Rating: PG-13 because that's just how society is.
Spoilers: Little references here and there.
Archive: Please ask first I might say yes.
Disclaimer: I don't have any rights to CSI or its characters. Ergo, anything I write using those characters belongs to the entities that do own them. I am but a worm. (But at least I'm a worm who knows the definition of the word "continuity.")
Feedback: Love it, but no flames please I'm fragile!!
Summary:A lab analyst is involved in a crime scene CSI is investigating, and the crew has to evaluate how they view the people around them. G/S, because that's just how it should be, but the story isn't focused solely on their relationship.
"Greg, I think that your education and experience will make this subject even easier for you than the others have been," Grissom began confidently. "You are, of course, familiar with the
properties of blood, especially its constituents. Are you also well-versed in blood dynamics?"
"I know the basics," Greg affirmed.
"In a vacuum, any fluid would form itself into a perfect sphere, because surface tension would hold it together and it would seek the most stable configuration."
"Uh huh," Greg said, not knowing how or why the actions of a liquid in a vacuum had any relevance to crime scene investigation.
"We don't live in a vacuum, so other forces act on liquids, causing them to assume other shapes," Grissom continued his lecture.
"Uh huh," Greg said, mentally urging Grissom to get to the point, not convinced there was one.
"When a drop of blood leaves its source - that is, a vein or an artery - surface tension makes it want to stay connected to the source, so as the drop moves away, a thinning string of blood connects it temporarily to the source. Eventually, either gravity or momentum will overcome the surface tension and the drop will break free. With me so far?"
"Uh huh." Greg blinked forcefully a few times, feeling like his eyes were rolling back into his head. It just wouldn't do to fall asleep during this lecture, as he had done so many times in college.
"When it breaks free, the tail snaps back into the drop, causing a shock wave to travel back and forth through the drop, making it oscillate. Inertia, aided by the viscosity of the blood, will dampen the oscillation fairly quickly, allowing the drop to assume a fairly spherical shape. But the drop may not be a sphere if it strikes something relatively close. That's important because the calculations for determining the angle of blood spatter is based on the premise that the drop is spherical."
"Oh, OK," Greg finally perked up, sensing that he was close to learning something relevant.
"It's all simple trigonometry from there," Grissom said. "You assume a 'perfect world' scenario and do the math. That's the science part. But then you have to take into account that we don't live in a perfect world, so that's where the experience and judgment come into play."
Sara stopped her progress down the hall when she approached the door to Greg's lab, hearing Grissom teach Greg the fundamentals of blood spatter analysis. She backed up slightly, viewing small horizontal slits of the two men - 'Well, one man and one boy,' she chuckled - through the ecru blinds that served to give the illusion of walls.
"We usually use a computer program now that completes the calculations and mapping for us, using a scan of a photograph of the spatter stain, but it's important for you to know how to do this manually."
Grissom opened up a large square of paper with dots and splotches of dark brownish-red sprinkled liberally across it. He had created it yesterday for Greg to practice, mercilessly striking a defenseless, blood-soaked sponge that was affixed to a six-foot dowel - not once, but twice - with a baseball bat, simulating an assault on a grown man.
Greg looked at the hundreds, appearing like thousands, of spots with fear and loathing. "I'm supposed to analyze all of these?" he asked incredulously.
"No, Greg," Grissom laughed. "We'll pick some representative spots randomly around the stain. If we need more clarification or corroboration, we can pick others."
"Thank God!" Greg breathed out. "Looking at all of these would take for-freaking-ever. It would be like running a separate DNA analysis on each individual epithelial from a sample."
"Notice how most of the spots, especially on the outside are elongated instead of round. I want you to measure the widest point of the short axis of the ellipse. Draw a line across the center. Then measure from the center to the edge of the long axis."
"Which edge?" Greg asked. "The drops are irregularly shaped."
"You'll notice one side is rounded. The other has either a tail or streaks that we call spines. They show which direction the blood was traveling. The rounded side is toward the source; the ragged side is away from it. Measure to the smooth side, since it is easier to see its boundary."
"OK. I'll number my sample drops, then log the measurements," Greg agreed, happy to do anything that involved training to be a CSI.
"I'm going to go back to my office now, but page me when you are done and we'll go over the next steps," Grissom said, his mouth relaxed into a non-expression, but his eyes smiling.
Sara was at first concerned that Grissom would see her lurking outside the lab when he left, but fortunately he exited out of the door on the opposite wall. Waiting just a few moments, Sara entered the lab. "Hey, Gregster, what up, dawg?" she asked, cocking her head at the large sheet of butcher paper spread out across the lab bench.
"Grissom's started teaching me about blood spatter analysis," Greg answered happily, returning quickly to his measurements - mainly to show Sara that he knew, or at least hoped he knew, what he was doing.
Sara watched him for a moment, then nodded approvingly, making a giddy feeling shoot up and down Greg like a little spark of static electricity. "You know, Greg, Grissom is really pretty good at this. The basis is all physics and trigonometry, so it's something he can really sink his teeth into. But blood spatter analysis isn't all science," she warned.
"Yeah, he told me that experience and judgment come into play," Greg agreed.
"I'll tell you who you should talk to, if you get a chance - Catherine. On the really important cases, she does all the blood mapping. And, as you may or may not know, she's not exactly a math whiz. I'm sure she took trig back in college, but it's not like she lives and breathes the stuff."
Greg peered at her with a mixture of confusion and expectation. "Then why do you suggest I talk to her about it?"
"With Catherine, it starts with the science, just to get the context down. But after that, it's all her - it's an art, a gift," Sara intoned, almost reverently.
"You think she can teach me that?" Greg asked hopefully.
"It's probably a talent you either have or don't have. But she can certainly give you another perspective, which is always a good thing," she smiled, setting her hand lightly on his shoulder for a few seconds, before leaving him to his homework assignment.
* * * * *
"What have we got?" Grissom asked Brass as he worked his way through the crowd, making a zig-zag towards the back of the club. He had lost Greg almost immediately upon entering the club and periodically scanned to see if he could find him in this sea of heads. Grissom berated himself for thinking that Greg - the lab's ADHD poster boy - could remain focused in an environment such as this.
"Looks like a brawl that got out of hand. One dead. One critical. Three injured, but stable," Brass recited. Witnesses say three other men were involved, but fled the scene."
They arrived at the only space that wasn't occupied by vertical bodies. There was an area taped off about ten feet on every side of the corpse. "What exactly am I looking at?" Grissom asked Brass quietly.
"You are looking at the winner of tonight's beauty pageant, Miss Tatiana LeFleur," Brass said as evenly as he possibly could.
"Brass, this is a man," Grissom stated, seemingly confused.
"I am aware of that. Do you have any idea where you are?" Brass queried, shaking his head at Grissom's naïveté.
"I'm in a dance club, a bar of some sort," he answered generically.
"A gay bar. And tonight was a big beauty pageant for cross-dressers. The winner and runner up would represent Las Vegas in the state finals. Then possibly on to regionals and maybe even the national contest," Brass explained.
"You seem to know an awful lot about these things," Grissom stated drolly, with eyebrows raised.
"I'm a cop. I'm paid to know what goes on in my city," Brass answered brusquely.
"Well," Grissom said, returning to examining the body without touching it, "it's apparent that ... what am I supposed to call him?" Grissom asked, completely flummoxed.
"Miss LeFleur," Brass answered with a sigh, as though it were a stupid question.
"It's apparent that Miss LeFleur was beaten to death. No mystery there. We'll take DNA swabs from his ... uh ... her? ... hands, and run trace on the clothes. If we can round up suspects, maybe we can match them. Any video or direct witnesses?"
"No video. We are interviewing the rest of the patrons to see if any of them were witnesses and can give descriptions of the assailants," Brass assured him.
"We can't do anything else until David gets here," Grissom noted, scanning the large room again for Greg. He thought he saw his blond spikes occasionally peek out between heads in the crowd. He was with a group of people near the dance floor. Making a diagonal bee-line, Grissom worked his way through the throng, this time actually making the effort to notice the people who surrounded him.
"Greg!" he shouted, but got no response. He came up behind the young man to see what or who had his attention so effectively captured. Putting his hand on Greg's shoulder, causing him to turn slightly, Grissom could see that he was talking to Jacqui and a handful of other people.
"Oh, hi, Grissom," Jacqui nodded, a bit uncomfortable.
"Hi, Jacqui. What are you doing here?" Grissom asked.
"It's my night off. I was here when it happened, so I can't leave until I've talked to the police," she answered nervously, her eyes darting over to Greg for moral support.
Jacqui looked at Grissom anxiously for a moment, trying to do the impossible for most, which was to read his thoughts or discern his feelings. He didn't appear any more or less comfortable than she had ever seen him, so she couldn't gauge how he felt in this milieu.
At that moment, a smaller woman approached the group, two drinks in hand. She was petite and blond, with a perky nose and bright blue eyes that sparkled a love of life, though her face was set in a worried grimace appropriate for the circumstances that had developed that night.
"Here, I brought you a drink," she said to Jacqui, who took the beverage gratefully and smiled her thanks.
Seeing Grissom eye the newcomer with curiosity, Jacqui said, "Oh, sorry. Liz, this is my boss, Dr. Gil Grissom."
"Pleased to meet you," he said with a nod.
