Spoilers: Potential spoilers through season 4, including the finale.
Archive: Please ask first!
Disclaimer: Yeah, like I own anything related to CSI. Get real.
Author's Note: Thanks to Burked and Ann for their beta skills! 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.
As the Denali pulled away, a perplexed Grissom watched until it disappeared over the top of the hill, letting out a frustrated huff once it was out of sight. The night was shaping up to be one to remember - and not in a good way.
Dealing with the sheriff had been bad enough, but now he had an angry Catherine to contend with as well. She never hesitated to let him know when she was upset, and Grissom had no doubts that he'd be hearing more about it from her later.
He only wished he had a clue what had made her angry this time.
Catherine had made it clear that she preferred to work on the bomb case. She liked those high-profile cases, even though they drew meddling elected officials faster than a corpse attracted blowflies. Why had she reacted so strongly, then, when he gave it to her? She could have all the attention from the bigwigs that she wanted. Catherine was even going to be the primary.
It made no sense. Not that people often did.
Then there was Sara.
Catherine's earlier suspicions hadn't been entirely wrong. He did fear there was another factor contributing to Sara becoming ill at the scene. He didn't think it was alcohol, though, but something that could be equally destructive to her career: burnout.
When he'd taken her home after she'd been pulled over, his only supervisory response had been to insist that she take a vacation. Sara agreed readily, but Grissom wasn't sure if it was because she was too embarrassed or too relieved to argue. He wanted to think it was because she recognized she needed the break, but he couldn't be sure.
In hindsight, Grissom realized that Sara had a terrible year, going back to the lab explosion. So wrapped up in his own world, he hadn't noticed her retreating. The signs had been there: she hadn't laughed, she hadn't smiled, she hadn't approached the job with the same vigor and enthusiasm she once had.
He'd tried to bridge the gap, tried to repair the damage in their relationship, but Grissom worried he was too late. With all the times he pushed Sara away, it wasn't surprising she stayed away now. After she returned from vacation, the timing had never seemed right to broach the subject.
Of course, it was all probably moot. Tonight showed where Sara's feelings truly laid. Why else would she have reacted that way?
With a dejected sigh, Grissom turned back to the crime scene. Work had always been there for him in the past; it would have to do for the future. Ignoring the detective's questioning look, he indicated the group of witnesses.
"Who found the body?"
"I guess I did," said a middle-aged man. "Tim Fischer. I'm a geology professor at the university. Mark, Siobhan and Brian are students of mine," he said, pointing each out in turn. "The rest are members of a rock collecting club. We were walking past the gully when we noticed the smell. I looked over, saw that poor man, and then I called 911."
"What were you doing out here?"
"Twice a year, the owners let us into the Grier mine to get samples. We were on our way home."
"You didn't notice the body earlier?" Grissom asked.
"We didn't come this way," Fischer explained, pulling out a map from his back pocket. "It's crazy trying to come up that road. A better one runs to the south, about four kilometers away. We parked here, then took this trail to the mine. There's a nice vein of malachite along this ridge. We came back this route."
"May I keep the map?"
"Thank you," Grissom said, placing it in his kit before walking over to join Warrick. "What evidence did you collect?"
"I got pics and bugs."
"Is that all?" Grissom asked incredulously. Even working alone, he should have been able to do more than that. "Evidence, even with an exposed body, is time-sensitive."
"Oh, like I'm so easy to confuse with Greg."
Grissom looked up, clearly confused. Why was Warrick angry now? He gave the younger man a pointed look as they made their way toward the body.
"I didn't collect any more, 'cause there is no more. There are no tracks, other than animal, around him. No cigarette butts, no gum wrappers, no trash. Nothing."
"No visible signs of trace. Haven't turned Hank over yet. I'll check him closer in the morgue."
Pursing his lips, Grissom ran his flashlight over the body, then up the sides of the rock walls. "Looks like the body was placed here. Not dumped. At least a 15-foot drop. Even a corpse would show signs if it had been pushed over."
"I've walked at least 300 yards in each direction. There's no sign of shoe prints, no tire marks, no drag marks. We're looking at 200 pounds on him. Not likely the killer carried Hank over this terrain."
Grissom frowned, slightly irritated at Warrick's insistence on referring to their victim by name. It didn't matter if they knew who he was; they had to stay detached, treat it like any other case. "Okay, the body got here somehow. Go topside. Check each side of the ravine, see if there's any clues on how the killer brought the body down."
"Right. And airlift will be here in a few minutes to get Hank."
As Warrick walked away, Grissom let out a long sigh. Tonight definitely was not going to be good.
