clean. Even so, she knew she would wipe it down once again before she used it the next time.
You can't be too careful.
* * * * *
"Judy? You okay?" Sara asked sympathetically as she approached the secretary. Judy was everything Sara wasn't, by all appearances, being almost a foot shorter, but weighing about the same as Sara. Her blonde hair was wet around the edges from splashing water onto her face, her glasses sitting on the counter.
She was wiping off her running mascara with a damp paper towel, sniffing and occasionally stopping to blow her nose. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and still showed the horror she'd felt when she first opened the box.
"Um, I, I guess so," she stammered, offering a weak smile at Sara's reflection in the mirror.
"I've never... never seen..."
"I know. The first time can be pretty gross," Sara said, smiling at Judy in the mirror.
"I hope there's never a second time," Judy sputtered. "I know it sounds stupid. I mean, when I tell people I work here, they think I see this stuff all the time. But I never have."
"I know you want to just put it all out of your mind, but I need you to tell me everything you remember. Okay?" Sara asked gently.
"Did the package come with the other mail? Or did it come separately?"
"It was in our mail bin from this afternoon's mail, so I don't know for sure," Judy answered.
"But no one brought it in separately?"
"Okay. I noticed that you unwrapped it very carefully. Why is that?" Sara asked, wondering if she'd been suspicious for some reason.
"I always do that. Especially at Christmas," she said, an embarrassed grin pulling at her lips for a moment. "I don't make much money, so I save paper if it's any good, and reuse it. So now it's a habit to do that all the time."
"That's smart," Sara said. "I wish I could do that, but I'm too impatient. I always just tear into everything." She didn't want Judy to think that she thought it was silly or miserly just because she was frugal.
Seeing Judy staring at herself in the mirror, recognizing the faraway gaze, Sara stepped closer and put her hand on Judy's shoulder.
"Judy, it'll get better, I promise. But you might want to talk to Dr. Kane if it keeps bothering you."
"I... I... don't know if... if I should be working here," Judy said, dropping her eyes, then quickly snatching up her glasses, pushing them back on her face.
"I hear you. But you've been here for a couple of years, and this is the first - and hopefully last - time this has happened. Just don't open any packages for a while, no matter who they're from. Just set them aside and I'll open them for you."
"Really? That would make me feel better," Judy said gratefully. "The package said it was from one of the journals we get all the time. I just thought it was this quarter's journals to distribute. I didn't even think about how we already got them in October. That's pretty dumb, huh?"
"Judy, you shouldn't feel bad about that. How were you supposed to know? You were just doing your job." Thinking for a moment how Judy must feel, and remembering those times when she'd felt much the same, Sara lightly rubbed her shoulder.
"You do a good job, Judy. If you decide to leave, I'll understand. But we'd all miss you. I hope you decide to stay, even if that's selfish of me." Sara hoped it sounded more sincere than "The lab needs you" had sounded to her.
"Come on. Let's go get some coffee," Sara said, returning the smile. "Take a few deep breaths. That's it. We're strong women. We're good at our jobs. We're not going to let some sicko ruin our day, right?"
"Right," Judy returned, feeling her own bravado swell, fed with Sara's natural courage.
* * * * *
"Sheriff Atwater. Detective Vega." Grissom greeted both men with a hint of rancor as Sara silently took a seat directly across from the Sheriff. Vega stood uncomfortably behind the desk, to the side of Atwater, obviously enjoying neither the proximity nor the association.
"Dr. Grissom. CSI Sidle," Atwater returned with a practiced political smile that conveyed no warmth.
"Can we get through this quickly? Sara and I are on a case - a murder. It's hot right now, and we can't afford to waste any time."
"I would hardly consider this a waste, unless you have no interest in CSI Sidle's career," Atwater retorted pointedly.
"I assume this is about Buddy Rodgers," Sara said, looking first at the Sheriff, then at the detective, who smiled briefly in apology.
"Yes. Detective Vega has submitted all the evidence to the District Attorney's office for disposition. The DA has opted not to pursue an indictment at this time, due to the ambiguity of the evidence."
Sara nodded, thinking that anything she said could be misconstrued.
"Good. Is that all?" Grissom said, rising to leave.
"Almost," Atwater said with his annoying smile still plastered to his face. "We all know there is no statute of limitations on murder. And if CSI Sidle's alleged involvement hits the media... well, let's just say we don't need the added attention. I would need to mitigate that."
"Is that some form of threat?" Grissom asked angrily.
"Can you prove that Sidle's not involved?" Atwater asked, looking at each, then turning to Vega.
"It's not our job to prove she's not involved. It's the DA's job to prove she is," Grissom answered.
"Either way, if she's indicted, she'll be released from CSI, regardless of the eventual outcome."
"I'm well aware of that," Sara said with a hint of nervousness.
"I suggest you find a way out of this, and quickly," Atwater said ominously.