"Grissom, this is Liz Carpenter."
She extended a hand and shook Grissom's firmly. "Jacqui's spoken of you before."
"I am innocent until proven guilty," Grissom retorted.
"Actually, it was nothing damning," Liz laughed. "She talks a lot about the lab and the people she works with. You seem to be a great bunch of people."
"OK, Liz, you're starting to embarrass me now," Jacqui said coyly.
Grissom noticed the looks passing between the two, filling the silence with words unspoken. He glanced over at Greg, who in turn met his eyes then turned quickly back to Jacqui. "So, anyway, I didn't know you two hung out here. I thought you liked the smaller venues."
"Yeah, we met some friends down at the Free Zone, and they said there was going to be a pageant here at the Gipsy, so we all decided to call our crew and meet up here. There are about twenty of us, altogether," Liz detailed.
"I wish I had known. I love the drag shows," Greg said. "But I guess this wouldn't have been a good night for it, after all," he said, eyeing back towards the void in the back of the room.
"Greg," Grissom intoned seriously, "Is there anything you aren't interested or involved in?"
"Of course! I don't like to sew and I hate country and western music. Other than that, I'm pretty flexible," he said, shooting a wicked grin at Jacqui and Liz.
"Can I talk to you privately, Grissom?" Jacqui asked.
"Sure," he answered. "If you'll excuse us," he said to the others, taking Jacqui by the arm and leading her to the least occupied corner near them.
Her eyes bounced back and forth between Grissom's face and her hands, which were fiddling with each other in front of her. She wanted to speak, he could tell, but she didn't seem able to decide how to start.
"What did you want to talk about?" he asked, hoping to push her off the fence.
"I ... uh ... I, well, I'm not going to get in trouble for this, am I?" she asked nervously, glancing back up at his face. She was surprised that he looked completely at a loss.
"Did you participate in the altercation?" he asked.
"No, of course not," she answered quickly.
"Then why would you get in trouble?" he asked.
"Well, you know ... Some people don't like ... us. Don't want us around," she said cryptically.
"Jacqui, let me make sure I understand what we're talking about, so I don't have yet another of my world-renowned communications breakdowns," he said, trying to make her feel more at ease by his humor. "If you are asking if your after-hours activities affect your status at work, the answer is 'no'. You are allowed to have a life outside of work. Like any of the rest of us, as long as your private life stays in its place, there should be no problem," he answered.
"Maybe there shouldn't be a problem, but I'm a realist. Sometimes when people find out, they lose respect for us and treat us differently. I respect all of you guys and you seem to respect me. I don't want to lose that," she said, her voice catching briefly in her throat.
Grissom might not be able to directly relate to Jacqui's experience, but he knew what it was like to be different and to be an outsider. He tentatively reached out a hand and lightly grasped her arm to comfort her. "Jacqui, this doesn't matter to me. I don't know how everyone else would feel, but I think I know them well enough to know that they wouldn't care either. We all have our own lives and we are all different. We accept that about each other ... pretty much," he added, knowing that they didn't always graciously accept his personality differences as much as he would like.
"Greg's always been cool about it," she nodded, forcing a smile and wiping the few tears that had taken possession of her lids.
"How long has he known?" Grissom asked, curious.
"He's always known, I think," she answered, uncertainly. "He's very perceptive about people. He's open and accepting, so it's easy to be real around him, I guess. Maybe he's just got a very sensitive 'gaydar'," she laughed.
"Gaydar?" Grissom asked, vexed by not knowing the definition to a word.
"You know, the ability to just know someone's gay, before they out themselves," she answered pedantically. "Like 'radar', but picking up whether someone's gay."
"Oh," he nodded. "I hadn't heard that one."
"You've really got to get out more," she said.
"So I'm told," he smiled, still holding her arm, guiding her back to their group.
Greg and Liz looked anxiously at Jacqui and Grissom alternately, trying to judge how the conversation went. Grissom looked impassive, as always, which Greg took to be a very promising sign. Jacqui briefly smiled at Liz, then Greg, letting them know she had told him and that it seemed to go well.
"Greg, let's go see if David has arrived," Grissom said, nodding back towards the scene of the crime. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Liz," Grissom said graciously, before taking his leave. Greg turned and grinned at the pair, blowing a little kiss to each of them.
"Catch you ladies later!" he shouted.
"Not if we run fast enough!" Jacqui and Liz answered together, comfortably falling into each other with laughter.
* * * * *
They arrived at the boundary of the tape just as David was logging the death. He looked up at Brass, then over to Grissom and Greg, pronouncing Miss Tatiana LeFleur dead at the ripe old age of 31.
Grissom and Greg swept under the tape and approached Miss LeFleur's bespangled form, covered in a sequined evening dress that was ripped across the chest. Her wig had become dislodged and lay forlornly several feet to the south of her. Grissom instructed Greg to make a sketch of the scene, while he began photographing the victim from every angle. He moved in closer to shoot close-ups of Tatiana's bloodied face and torn dress.
"Oh, I've seen her before!" Greg spouted, once he had made the mental adjustments of ignoring the blood and the swollen bruises.
"Where?" Grissom asked casually.
"At a drag show, somewhere. I've gone to several. Sometimes with Jacqui and Liz. Sometimes with ...," he stopped and caught himself before he divulged any names, "uh ... other people at the lab. She was a wonderful singer and dancer, as I recall. Show tunes, mostly. I guess I just didn't recognize her name," Greg trailed off, cocking his head first to one side and then the other, mentally reconstructing Tatiana's appearance before the assault.
Grissom filled out another case identifier and put it next to the wig, shooting pictures of it before bagging it in a large paper bag. If Miss LeFleur had been dancing, the wig may have sweat on it, and the moisture would be counterproductive in an enclosed plastic environment like a standard evidence bag.
"OK, Greg, time to process what we can off the body. We will be looking for traces of the assailant for someone like you to analyze at the lab. Think in those terms. What would you, as an analyst, want you as a CSI to bring in?"
"I'd like swabs of her fists and her wounds for epithelial transfer," he nodded.
"Let's do it, then," Grissom said, pulling out a handful of boxed cotton swabs. Working together, he and Greg swabbed each wound and labeled each swab with the location it was collected. "Anything else?"
"The sequins on this dress are sharp. The assailants might have left epithelials on it as well."
Grissom turned to David, "Please let Greg know when he can pick up the victim's clothing and personal effects."
"Will do," David nodded, looking a little lost and distracted.
"I can't think of anything else I'd need from the body," Greg said.
"David, you can take the body now," Grissom said, waving him back over.
Once the body was removed, Greg took a swab of the blood pool left under the corpse. The floor was a dark color and Greg couldn't see if there were any more blood stains, but he assumed that there should be, given the apparent violence of the brawl. "How do we find any other blood on this floor, Grissom?"
"Get ready with the camera, Greg," Grissom instructed. "We will only have about 30 seconds to put down an identifier and take the shots and samples before they disappear again," Grissom told him, mixing the luminol in a spray bottle. Pumping the handle a few times to prime it, he sprayed an area about 3 feet square. Several spots began to glow an unearthly blue. Greg was at first mesmerized, but snapped back to reality when Grissom put down the identifier and told him to shoot it. He took bracketed shots of the entire block, then zoomed in on the individual spots for more.
"Wait a minute, I need to change film," Greg said quickly, holding up a hand to stop Grissom from spraying.
After a moment of fumbling in the near-dark with another film cartridge, they resumed. A crowd of people gathered around the tape, fascinated by the glow of the luminol. When they would hit on a spot with a lot of spatter, the crowd would instinctively react verbally, almost as if they were watching a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, but without the clapping.
When they had worked their way around the scene, Grissom told Greg it was time to pack up and head back to get everything processed. Having a little fun with Greg, Grissom asked him, "So, who's on in the DNA lab tonight?"
Greg answered, smiling, "Uh, I think that Sanders guy is."
"Oh, well, if you can keep him focused on the task, instead of dancing around the room or flirting with every female in the lab, you might have a chance at getting the results in your lifetime. But you have to keep an eye on him," Grissom warned.
"I'll stay on him like white on rice," Greg assured Grissom.
As they got into the truck and shut the doors to the world, Greg asked, "Were you disturbed to find Jacqui here?"
"I would be disturbed any time I found one of my employees at a crime scene. I don't want anyone to get into trouble. But she isn't involved, to the best of my knowledge, so I'm not concerned," Grissom answered.
"That wasn't exactly what I was asking," Greg said.
"I know what you were asking," Grissom rejoined. "I couldn't care less what she does in her spare time, or who she does it with: male, female, animal, vegetable or mineral. It's her life, not mine. If she's concerned about exposure, she has more to worry about from testifying about the incident in court, if it comes to that."
"So, you didn't know Jacqui is a lesbian?" Greg asked, curious.
"Greg, unlike you, I do not spend my every waking moment thinking about sex. If I don't think about my own sex life at work, why would I think about anyone else's?" he asked.
"You're honestly trying to tell me you never think about sex while you are at work?" Greg asked, his face wide with incredulity.
"No, I do not," Grissom answered definitively.
"Ever?" Greg pressed.
"What's your point, Greg?" Grissom barked.
