Spoilers: Potential spoilers through season 4.
Archive: Please ask first!
Disclaimer: Yeah, like I own anything related to CSI. Get real.
Author's Note: Thanks to Burked for her support and friendship. She, Ann and Marlou all beta-ed, but all mistakes are mine.
Summary: Tensions rise when a dead body is found in the desert, and the only evidence suggests one of the team is the murderer.
Instinctively, Sara braced against the dashboard as the Denali lurched to the side, wincing at the waves of pain that radiated up her arms. She swore quietly as she flexed the wrist that bore the brunt of the jarring motion.
"Sorry," Warrick said softly, swinging the wheel hard to bring the SUV back onto the gravel path. He kept his eyes focused forward, looking for more of the deep ruts, but he could tell a deadly glare was being directed his way.
"Admit it: you are so lost."
"Not according to the GPS," he answered smoothly, briefly taking his eyes off of the road to flash Sara an amused smile. "Or to the woman reading the maps."
She snorted in reply. They'd spent the last 45 minutes inching down an access road to a mine located well outside of the city limits. The mine in question had been closed for the better part of 40 years, and the gravel road definitely showed signs of neglect.
"How the hell did anyone find a body out here?"
"I'm more interested in how someone got a body out here."
"If this turns out to be another gorilla someone dumped from a plane, I am going to be so pissed," she muttered as they hit another bone-jarring rut.
"Like you're so cheerful now."
"Bite me," Sara said with a grin.
"Uh, uh. My grandma didn't raise no fool. Hey, look," Warrick said, nodding to a flashing light visible as the Denali crested a hill. Around the police SUV, a group of a dozen people milled about, visibly shaken.
Detective Vartan held out a helping hand as they cautiously made their way down the incline, sending sprays of pebbles and sand flying ahead of them.
"Ready to rock?" he quipped.
"I don't think this was a rave that went wrong," Sara said, looking at the crowd, then smiling at Vartan.
"Nah. Group of rock hounds were on their way to the old Grier Mine, looking for some kind of special quartz. They found a body down in a gully," Vartan said, nodding toward the yellow tape marking the edge of the depression.
"Anyone touch the body?" Warrick asked.
"Not according to them. They saw the body from up top, but didn't go down to check on him. It's obvious he's dead."
"Any ID?" Sara asked as they headed to the gully.
"Nope, body's nude. I think he was shot."
The detective shrugged in Warrick's direction. "The bugs and animals have already started working on the body. He's pretty messed up, but he hasn't started to swell."
"Probably out here less than a week then," Sara concluded. "Anyone from the coroner's office been here yet?"
"Nah. David called about 15 minutes ago. Some suicide at Lake Mead. The body's stuck on something. He's running late."
"Tell him not to bother," Warrick said. "That van of his will never make it down the road. You better call for an airlift to get the body out of here."
"Have fun," Vartan said as the two CSIs walked further along the edge of the gully before picking a spot to climb down. They approached the body slowly, sweeping the area with their flashlights, looking for any evidence.
"Oh, damn," Sara said when a gentle breeze brought the putrid smell of rotting flesh towards them.
"At least he's not a liquid man."
"Yeah. There's nothing here. No shoeprints. No tire tracks. It hasn't rained lately; there should be something. Ugh," Sara added as rats scurried from the body as they neared.
"I thought you liked recycling."
"You're as bad as Grissom."
"That's cold," Warrick deadpanned, tilting his head as their lights played over the victim's feet and legs. "Feet aren't torn up. He didn't walk out here barefoot."
"It was hard enough getting here alive. I can't imagine trying it while carrying a body."
"And the guy looks buff."
"Would have taken some definite muscle then," Sara said as she examined the sides of the ravine for signs that someone brought a body down.
"No kidding," he said, tilting his head as he ran his light up the torso. Maggots and beetles slithered around three separate openings in the chest. It was evident the rats weren't the only creatures to have snacked on their victim; large pieces of flesh were missing, clearly ripped from the body.
Stepping closer, he shined the light on the victim's face. Warrick wrinkled his nose as he took in the bugs that crawled though the eye sockets, mouth and nostrils, the flesh in the surrounding areas undulating as bugs crawled under the skin. The damage to the soft tissue distorted the features, but not enough to prevent identification.
A cold chill passed through him, and he quickly pulled the light away from the face.
He wasn't fast enough.
"Shit. Oh, shit," Sara whispered, backing away and shaking her head, her own flashlight falling from her numb fingers. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she doubled over, clearly fighting the bile that was rising.
Reeling, Sara made her way back down the gully, scrambling up the slope. Once on top, she ignored the startled detective's helping hand, heading away from the crime scene as fast as she could move while doubled over.
"What the hell?" Vartan said as Warrick flew by him. His confusion turned to worry when Sara stumbled on the rocky ground, ignoring her injury as she staggered towards the Denali. She made it most of the way before falling to the ground again, this time vomiting repeatedly.
"Easy, girl, easy," Warrick said soothingly, dropping to the ground behind her. He stroked her back softly until her stomach was empty. Then, he helped her up, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. He opened the rear door to the SUV, gently pushing Sara into the seat.
"Sorry," she said lowly. "I... I."
"Shhhh. Don't worry about it," he said, grabbing a bottle of water from his stash in the rear of the vehicle. "Here. You take it easy. I'll take care of it."
Pulling out his cell phone, he sighed as Vartan gave him a questioning look.
"Sara sick?" the detective asked in confusion. He'd seen the body; it was gross. Dead bodies, as a rule, usually were. It came with the job. He couldn't imagine a CSI with as much experience as Sara would be bothered by the sight of one.
"Hold on," Warrick said, his hand held out as he talked into the cell phone. "Grissom - it's Warrick. Give me a call ASAP. We have a... problem out here."
"What problem?" Vartan asked, his tone becoming professional, though his expression was compassionate as he glanced back towards Sara.
"Our vic? Sara knows... knew him. His name is Hank Peddigrew."
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