Sara could certainly understand why no one convicted of a crime could continue to work at the crime lab. But the entire legal system was based on the inviolable premise that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. She never understood why any CSI would be fired for merely being accused of a crime.
She would have accepted being suspended pending the outcome of the investigation or the trial, should it come to that. But termination based solely on the accusation seemed to run counter to everything they worked for.
Another thought came to mind, but she fought it, deeming it to be petty, though truthful: she wondered how Catherine came to be made of Teflon. No matter what she did, nothing ever stuck. Sara had done nothing wrong, but stood in danger of losing her job.
Their walk back to the lab was silent, with each digesting the meeting and their reactions to it. She followed him into his office, and he uncharacteristically closed the door behind her. They had been careful to always leave it open the past week, to allay any suspicions.
"You okay?" he asked gently, stroking her from elbow to shoulder.
"Yeah, sure," she lied. "It'll all work out," she said confidently, though she felt anything but.
"Let's go home. I don't mind missing sleep for work, or to be with you, but I hate missing it for some self-serving political asshole."
"Don't hold back. Tell me what you really think of him," Sara teased.
"I think he's a snake, and that we better keep an eye on him."
"I doubt he'll wait until I'm indicted to get rid of me. I get the feeling that he's itching to distance himself and the department from me as soon as possible."
"We'll fight him every step of the way," Grissom promised.
"We? You should steer clear of it, Grissom, or else you might lose your job, too," she said heavily.
"Sara..." Grissom took a moment to gather his thoughts and his courage. "... what will you do if you can't work here anymore?"
"I refuse to consider that."
"You may have to."
"I don't know, Grissom. I really don't. I guess I'd have to move. It's not like there're a lot of other labs in the area."
Grissom nodded silently, unwilling or unable to put his thoughts and feelings into words.
"Grissom..." Sara began hesitantly. "If I had to move, what would you do?"
"I know we've only been together a week, but it seems longer. I don't want to... I can't even think about..."
"Would you come with me?" she asked fearfully, her voice wavering.
"What other choice would I have?" he asked in answer.
* * * * *
"Hello, puddin'. How's my baby? Here come your sisters."
The single, 38-year-old woman smiled at the three fluffy cats that curled around her ankles. Their purrs reverberated in the small room, adding to the quaintness of the cozy kitchen.
"Your din-din will be ready in a minute," she called out sweetly, as she turned back to the pot on the stove. They were such good companions, her only friends for far too long.
Normally, she didn't give them treats. It wasn't good for them, and she couldn't bear the thought of something happening to her charges. But tonight was a special night, and she was going to include her loves in the celebration.
After so many years of being alone, she was finally on her way to happiness. It wouldn't be long before the wedding. She'd already seen the printer about the invitations and was interviewing photographers next week.
She never expected to find her true love in this den of iniquity, but he had been one of the first men she'd met. It was clear to both of them immediately that they had found their soulmates.
They hadn't talked about children, but the possibility existed. Her own mother had been 42 when she had been born. She shook her head, as if trying to dislodge that thought.
Now wasn't the time to bring up unpleasant memories. The time for sadness was nearly over. She only had to make it for a few more days.
Las Vegas had been a terrible city in which to be a woman alone. It wasn't safe. But she was used to being a loner. As an intelligent woman, men found her threatening. It had taken her a long time to find a man who appreciated her brains, rather than feared them.
No, soon everything would be wonderful. Nothing bad could happen to her ever again.
"Oh, be patient," she said with mock-severity when one of the cats began pawing her leg. "Silly cat."
Taking down several plates, she began dishing out the cooked meat. It really was an extravagance for the cats, but it would have gone bad before she found another use for it.
Waste not, want not.
She paused long enough to watch her loves dive into their treat. Taking the remaining plates, she headed towards the patio door. Already, the local strays had gathered. Usually, she put down dry food for them, but tonight they were part of the extended celebration.
It was a silly thing, she knew, but she couldn't bear the thought of the poor animals starving. So many people assumed an animal could survive on its own, when, in truth, many creatures died slow and painful deaths from starvation.
She walked around the perimeter of the patio, placing down the offerings to her adopted "children". A noise from the alleyway caused her to start. It was a moonless night. There was no telling what kind of maniac could be out there.
There weren't any truly safe neighborhoods in Las Vegas. Drunks and derelicts, petty criminals, homeless people and homicidal terrors all mingled together throughout the city. She had a gun for safety, but she had left it inside.
She chuckled lightly as a mangy-looking dog wandered into the light from the kitchen. For the past two weeks, she'd been trying to befriend the poor creature, but he'd kept his distance. The smell of tonight's treat had finally brought him into the open.
Seeing that the poor thing was frightened, she walked down the dark alleyway. In time, he'd come to trust her - they all did, eventually. She placed the last plate down, for him to enjoy by himself. There was plenty to go around, after all.
Who knew the human body contained so much viscera?
* * * * *
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