"My point is, we're guys. We're single guys. It's natural for us to evaluate our options. The only women we see very much of are at the lab, right? Already a relatively small pool to choose from. Fortunately for us, all the women except Jacqui are straight. Most who are techs or CSIs are single. Some of the younger admins are single, too. ... Are you seriously telling me you've never thought this stuff through?" Greg asked again, perplexed.
Grissom really had not, at least not for the past few years. He fell back on his old stand-by, "Greg, it really wouldn't be appropriate for me to date someone who works for me, so, no, I don't think about this 'stuff'."
"I guess that explains it," Greg said, more to himself than to Grissom.
"That explains what?" Grissom shot back.
"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering how you managed to stay cool working around Sara and Catherine all the time. They are both single, and definitely both h-o-t-t, hot!," he exclaimed a little too exuberantly.
"I don't think of them as women; I think of them as co-workers," Grissom told him.
"You might want to re-think that someday, Grissom," Greg said. "There's at least one of them that is definitely all woman. Well, actually, both of them are all woman ... but one of them does everything she can to try to get you to see that."
"I am not going to have this conversation with you, Greg," Grissom warned.
"OK, OK," Greg capitulated. "Well, I guess that means you don't know which two of the lab guys on our shift are gay."
"Nor do I need to, Greg," Grissom huffed out, frustrated that he might be unable to deter the kid without resorting to verbal violence. Grissom wondered to himself whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that he hadn't known Jacqui was a lesbian and that two of the men on the staff are gay. Which does it indicate, that he truly does not see that as a defining issue, or that he's that oblivious about the people he works with every day? Should he have known?
* * * * *
The next evening, Grissom went into Jacqui's fingerprint lab and shut the door to allow her some semblance of privacy. "Jacqui, I read the police reports, but I'd like to you to clarify a few things about last night."
"Sure, Griss. What do you want to know?" she asked, cooperatively.
"Did you see the assailants?"
"Yes, I did. I noticed them when they first came in, then I saw the tail end of the fight and then they bolted out the back door."
"Why did you notice them when they first came in? Was there something unusual about them?"
"Yeah. It's hard to explain, but they didn't belong."
"Well, first of all, they were straight."
"Greg's straight, to the best of my knowledge, and he goes to watch drag shows," Grissom retorted.
"Yes, but most straight guys come to gay bars with either a girlfriend or a lesbian friend. Usually, you don't see more than one straight guy come into a gay bar together. When you do, it usually means trouble," she answered. "Sometimes they come in just to make fun of us, and they leave when they don't get the reaction they are looking for. But, sometimes they don't leave, and you've got to keep an eye on them."
Grissom considered what she told him, both from an evidentiary standpoint and from a human standpoint. He couldn't imagine going out to have fun with his friends, but having to watch every stranger who entered to ensure that he would survive the night. It must be like the feeling that prey animals have whenever they are out in the predator's turf, or when the predator is invading theirs.
Grissom unconsciously shook his head at the tragedy of it and the complete lack of logic to it. Jacqui watched him, wondering, then asking, what he was thinking.
"I was just thinking how illogical it is that some people spend so much time and effort in harassing others based on something as meaningless as their choice of partners. Sex takes up a relatively small proportion of our time, compared to work, so why categorize people based on it?"
"Well, Grissom, it isn't just about sex. And I'd rather be known for who I love and who loves me than for what I do for a living," she said. "Love is more important than work. I only work eight or so hours a day. I love all the time."
"Spoken like a true romantic, Jacqui," Grissom smiled. "But, even then, why should anyone else care who you choose to love?"
"I know what you are saying, Grissom, and I appreciate the sentiment. But, I still hold that who you love tells an awful lot about a person. Let's just say, hypothetically, that someone I knew loves you ... just hypothetically," she reiterated before he could demur.
"Since I know that person well, then I would probably be able to tell a lot about you, even if I didn't know you. But, more interestingly, even though I know you both, I would know her even better by knowing she loves you, because that would tell me what she values, in a much more honest way than words ever could. Just hypothetically, of course."
Wanting frantically to detour this excursion into the unruly, chaotic realm of love and romance, Grissom stood and told Jacqui, "Liz seems like a very nice person, Jacqui. But then, I already knew that about you," he said, as he opened the door and stepped out.
Grissom needed to retreat to his inner sanctum to have some privacy to think. Twice tonight, with two different people, inferences were made to a woman being interested in him. He had to think about what to do. He was already avoiding her like she had the ebola virus, so he wasn't sure what more he could do.
The more he tried to ensure that there was nothing for anyone to see, especially her, the more people seemed to feel the need to point out, however tangentially, that there was.
* * * * *
Grissom walked into the hotel, ostensibly to help Catherine and Sara with a rather ripe decomp that was found in the alley behind a dumpster, covered with cardboard boxes. It wasn't discovered until the garbage truck picked up the dumpster to empty it earlier that day. The boxes tumbled over, revealing the body that apparently was being reduced appreciably by the automatic recycling system God had put into place from the beginning. Catherine was capable of collecting the specimens, but Grissom wanted to see the body first-hand.
Sara was standing at the hotel entrance, waiting for Grissom, but just as he was approaching, her eyes fell on an old friend from San Francisco as he was walking across the lobby. He saw her at almost the same time, and they rushed towards each other, her squealing with delight. Grissom watched as they hugged, the rather muscular young man picking her up off her feet before setting her down again.
"Jim! Oh my God! I can't believe it! I'm so happy to see you!" she said, through a beaming smile that seemed to take up her whole face. Grissom hadn't seen her this happy in so long that it made his heart hurt.
"Sara, darling, how are you?" he asked, theatrically. "You look simply fabulous. And just why haven't you called me? You up and left San Francisco under the cover of darkness, never to be heard from again. Is that how you treat people who love you?" he chided her, but then precipitously yanked her into another big hug.
"Grissom is the supervisor here. He called me to come help him with something, so I had to leave right away. I guess I just haven't gotten back yet," she said, not seeing Grissom standing among other hotel visitors, not ten feet to the side of her.
"Always Grissom this and Grissom that. Did you ever snag him?" he asked with a wink.
Sara shook her head 'no.'
"I would have thought that you'd have caught him or gotten over him by now," Jim said.
"No, I am not chasing after him anymore," she told him. "He's not interested."
"Oh? Is he gay or something?" Jim asked, amazed that anyone Sara set her sights on could resist her charms.
"No, silly, he's not gay. He's just not interested. You know, there's a whole universe of men out there who aren't in love with me. He just so happens to be one of them."
"Damn! And I was so looking forward to catering a wedding for you some day. You better get busy, girl. You aren't getting any younger, you know," Jim cracked.
"And you wonder why I never called," she quipped.
Grissom wasn't sure what to feel about the words he heard. On the one hand, he was gratified that she seemed to be accepting the fact that they were not going to ever have a relationship. On the other hand, he wondered how she could believe that he wasn't interested, no matter how he behaved now. Surely she had seen enough in the past to know that he was not one of the universe of men who didn't love her.
He walked casually up to the pair, saying, "Hello, I'm Gil Grissom," and holding out his hand to Jim, who returned the gesture and raised an eyebrow to Sara.
"Grissom, this is an old friend of mine from San Francisco, Jacques-Philippe Fortier." Grissom was a little confused, since that wasn't the name she had called him.
"My friends call me 'Jim'," he said. Seeing Grissom's confusion over the use of 'Jim' as a nickname for Jacques-Philippe, the man explained, "My birth name is Jacques-Philippe Fortier, but I was adopted and renamed James Burmaster. My friends know me that way, but I use my birth name for my business. I'm a caterer, and French sounds so much more expensive, don't you think?" he asked.
"You and Sara are friends, I take it?" Grissom asked, as unemotionally as possible, considering that the man called Jim was about Sara's age and rather well-built. He was obviously fit, looking like he was a body builder in the past - not so muscular as to look unnatural, but enough to make many a woman's head turn. His eyes were just a bit of a lighter blue than Grissom's, but sparkled with life and laughter.
"Yes, we go way back," he said, putting an arm around her shoulder and giving her a squeeze, sending jolts of jealousy coursing through Grissom.
"Jim and I became friends in San Francisco," she explained. "By the way, what are you doing here, Jim?" she asked.
"Mark and I are here for business, mainly. But we're fitting in a little fun and games when we can. He was a convention all day, poor thing. He's getting cleaned up and changed for us to go out, so I just popped down to the lobby to pick up a few things we forgot to pack. He will be so excited that I ran into you!"
"Mark is Jim's partner," Sara explained to Grissom.
"Business partner?" Grissom asked.
"Domestic partner," Jim told him.
"Oh, I see," Grissom nodded, suddenly feeling inexplicably relieved.
"Here's my number, Jim. I work from eleven p.m. to seven a.m., but I'm free the rest of the day, so give me a call. I want to see you and Mark before you leave, OK?" she said, scribbling her home and cellular numbers on the back of her business card.
Jim gathered he up again in a bear hug and kissed her on the cheek. "We wouldn't miss it for the world! It will be like old times, just us girls telling all over some drinks. I can't wait!" he said, waving at them and heading back towards the elevators.
"Is he always that ... open ... in front of strangers?" Grissom asked.
"No, not at all. You haven't met, but you're hardly a stranger to him. I told you, we are old friends," she said, not elaborating. She turned and started walking through the hotel to lead him to the exit to the alley. "Are you coming?" she asked, a little shortly.
"Yes," he answered equally brusquely, following her through to the back.
* * * * *
Grissom bent down to look at the body, then opened a large bag he had been carrying that contained a multiplicity of small jars. Pulling on some gloves, he began to collect specimens of each insect, at as many stages as he could find. It could complicate things that the body was by a dumpster, a site that already housed a plethora of insects. The timing of the arrival of various species could have been compromised by cross-contamination from the dumpster's complement of things that creepeth across the earth.
"Sara, would you please get something from the kitchen for these to eat? If they aren't exposed to a moist food source, it's amazing how quickly they'll die," Grissom explained.
"I'm hoping they don't have any dead people in the kitchen, so what else do they eat?" she asked, perfectly aware of what the answer was, but wanting Grissom to have to say it.
"Meat," he answered, as he gathered the squirming creatures.
Sara looked up in disgust and amazement at Catherine, who shook her head and let out an audible sigh.
"You stay here. I'll get it," Catherine offered, laying her hand on Sara's shoulder as she passed. Leaning down to Grissom, she whispered in his ear, "Have you lost your fucking mind?" before storming off.
He was momentarily vexed by her question until he realized what he had asked Sara to do. Bad enough he forgot she was a vegetarian, but this was the second time he had made this mistake. The first one almost cost him a good CSI, until Catherine helped him smooth things over.
"I'm sorry, Sara. I was distracted and wasn't thinking," he offered weakly, trying for force a conciliatory smile.
"I'm used to that, Grissom," she said coldly, her arms crossed at her midriff, hugging herself.
Separately, and for their own reasons, both Sara and Grissom were struck by the difference in Sara's demeanor over the last hour. She had been laughing, hugging and talking with an old friend one moment, then shifted into cold, defensive mode the second she was left alone with Grissom. They both finished their analyses by concluding facetiously that he obviously brought out the best in her.
"Would you like to trade cases?" Grissom asked out of the blue.
"What?" Sara said, startled.
"I have a multiple assault and death, at the Gipsy. Would you like to take that case?" Grissom asked, hoping to mollify her somehow, and get some space between them.
"Why do you want to trade?" she asked, suspiciously.
"I didn't say I wanted to trade," he began in frustration. "I asked if you wanted to."
"Why would I?" she questioned him.
"I just thought you might be more comfortable with it. I know you don't like the bugs, so most of the analysis on this case will be mine anyway. You seem to be comfortable and sympathetic towards gays, so you would be a good choice for the Gipsy assault."
"Aren't you comfortable around gays?" she asked, pinning him with her eyes.
"I don't have any feelings about them one way or the other, Sara. Quit trying to make this into something it's not," he barked at her irritably.
"The story of my life," she mumbled.
Ignoring her comment, he continued, "We've done the preliminary work, and everything is in DNA and Trace. Brass has been questioning the witnesses. The other victims should be available to talk to by now. All it needs it to be pulled together. Do you want to trade or not?" he asked.
"Who is working it with you?" she asked.
"Greg was, but you can do it solo, if you would prefer. I can bring him in on another one later."
"No, that's OK. He can stay on it, considering he's been on it all along. I don't really enjoy working solo."
"Sara, one thing I need to tell you. One of the witnesses is a lab employee on our shift."
"Well, there are three gay people on our shift, so ..."
Grissom interrupted her. "Does everyone but me know all the intimate details of everyone else's sex life at that lab?"
"Probably. Look, it's a relatively small environment. We work together all night. People get to know each other. People talk to each other. How can you not know who's married, who's gay, who's seeing somebody special?" she said, accusingly.
"It's personal, not work-related. I have no reason to need to know those things about anyone," he defended himself. The thought of his crew discussing their relationships filled him with even more reason to stay away from Sara. The last thing he wanted was to have his love life a hot topic at the lab.
"It's not about knowing the things, Grissom. It's about knowing the people. And it's about trusting each other enough to be honest. But I guess that's a little tough for you, as well."
Catherine returned at that moment with a carry-out container filled with meat scraps from the kitchen. As soon as she approached, she sensed that she may have made a mistake allowing these two to be alone for even a moment. She had hoped that they would start communicating, and they seemingly had, but apparently not in the manner she had envisioned.
"So, what's your answer?" he asked Sara. "Do you want to trade cases or not?"
"Fine," she barked back at him, swinging up her field kit and stomping down the alley towards the intersecting street where she had parked a little more than an hour before.
"Oh, good job," Catherine said, her voice heavy with irony and condemnation.
"Just shut up, Catherine. I've had enough for one night," he spewed out.
"I'll shut up when I'm good and damned ready," she shot back, standing with her hands on her hips, on the offensive.
"We have a crime scene to process, or has everyone forgotten that?" he asked her.
"He's not going to get any deader, Grissom," she retorted.
"Say whatever you're going to say, then let me get back to work. Maybe you ladies have nothing better to do than talk about personal things on CSI time, but I do."
"Grissom, we are people, so anything we talk about it inherently personal, even if it's about work. They are still our perspectives, our thoughts, our feelings. ... Oops!, did I use the 'f' word? I'm sorry. I forgot that you don't allow feelings or talk of them," she said, her mind reeling in a flash of sudden fury with him. He may be her best friend in ways, but he could infuriate her like no other - at least no other since Eddie died.
"What do I need to do or to say to make this conversation just stop?" he asked, going back to collecting insects and putting them in jars. While Catherine stood gaping at him, her anger making her speechless, he took the meat and pinched off chucks to put into each jar before he sealed them.
"Why don't you go help Sara on her case? That way you two can talk all you want, and I can work all I want. We will all three be happy," he said acidly.
"Well, that will be a welcome change. I haven't been happy since 1994. Sara hasn't been happy for at least a year that I know of. You've never been happy, as far as I can tell."
"Contented, then," Grissom conceded, marking each specimen jar with the case number and initialing it.
"Do you lie awake and think of ways to make her miserable?" Catherine asked pointedly.
"No, evidently it just comes naturally," he answered, putting the jars carefully back into the bag to transport to the lab.
* * * * *
Sitting with her two old friends over a champagne brunch, Sara was faced with the question she knew was coming.
"So, spill it, girl. What is up with you and that Grissom guy? He's cute for an old guy ... Just kidding!" Jim said, holding up his hands defensively. "You were crazy about him when you were still living at home, then you pick up and leave us to go to him. But now you say he's not interested. What happened?" Jim asked.
Mark rolled his eyes and smiled sympathetically to Sara. "Honey, you don't have to answer that. Jim's just being Jim. It's a full-time job," Mark said, shaking his head.
"You know that I'm used to him, Mark," she joked. "Actually, I don't mind telling you guys. I can't really talk much about it with people here, for obvious reasons. After all, he is our boss."
"That certainly makes it touchy," Mark agreed.
"Yes, but nothing that couldn't be worked around, if one were motivated," Jim said.
"Things went okay at first. We worked together a lot and he flirted relentlessly, but he never asked me out."
"Are you sure he's not gay?" Mark asked.
"I already asked her that," Jim jumped in. "She claims he's not."
Sara laughed, "It's really very sweet of you to imply that any straight man would be interested, but no, he's not gay, and he's not interested. He doesn't flirt anymore. He almost never works with me, either. I really miss that," she said wistfully.
Both men simultaneously reached across the table and put a hand over hers.
"Did it just gradually go away, or was it sudden?" Jim asked, feeling there was more to the story.
"It was fairly sudden. He had been riding me about not having any interests outside of work. A guy I met on the job would occasionally ask me to the movies or to go out to eat. Nothing romantic, just two people who work the night shift doing things together so as to not be lonely."
"Let me guess, he found out and had the nerve to be jealous!" Mark exclaimed.
"Well, he found out, but I'm not sure you'd say he got jealous. But he certainly became more distant. I tried to explain that Hank and I were just friends, but he wouldn't believe me."
"Hank? Did you say Hank? How incredibly pedestrian. No one is called Hank anymore. It just isn't done," Jim said, chuckling over the name he kept repeating. "Did he drive a pick-up truck and listen to country western music?"
"As a matter of fact ..." Sara began to answer in the affirmative.
"How classic. The name does make the man, evidently," Jim concluded.
"How could this Grissom character ever think you could seriously be interested in this Hank person? Doesn't he trust you?" Mark asked.
"I thought so, but apparently not," she sighed.
"Well, what you need is to get that man off your mind. Why don't you come back home? There are plenty of men there, and some of them are even straight!" Jim laughed.
"If only it were that easy," she said, a sad smile on her lips.
Sara changed the subject, not wanting the mood to mar for the little time she had left with her friends. Picking up her champagne, she toasted, "To good friends!" They clinked the edges of their glasses and took a drink, allowing smiles to follow.
They talked of old times and old friends, allowing Sara a few moments of happiness and peace, thinking about an era when thoughts of Grissom still made her giddy, and she missed him for all the right reasons.
* * * * *
Sara breezed into the fingerprint lab with some printouts in hand. "Hey, Jacqui, got a minute?" she asked.
"Sure," she said, looking up from her prints, stretching her neck and back to relieve the stiffness.
"Grissom handed over the Gipsy case to me," Sara began, then saw that Jacqui became distracted. "A case with bugs came up, and he couldn't give full attention to both, so he asked me to take over," she explained.
"Oh, okay," Jacqui said, relieved that it wasn't that the nature of the case had made him uncomfortable.
"Greg got some hits from CODIS. Two guys. He's still working to see if he can isolate any more. Take a look at these and tell me if they look like the guys you saw," she said, handing over the printouts.
"Yeah, definitely. And there was one more. A dark-haired guy, a lot of scruff going on. Kinda thin, but not in a skinny way, if that makes any sense. Just lean. He was wearing a black T and black jeans. Very retro, beatnik looking, kinda like Maynard G. Krebs, but menacing," she laughed, aware of the oxymoron of a menacing Maynard.
"Cool. If Brass can track down one or both of these other guys, maybe we can get a line on the third."
"Yeah, that would be great," Jacqui said, smiling.
"You know, if we catch the guys, you might have to testify against them," Sara said, her face pinched in concern.
"I know. But everyone I care about already knows. And now almost everyone here knows. What can they do to hurt me?" she asked.
"I can tell you from bitter experience that they will try to embarrass you, just to trip you up so that you look nervous to the jury," Sara told her.
"Like how?" Jacqui asked.
"Once, a defense lawyer, this stainless-steel bitch, said that some unnamed witness saw me touching Grissom in a romantic gesture at a scene."
"No!" Jacqui squealed. "What did you say? Were you nervous?"
"Yeah, I was speechless for a second. I was trying to think of what they could possibly be talking about. Then I remembered and I told her I was just wiping chalk off his face."
"Why was there chalk on his face?" Jacqui asked.
"There wasn't, but she didn't know that!" Sara said, both women heaving with laughter. "That was a hard case, but fun. We got to tear down all the walls in several apartments with sledge hammers, we ended up catching the bad guy, and I got to touch Grissom's face and get away with it. Good times," she nodded.
"Damn girl!" Jacqui exclaimed, "We may have to turn the hose on you to cool you down!"
"No need," Sara snorted. "Grissom's already done that."
* * * * *
Grissom walked into the break room to find Greg and Nick heavily involved in a video game that seemed to involve copious amounts of blood and gore. Grissom shook his head, amazed that adults wanted to play the game and that parents allowed their children to.
Catherine was seated at the table, flipping through this month's Vogue, occasionally holding up the magazine to the side to point out an outfit to Sara, who at least pretended to be nominally interested.
Sara was also reading, but it was a book on forensic entomology that she had found at the college bookstore. She, too, would periodically hold the book up to Catherine, who would make a face like she had eaten something rancid.
Warrick was sitting on the other side of Catherine, but turned in his chair to watch Nick's and Greg's video game, hooting and cheering whenever one of them would 'kill' the other, which seemed to be every few seconds.
Grissom poured himself a cup of coffee, smelled it, then took a sip to ensure that it was fewer than eight hours old. It didn't taste completely burned yet, so he added a little sugar to cut the bite and sat down.
When no one made any effort to give him their undivided attention, he loudly asked, "Does anyone in this room still want to work here tomorrow?"
One by one, they put away their toys and turned their chairs aright. Each put their forearms on the edge of the table and clasped their hands, looking expectantly at him.
"Thank you. First of all, Catherine, I need you to go to Houston right away. The Houston Police Department has a lead on Tracie Ficaro, and I want you to go and collect DNA and any other physical evidence."
"Why can't the HPD do it?" she asked shortly.
"I guess you haven't been following the news. The lab has been shut down almost a year because of some 'irregularities'. They are farming out all their work to other area labs, including private labs. They have no credibility at this point and I don't want our evidence compromised. I don't want them listed anywhere on the chain of custody."
"Let me go make some calls to make arrangements for Lindsey. I'll take the first available flight," she said. "Is that all for me?" she asked, getting up.
"Nick, Warrick, I understand you've wrapped up the Hodgkins case. Have you completed the report?"
"Yes, it's in your inbox," Warrick told him, knowing that he would probably not have looked yet.
"Good, good. A woman was electrocuted to death in her home. The police have no direct evidence that it's suspicious, but Brass would like us to take a look anyway. If it's nothing, give me a call and we'll see if anything else has come up in the meantime." Grissom handed the case slip to Nick, who was closest to him.
Warrick pushed himself back from the table, saying, "Let's go, dawg. Hey, did you ever see The Believers? That woman got fried by the coffee maker," he related to Nick on the way out of the break room.
Nick had obviously seen it, because he was nodding and said, "Yeah, she was standing in a puddle of spilled milk, right?"
Their conversation faded as it drifted down the hall.
"Sara, where are you and Greg on the Gipsy case?"
"Greg got two CODIS matches that Jacqui has verified. Brass is out looking for them. Greg's still running DNA, so maybe we'll get the other guy. If not, maybe one of the two will roll over and give him up. Just got to wait and see," she reported.
"Okay, keep me apprised. I see you are reading a book about forensic entomology. Are you taking a class?" he asked, trying to be personable.
"No, my schedule is just too weird to be able to take a class. I know I'd miss too many lectures. But I bought the book anyway. If no one else will teach me, I'll learn it on my own," she said, grabbing up her belongings to leave.
"I'll teach you," he countered. "While Greg is busy in his lab, you can come help me on the dumpster case," he offered.
The corners of Sara's lips turned up into a small smile, but her brows were slightly furrowed and her eyes showed confusion. "Okay, Grissom. If you're sure it's not too much trouble."
"No trouble," he said. He fervently hoped that it would not lead to trouble. He could easily imagine the situation getting out of hand either of two directions.
* * * * *
"Dang, girl! How long you been here?" the 50-something CSI asked the corpse with a Texas twang when she entered the room. Catherine knew that females represented a small, but growing, number of investigators, and was surprised that a few of those she had occasion to meet were in the South, where she would have least expected them.
'What is it with these Southern CSIs?" Catherine asked herself. The few she had met - in Miami and now in Houston - had a decidedly different way of dealing with the investigation, and a strange way of dealing with the victims.
Cath observed from the doorway as the CSI, Marge Brooks, circumnavigated the outer edge of the room, steadily talking to the corpse in a familiar manner, as though they had just met at a barbeque.
"Didn't anybody miss you, sugar?" she asked, occasionally shaking her head and blowing out of her nose to dislodge the odor that sought to make a permanent home on the follicles. "Not that it would have done much to help you, but it would make my part in all of this a lot less unpleasant," she added as an afterthought. "You'd be just as dead, just not so stinky."
Catherine's mouth hung open and she shook her head in shocked disbelief that this seemingly genteel lady would disrespect the dead in this manner. She was accustomed to quiet professionalism whenever dealing with victims, dead or alive, and this one-sided irreverent banter irked her.
During the monologue to the corpse, CSI Brooks had been walking the room slowly, familiarizing herself with every inch of the perimeter before she started circling in towards the body.
She didn't focus on the body as she spoke, but rather directed her words towards the room in general, as though the victim were hiding and Brooks just wasn't sure where she was.
"Right now, sweetie, you're the only one who knows what happened here. I'm here to help you pass on that information to the living, so you need to tell me your secrets. If you'll do your best to tell me, I'll do my best to listen."
She fell into quiet contemplation, for which Catherine was immediately grateful, as Brooks began to meticulously mark blood spatter on the wall, taping up a ruler under each splotch, hanging a case identifier from each ruler. She pulled the camera up and began to snap pictures of each grouping, moving closer every few clicks of the shutter, ending up only inches away. She ended by swabbing a blood spot in each grouping and taking a sample of the matter that retextured the wall.
Sidling up next to the corpse, Brooks looked up at the burly, sweating detective standing just inside the door. "Leroy, has anyone from the coroner's office been here yet to state the obvious?"
"Yes, ma'am. They're pretty sure she's dead," he deadpanned.
"Do tell," she snorted. "We coulda told them that, huh? Maybe we should be doctors, too," she allowed, grinning at the detective. "Next, they'll be telling us in overly obscure doctor talk that they've finally determined the cause and manner of death, after a several-hour-long autopsy."
"Yep. I 'spect so."
"My money's on this here hole going through her head, and the fact that most of her brains are on this wall right here. What do you think?" she asked.
"Sounds reasonable," he nodded. "Manner of death?" he followed up.
"Just going out on a limb here, but unless her head just spontaneously exploded, I'm leaning towards criminal homicide, 'specially since I don't see a gun in her hand."
"Um hum," he agreed, rocking forward and back against the wall.
'How do these yokels ever clear a crime?' Catherine wondered to herself.
Brooks didn't touch the body yet, pulling out the ALS and some contrast goggles, asking Leroy to close the door that was letting in the harsh Texas light. He obliged and she switched on the unit, scanning the carpet on the side where she had been kneeling, periodically laying down a card and shooting a couple of pictures before laying tape down, pressing it down lightly on the carpet. She would peel it up and shine the ALS on the tape to make sure that whatever she had thought she saw was firmly embedded in the adhesive.
After what seemed an eternity, she moved to the other side and repeated the process.
Catherine thought this was the most painfully slow collection she had ever witnessed. 'Maybe time really did move slower in the South,' she chuckled. 'Or maybe it just feels that way because no one's in much of a damned big hurry. If we took this much time, we'd be ass-deep in cases within a week,' she avowed.
"Hope that idiot diener remembers to bag these clothes inside-out," Brooks interjected into space. "Hard to get good help when you don't pay shit."
Leroy nodded in agreement, occupying his time by picking at a hangnail on his finger that had been snagging on his pants pocket all day.
"Okay, sugar, you don't have to hang around here anymore, 'less you want to. I'm not comin' back, if I can help it," Brooks informed the spirit world.
"Let the sunshine in, Leroy, and let's wrap up this party," she said, gathering her equipment and bagging her gloves. "Why don't you tell the hired help they can come get her, but remind them to bag her hands this time."
Catherine was ecstatic to be getting out of the house that reminded her more of a stagnant sauna than a home. It was hot and sticky outside, but the effect was magnified greatly by the odor and purge from the body laying in a closed room. 'How do these people survive this climate?' she mused, tugging at her shirt to peel it away from her chest and back, only to have it snap back to bathe her in her own sweat.
She had also been staggered to see how many bugs were in the house, considering briefly that Grissom would have been in heaven about now. Brooks saw the look of disgust on Catherine's face, and snickered. "Not used to so many bugs, are you?" she asked.
"No, not really. We have bugs in Vegas, but we aren't ass-deep in them," Catherine answered honestly.
"Wish I could say it's because of her," Brooks nodded to the corpse, "but it's like that everywhere here. Almost never freezes, green all year, so the bugs only die of old age. Lot of 'em have become immune to pesticide, so you have to shoot them or hit them with a hammer to kill 'em. Too much trouble, so you get used to them."
"I'm just glad the alligators don't breed as fast as the bugs," Leroy added.
"Alligators?" Catherine asked, remembering Miami's Horatio Caine standing guard with a rifle as a diver went into the murky water to look for a sunken car.
"Don't worry. They usually stay in the bayous," Brooks assured her.
"Usually?" Catherine asked.
"Hey, Leroy, remember that big male they found down on Main Street downtown a few winters ago, just sunning himself on the sidewalk?" Brooks recalled, chuckling.
"Um hum. Took half of Animal Control to carry him back down to the bayou," he recounted.
"What was he doing downtown?" Catherine asked Brooks, glad they were on the way to the car and its blessed air conditioning, feeling sorry for the detective who would have to stay behind on body watch until the coroner's crew took over.
"A bayou runs along the northern part of downtown. He just crawled out one day, pretty as you please. Come up to see what all the fuss was about, I guess."
Catherine was having a hard time reconciling the fact that Houston was one of the largest metropolitan areas in America, but had alligators freely roaming among the skyscrapers, bugs threatening to take over every square inch of ground, and a CSI who converses with the dead at crime scenes.
Opening the car door, she was hit with a wave of intense heat. She couldn't believe that it could be even hotter in the car than it was outside or in the house. It just wasn't physically possible to supersaturate the air with that much heat. They left the doors open for a minute as Brooks started the car, turning the A/C up to its highest setting, allowing it to expel even hotter air through the vents.
"Damn, it's hot," Catherine finally acknowledged aloud.
"Be glad you came in June. Even natives lose their sense of enjoyment with the weather come August."
"You mean it gets hotter?" Catherine asked in shock.
"It's really not all that hot here, compared to any given summer day in Las Vegas. It's just real humid. Can't be more than the low 90's right now, with about 80 percent humidity. Come August, it will be in the high 90's, and the humidity will be in the 90's as well."
"Seems hotter than Vegas, and it's already over a hundred there right now," Catherine said.
"Yeah, but it cools down at night in the desert. Here, the humidity keeps it near the same temperature, night and day."
"Makes you wonder why settlers ever came to a place like this," Catherine said, amazed.
"Probably because you can grow damn near anything, almost all year long. They traded the possibility of Yellow Fever for the certainty of three meals a day, I guess. Speakin' of meals, do you like barbeque?" she asked.
"I don't eat it much, but it's okay," Catherine answered.
"Or, I know a place that makes great gumbo, whichever you want," Brooks offered.
"I don't even know what gumbo is, so I vote for the barbeque," Catherine sagely decided.
"That's the point of gumbo, darlin'. Only the cook really knows what all's in there," Brooks laughed, pulling onto a street that Catherine wouldn't drive down without an armed escort. They pulled up in front of a strange-looking building, with no front wall, a few tables scattered on a concrete floor, backed by a bar.
"What the ...?" Catherine began, then trailed off.
"You never been to an icehouse, Ms. Willows?"
"I can honestly say that I've never been anywhere like this," she avowed.
"I know it doesn't look like much, but they make the best ribs in town. Plus, we can eat in the open air so we don't stink up the place." Catherine had already become accustomed to their unique aroma, and had not thought about the possible effect on the denizens of an enclosed restaurant.
Brooks ordered them a meat platter and two beers, bringing the bottles to the table, already streaming with condensation.
"Thank God," Catherine said, turning the bottle up to allow several cold gulps to cool her throat. She was grateful that they had sat directly under a creaking ceiling fan. She rolled the cold bottle across her face, leaving the dew behind to be cooled by the slight breeze from the fan. "There's a chance I might survive this, but it's remote," she said. "You a native?" Catherine assumed.
"Naw," Brooks shook her head. "I'm from up north, Dallas. It's hotter, but less humid there. Flat like here, but less vegetation."
"Any alligators?" Catherine asked with a laugh.
"Not many, though one or two have made the swim up the Trinity River in the past."
A portly black man with beads of sweat on his brow and a gold tooth shining out with his smile, set the platter between the ladies, dealing them each a plate and some silverware. He came back with a small plate of white bread and a container of extra barbeque sauce. "Another?" he asked, gathering the dead soldiers off the table.
"You bet," Brooks nodded. Bringing back the cold brews, he asked, "How you been, Doc? Hadn't seen you in a couple a weeks."
"I've been busy, Herman. People droppin' like flies 'round here," she laughed. "Don't stand too close, if you know what's good for you," she warned. Herman expelled a deep belly laugh as he walked back to his bar.
"Doc?" Catherine asked.
"Don't mind him," Brooks advised. "So, do you think that's your girl we found today?"
"Hard to tell at this point, Ms. Brooks," Catherine answered, "I guess we'll have to hope they can raise some prints off of her."
"Yep, she's pretty ripe, but maybe they can get somethin' for you," she said, setting down a rib bone and sucking the sauce from her fingers.
* * * * *
"Yeah, Martin Sheen is a good actor. I'm just sayin' that I didn't think he was that believable in the movie," Nick was arguing as they walked up to the house where Cora Beth Richards and her husband of 22 years lived.
The front door was open and a police officer controlled access. Warrick and Nick showed their ID badges and logged in to the scene.
They made their way past the grieving husband, who was sitting on the couch with what was presumably his grown son. The husband was weeping, but the son appeared to be in shock, having been called less than an hour ago by his father.
The two CSIs made their way back into the kitchen to meet up with Brass. "Nick, 'Rick. I'm not all that convinced by the lack of evidence of a crime, guys. But I'll be honest with you, it's just a gut reaction on my part. I'd like you guys to take a look, just to put my mind at rest, if nothing else."
"Sure thing, Captain," Nick answered. "She been pronounced?"
"Yeah, an hour ago. David had another pick up to make, so I told him I'd call him when you're done."
"Anyone know what shocked her?" Nick asked, almost afraid to touch anything electric.
"Nope," Brass answered, amused by Nick's reticence to touch anything.
"Was the power on in this room when you got here?"
"Yep," Brass said, gratified that someone else was beginning to smell a rat.
"If she were electrocuted, wouldn't that trip the breaker?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Brass answered.
"Let's look around," Warrick suggested. "OK, coffee pot is on and coffee is brewed. Rules out Santaria," he chuckled, referring back to The Believers. "Let's look at all the wall switches to see if any are in the up position." The overhead light was on, so they ruled out that switch. Picking up a wooden spoon, Nick flipped on the garbage disposal switch, hearing it whine to life before flipping it back off.
"Something hinky's going on here," Nick said. "Everything's working and the breakers aren't blown. How the hell did she get shocked?"
"I can't imagine," Brass answered. "Her husband came downstairs last night to find her on the floor. He dialed 911 and the paramedics arrived three minutes later. They called in the DB. The paramedics and David concur that the burns on her hand and feet, in addition to some other medical mumbo-jumbo that I didn't catch, indicated that she was electrocuted."
"Nick, man, run down to the 24-hour WalMart and get us an inexpensive circuit tester," Warrick suggested, pulling a twenty-dollar bill out of his pocket. "Don't forget to keep the receipt," he yelled at Nick's back. Nick held up a 'I know, I know' hand and headed for the Tahoe. He wished that it was the day instead of the middle of the night so that he would have an excuse to go to Home Depot instead. 'It's probably for the best,' he considered. 'I lose all track of time in places like that.'
* * * * *
"Grissom, it's Catherine."
"How's it going in Houston? Any leads on your suspect?" he asked.
"Maybe. They took me to a body today that could be her, but she's been dead awhile and shot in the head, so I couldn't photo ID her."
"I hope so. If so, I can get out of this hellhole in a day or two," Catherine groaned into the phone.
"I take it you are not enjoying your time in the subtropics," Grissom ventured.
"It's like a steam bath, and there are bugs everywhere," she said.
"Maybe I should have gone instead," Grissom laughed.
"It would take you a lifetime just to look at every creepy crawly in the one house we went to today."
"How are you getting along with the investigator?"
"God, Grissom. She's weirder than hell. She's nice enough I guess, and she seems to know her way around a crime scene, but she talks to the cadavers. And forget professionalism," she snorted.
"She? Who are you working with?" Grissom asked.
"Some middle-aged woman named Brooks. Someone called her 'Doc', though she didn't show much admiration for doctors at the scene."
"It's not a nickname, Catherine," he informed her. "It's a title. She's got a Ph.D."
"Nuh uh. No way. You have got to be joking," Catherine sputtered.
"No. I'm serious. She has a doctorate in Forensic DNA and Serology from the University of Texas. Did her Master's at University of Florida, if I'm not mistaken. I've read several of her papers. She's considered a national authority on blood evidence."
"This cannot possibly be the same person. She talks like she barely passed junior college."
"Don't let her fool you. It's a front. In addition to being a Ph.D., she's a life member of Mensa. She just speaks that way to blend in."
"God, that's too much. She sure fooled me!"
"You could learn a lot from her, if you can stay close to her in the next few days. Don't underestimate her," he advised.
* * * * *
Nick delivered the circuit tester, the receipt and the change to Warrick. "You know, WalMart is almost tolerable at this hour of the night," Nick affirmed.
Warrick set about testing every metal surface he could find in the kitchen, while David wheeled Mrs. Richards out of the house, bringing a fresh wave of sobbing from the living room where Brass was talking to the husband, Carl Richards. Nothing tested hot, so Warrick decided to test the circuit tester, unscrewing the faceplate off a socket and touching the live wire. A light came on the tester and it emitted a tinny beep.
"Tester works, but there's nothing exposed around here that's hot," Warrick stated.
"OK, I'm Mrs. Richards," Nick starts off, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Warrick. Nick slapped at his arm with the back of his hand. "C'mon, talk this through with me, man!"
"OK, you're Mrs. Richards. You come downstairs late in the evening. What for?"
Both men go back to the door and pretend to be entering the kitchen.
"Maybe she heard something," Nick suggested.
"Why wouldn't she tell her husband?" Warrick refuted.
"I don't know. Maybe he's a wuss and she wore the pants in the family."
"Maybe she wanted a snack. She didn't look like she missed many meals," Warrick said quietly so that his voice wouldn't carry into the living room.
"What's with the coffee? Did one of them make it? Neither of them seemed to be drinking coffee when we got here," Nick remembered. He opened the pantry to find the coffee can, which was labeled as fully caffeinated coffee.
"Let's go talk to Mr. Richards," Warrick suggested.
Approaching Mr. Richards and his son, Warrick and Nick looked at Brass, silently asking if they could interrupt.
"Mr. Richards, I'm Warrick Brown and this is Nick Stokes. We're with the Las Vegas Crime Lab. May we ask you a few questions?"
"That's all I've been doing, is answering questions. When's someone going to answer my questions?" he wailed.
"We're trying to, Mr. Richards, but we've got to get some things straight first. Did you make the coffee that's in the kitchen right now?"
"No, I guess Cora Beth did," he answered. "I can't drink coffee at night or I can't sleep."
"What about your wife? Did she drink coffee at night?"
"Yeah. She works the night shift at the hospital, in the Admissions Office. She works eleven to seven."
"Mr. Richards, we're going need to take the coffee maker with us, all right?" Nick said pleasantly.
"Sure," Mr. Richards said, wiping a stray tear from the side of his face.
"I think my Dad's been through enough for one night. Can we hold off on any more questions until later?" Kevin Richards asked. He was more clean-cut than the typical twenty-year-old, and spoke more authoritatively.
"I suggest you have an electrician come and check out everything in your kitchen as soon as possible," Brass told Kevin. "If you think of anything we should know, give me a call," Brass said, handing Kevin his card.
The two CSIs and the police captain didn't speak until they were standing outside, on the other side of the Tahoe. "Well, fellas, what do you think?" Brass asked.
"Oh, yeah, I'm definitely getting some vibes off this one," Warrick affirmed.
"Let's get back and check out the coffee maker," Nick suggested. Brass patted him on the arm and said, "Thanks, guys. Let me know what you find out."
"That's what we're here for," Nick said, getting into the driver's seat.
* * * * *
Catherine found Dr. Brooks at her desk in a dank, but thankfully air-conditioned, cubicle in the lower level of the building housing the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office. She was looking at the photos of the walls of the crime scene through a magnifying glass, scribbling notes on a legal pad.
"Find anything interesting?" Catherine asked brightly.
"Just started awhile ago," Brooks mumbled, then looked up to nod her greeting.
"Mind if I observe?" Catherine asked politely.
"Help yourself," Brooks agreed, handing her a magnifier, a ruler and a stack of photos. "Need a calculator?" she thought to ask.
"Yes. I might be able to do the ratios in my head, but I don't have a table of inverse sines up there," Catherine pointed at her temple.
"I don't know 'em all, but I've looked at this sort of stuff enough to remember most of the common ones," she muttered. "I usually just work the cases with bunches of blood."
"I understand that you are an expert in bloodstain evidence."
"Well, the puddle's pretty small, so it's easy for folks to mistake me for a big frog," she demurred, setting aside the photos and looking up at the ceiling for a moment to roll the kinks out of her neck.
"I don't know about that, Dr. Brooks. Someone I respect a lot told me that, and he's not one to exaggerate."
"You don't have to call me 'doctor', 'specially not outside this office. It just puts people off. I only whip out the title when I'm dealin' with some pointy-headed little dipshit, like one of those downtown businessmen who think they can impress me with their MBA. Like I don't have one of those, too," she laughed. "You can call me 'Marge', if you want, or 'Brooks'."
"You have an MBA?" Catherine repeated. "Why?"
"Seemed like the thing to do at the time," she said without elaboration.
"OK, Marge, tell me what you see here," Catherine prodded.
"Well, she was shot with a medium-bore pistol, like a nine millimeter or a forty-five, up close and personal like," she said holding her hand like a gun about half a foot from Catherine's head. "Too bad the walls in that house are like paper, 'cause the bullets went clean through. They would be all tore up, anyway," she sighed.
"They?" Catherine asked.
"Yeah, she was shot twice, right through the same hole, so the perp must have squeezed 'em off pretty quick, or held her in place so she didn't fall right over."
"How do you know that?" Catherine asked.
"Well, there was one big hole in her head, but two right close together in the wall. He was too close to miss at that range, plus there were really two sets of splatter overlaid. Hard to tell them apart, if you aren't used to looking for it," she explained.
She picked up a picture and pointed out to Catherine minute differences in the angles of the mist and matter. "You have to start your eyes going out from the bullet holes, ignoring the drops that don't belong, that are different in any way. Then you can see that there's two patterns. Here, try it," she said handing over the picture.
Catherine would never have guessed that the stain was more than one spatter, if she hadn't been told before she looked. Armed with that foreknowledge, she could imagine that she could barely make out the separate patterns, but she wasn't sure she could if she hadn't already known.
"This wasn't a robbery-gone-wrong or a sudden crime of passion. Someone wanted our girl good and dead. It was an execution, looks like to me."
"Maybe she is our suspect, then," Catherine nodded. "She's accessory to a multiple homicide that appears to be related to organized crime."
"If her prints match, you can have carry her back to Vegas with you," Brooks stated.
* * * * *
"Jacqui!" Sara chirped as she bounded into the print lab, startling the tech.
"Geez, Sara, give me a heart attack next time!" she huffed.
"Sorry! I just wanted to let you know that Brass found the two suspects. They like to think of themselves as White Supremacists, but they are really low-life white trash punks who couldn't make the minimum IQ cut for the KKK," she giggled, wondering to herself if IQs could possibly be negative numbers.
"So far, five patrons have positively identified them as the perpetrators, so you may not have to testify after all!" Sara told her excitedly.
"Cool! Did they find the other guy?" Jacqui asked.
"Not yet. The two they've got are still hanging tough. We'll have to see what Brass can do with them, or what the DA offers them. Don't give up yet!" Sara admonished.
"Things have really changed for us. It used to be that no one would even investigate crimes against gays. There's still a ways to go, but it's getting better all the time," Jacqui said optimistically.
"Sooner or later most people figure out that the real enemy of society is trash like these guys, not perfectly decent people who just so happen to have something different about them. I mean, we're all different, right?"
"Right," Jacqui said, standing up to give Sara a hug. "Thanks, Sara. You've been a good friend through all of this."
"Well, don't let that get around. You might ruin my reputation as an emotionally challenged, anti-social bitch. Then what would I do for fun around here?" she laughed.
"Your secret is safe with me," Jacqui promised.
* * * * *
"Warrick, look at this thing. It's brand new," Nick said, taking the coffee maker out of the bag. "Smell it. It still has that plastic smell. There's not a speck of dust on it." He turned the appliance over to look at the drip area above the warmer. "Look, no coffee grounds stuck up here, or even a stain."
"You're right, but it's not a crime to have a new coffee pot."
"I know. But what if this isn't the coffee maker that was in their house last night? What if it was replaced before we got there?"
"There wasn't time to go and get another one," Warrick said.
"What if he already had it on hand?" Nick asked.
"That would mean it was premeditated," Warrick surmised.
"Let's get this thing to Jacqui to print. Grab the carafe," Nick instructed. They were excited to have any theory at all, and didn't want anyone but the best to do the print work.
Walking into the print lab, they set the coffee maker down in front of Jacqui.
"Gee, guys, a new coffee pot. What a thoughtful gift," she teased.
"Naw, it's our only evidence in a homicide," Nick told her. "We need you to find some prints on it, if you can."
"If they are there, I'll find them. Now, do you have anything for me to match them to?" she asked.
"We're on it," Warrick said. They headed to the autopsy suite to collect Mrs. Richards fingerprints to match or exclude from any that Jacqui coaxed from the plastic.
* * * * *
Catherine had always been willing to make sacrifices, but she wasn't sure about this one. She had done as Grissom advised and stuck close to Brooks, but that now meant that she was staring down at a bowl of something that she could not identify. CSI Brooks had a half-piece of sourdough bread in her left hand and a spoon in the right, happily slurping in the spicy gumbo, washing it down with iced tea.
"Go ahead, Willows, try it. It ain't gonna bite. All the critters are long dead," she teased.
"What is all this stuff in here?" she asked, running her spoon through the gumbo to unearth all the ingredients.
"Oh, it's mainly rice and seasoned roux, with some vegetables, shrimp and oysters to give it some redeeming nutritional value, and maybe some other things if they got creative."
"It's a thickener made out of near-burnt flour, mainly."
"Doesn't sound appetizing."
"You'll be surprised, if you ever work up the nerve to taste it," she challenged.
Catherine hoisted a spoonful to her nose to sniff it, then gingerly put the spoon in her mouth. She was surprised at the mixture of flavors, blended, yet individually discernible. She wasn't sure she liked it well enough to ever order it of her own volition, but it wasn't bad, by any stretch.
"So you work in Vegas. Isn't that where Gil Grissom works?" she asked between spoonfuls.
"Yes. He's my supervisor, as a matter of fact."
"I heard him speak a couple of times. I occasionally refer to his papers when I have cases that depend on the bugs. I usually find what I need in 'Linear Regression Analysis of Insect Maturation to Establish Proximal Time of Death'. Yeah, that's a classic," she nodded respectfully.
Catherine knew that Grissom had taught. She knew he still gave seminars and presented papers at conferences. But she was surprised to find out that he had published papers in refereed journals that she didn't know about.
"How long have you been down here in Houston?" Catherine asked.
"Not long. Just a few years this time. I used to live here when I was in school the first time. Did my Bachelor's at University of Houston. After awhile I made the mistake of getting married and getting dragged all over God's creation. We lived in New Mexico when we separated. The girls and I moved back to Dallas. After I finished my Ph.D., I came down here."
"How many kids do you have?"
"Two girls. One just turned 18 and the other will be 16 in a couple of months," she beamed.
"How long were you a single parent?" Catherine asked.
"Since they were 5 and 7. That's why the MBA. I had to support them, 'cause God knows their Daddy wasn't about to keep a job. Nice enough guy, 'specially to them, but crazier than a March hare," she elaborated.
"So you haven't been doing this very long?" Catherine asked, astonished.
"Nope. Just started a few years ago. I love it here, but I think I'm gonna have to give this place up."
"Why? Because of all the trouble I've been hearing in the news? Problems at the PD lab, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. I wanted to stay. Try to make things better. I've never falsified anything in my life, and I know a bunch of other investigators that can say the same thing. But we all got tarred with the same brush. No one trusts our testimony anymore. Better for them to get in some fresh blood they feel like they can trust. I just hope the lab's reputation doesn't keep the rest of us from finding good jobs," she stated, washing the words down with a long swig of tea.
"You tell that livin' doll Gil Grissom that if he's got an opening on any shift, I'd love to have a crack at it."
"I will, but I don't know how much you'd enjoy it. The atmosphere there is very different from here. I'm not sure you'd feel comfortable."
"You mean I wouldn't fit in? CSI Willows, I am a chameleon. I can fit in anywhere I wish. You naturally assume that I am as you have seen me; yet, you have only seen what I manifest to put the average Houstonian at ease," she said, without the slightest Texas accent, sounding rather more like she was an Ivy League graduate.
"I would, however, continue to talk to the dead, as long as they talk to me," she laughed. "But I would speak with them in a manner appropriate to the environment."
* * * * *
"Well, boys, there are multiple prints from one source on this puppy, but none of them are your girl's," Jacqui said. "I'd stake my professional reputation on them being male, due to the size and the wear on the ridges. They are fresh, judging by the oil content. Got any male suspects?" she asked.
"Two possibles," Nick answered. "C'mon, Warrick, let's round up Brass. Shift's nearly over and it's time we paid the Richards men another visit."
* * * * *
"Welcome back, Catherine," Grissom said as they took their seats around the break room table. "I won't ask how your trip was."
"Just say the word 'Houston' next time I bitch about it being too hot here. That will definitely reset my perspective," she snarked.
"Did you manage to spend any more time with Dr. Brooks?"
"Yes, I worked with her as much as I could. You were right, Grissom. I wasn't seeing her clearly. I'm not saying it was all an act, like something fake. She seems to blend in anywhere she goes, just naturally. She's only been doing this for a few years, but I bow in homage to her knowledge of blood spatter."
"I warned you not to underestimate her."
"Meeting her reminded me to not judge a book by its cover. By the way, she's looking for a job."
"Did you get her résumé?"
"Yep. Got it right here. Want it?"
"No. I'll just lose it before I get it to Carvallo. You better do it," he said honestly. "There are openings on the day shift, so they might want to take a look at her."
"I know I said I didn't like her much at first, Grissom. But I wouldn't want my worst enemy to have to work with Eckley!"
"She'll do fine with Eckley. She's adaptable, as you've noticed."
Looking around to Nick and Warrick, Grissom raised his eyebrows to bid them to update him on their case.
"I would have bet money it was the husband, Carl Richards," Nick said. "But it turns out that it was the son. He had shorted the old coffee maker to electrocute her, and then replaced it before we got there. Found his prints on the breaker as well."
"Motive?" Grissom inquired.
"Said she was a bitch and had always been a bitch. He said he wanted his Dad to be free from her while he was still young enough to enjoy it."
"Happy Father's Day, Dad," Greg snorted. The room erupted in half-swallowed giggles.
"Sara," Grissom said, to indicate it was her turn to report.
"Greg and I are still batting .667. We've nailed down two of the three perps in the Gipsy assault and murder case, but we haven't given up. Brass is still running down leads and Greg is working on the clothing from the other victims to see if we can still come up with a third DNA grouping."
"Another lesson in the dangers of judging," Catherine noted.
* * * * *
Grissom laid on his couch in the dark, Moonlight Sonata playing quietly in the background. He was thinking about how serendipitous it was to have so many instances of the same lesson at the same time.
Someone had judged Tatiana LeFleur and she lost her life. Jacqui had been frightened that he would judge her and she lose her job. Catherine had judged Marge Brooks and might have lost an opportunity to learn from one of the field's best. Nick had judged Carl Richards and could have missed the real culprit.
As one thought passed seamlessly to the next, Grissom asked himself if he were judgmental. He knew that as a scientist he should be open until he had all the evidence. He tried not to prejudge. Not evidence. Not people.
He thought about the people he worked with everyday, and realized that he had no choice in most cases other than to judge the books by their covers, since he never bothered to open them up. In his quest to retain his privacy, he offered the same consideration to them, but that also meant that he knew very little of substance about them.
It hadn't always been that way. When he had met Catherine, she was an intern, dancing in a strip club by day and going to college at night. He was able to see her for what she wanted herself to be rather than what she appeared to be. But that was a long time ago.
It had taken him years to see Greg as a potentially brilliant scientist instead of just a raucous iconoclast. He was often annoying and silly to Grissom, but his IQ was probably at par with Grissom's.
He had known Sara as long as he had known Catherine, but he recognized in shock that he actually knew very little about her that wasn't related to work. He had been surprised to hear she had a brother. He didn't know if she had any other siblings. He didn't know if her parents were still living. How can you know someone ten years and not know anything about her family, he wondered.
He assumed that, while it was obvious by her dinner invitation that she was attracted to him at some level, she couldn't feel the same way about him that he felt about her. He assumed that she would tire of his stodgy, boring lifestyle and seek a more exciting man.
He assumed that she would need more physical attention than a 47-year-old man could provide - 48 in August, he reminded himself. He assumed that everyone at the lab would hear about it, and he and Sara would be embarrassed. He assumed that Carvallo or Mobley would find out, and one or both of them would be officially reprimanded or fired.
Grissom began to catalogue all the assumed consequences of allowing a relationship with Sara. He began to realize that he was prejudging the relationship as well. He was taking his assumptions and treating them as inalterable facts, instead of possibilities to be avoided.
He picked up the phone and dialed her number. She answered on the first ring, as though she had been incubating the phone. "Sidle."
"Sara, it's Grissom," he said nervously.
"Oh, hey, Grissom," she said. "What's up?" she asked, wondering if he needed her to return to work.
"Nothing, really. I just had a book that I wanted you to read. I know you've seen the cover, but I'm sure you haven't had a chance to read it."
"Sounds interesting. What's it called?" she asked anxiously.
"Gil Grissom. Can I bring it over?" he asked, holding his breath.
"Of course! I've been dying to read that book," she said, her smile evident in her voice.
- The End -