Once they reached a relatively passable section of road, Catherine risked glancing at Sara. Neither woman had spoken since leaving the scene, and the silence was becoming oppressive.
"Hey, want me to drop you off at your place? Nicky was wrapping up his case. He can help me with this one."
"I won't get sick again," Sara replied firmly.
"If I thought you would, you wouldn't be riding up front with me! Go ahead. Take the night off."
Sara raised an eyebrow in wry amusement. While she and Catherine worked well together, they weren't exactly friends. But her support in all matters Hank made Sara wonder if this was part of some weird social ritual she never learned as a teenager. Despite the night's events, Sara's lips twitched at the mental image of her having to take a two-timed Judy on a drinking binge as part of a 'Cheated On, Now Drowning Our Miseries' support group. The acronym was appropriate, even if she wasn't planning any future benders.
"I'm fine, Cath."
"Sure you are. Hate to see you when you weren't."
"Think you could tell the difference?" Sara asked with a hint of a challenge. No one had suspected a thing had been wrong. For a long time.
"Guess you have a point. Which isn't good. 'Cause you're the type that usually goes postal," Catherine replied in mock-seriousness.
Sara chuckled briefly, before turning to look out the side window. Eventually, she dropped her head in dejection. "Everyone is going to learn the truth about me and Hank. That's one part of my private life I really wanted to keep private."
"There's no reason for it become public. His cheating on you isn't pertinent to this case. Old news."
"I'm not going to impede an investigation."
"Did you kill Hank?"
"Of course not!"
"Why bring up irrelevant information? It's been over a year. If we investigated every person that a victim pissed off in that long of a time period, we'd never solve anything. Don't incriminate yourself."
"So tell me about our case," Sara finally responded.
Grissom frowned in consternation. He was having trouble concentrating. Their only evidence was the corpse and the insects feasting upon it. He was trying to examine both for anything Warrick may have overlooked, but his mind insisted on continually reminding him of one fact: This was the man Sara picked to be her lover.
Hearing the approaching helicopter, Grissom packed away his evidence jars, then ran his flashlight over the body one last time. What was it that he'd been able to give Sara? Did he appreciate what she had offered him? What did Sara see when she looked into his eyes?
Grissom drew back as a beetle picked that moment to crawl out of an eye socket. The juxtaposition of the imagery was apparent even to him. Standing up, he directed Warrick and the rescue workers.
"I'm going to photograph you while you move the body. Warrick, make sure the body is placed on the stretcher in the same position. We don't want to disturb the lividity."
"Man, he's ripe," the lead rescue worker griped. "I hate rotters. I, ugh, God, oh God..."
"Don't contaminate the scene!" Grissom yelped as the man dropped the stretcher and began retching.
"Billy, what's wrong? Oh, that's... no. Oh, no, that's Hank? Tell me that isn't Hank," his partner begged, backing away from the body.
"Sorry, man. I thought they told you who you'd be picking up," Warrick said softly.
Grissom snapped his head between the men in confusion. While they didn't normally deal with corpses, the rescue workers were used to grisly scenes. In many ways, their jobs were worse than a CSI's. Their victims were usually alive, bodies mangled or burnt, in agony, begging for relief or an end to their suffering.
And this bothered them. Damn.
He dropped his head as a feeling of guilt washed over him. Sara hated any bug-infested body. She was empathic, too. She'd probably be sick seeing anyone she knew. And I reacted strongly when I found Debbie Marlin. I knew that wasn't Sara, and it still got to me.
Maybe it didn't mean she still had feelings for their corpse. Grissom rubbed his hand over his beard. He hadn't meant to be cruel. Seeing Peddigrew had surprised him. He hadn't been expecting it. Imagine how Sara felt. Damn.
"Come on, Billy. We gotta do this. We owe Hank that much. We can't leave him like this. Who did this to him?"
"We don't know yet," Grissom replied, the softness of his voice surprising Warrick.
"Find who did this. Promise me that you'll get the bastard that did this."
"We'll do our best. I'm sorry for your loss," Grissom said, realizing he owed Sara an apology.
Nick and Vartan stood outside the house, waiting for the locksmith to open the front door. As the deputies entered, guns drawn, a shrill sound pierced the night air, prompting neighbors to turn on their lights.
"Alarm's still working and active," Vartan commented. "Last person to leave must have set it."
"We know where Hank had been the past few days?" Nick asked, nodding as the deputies who cleared the house waved them in.
"Talked to his supervisor. He was on vacation. Gave us the name of his current girlfriend. I'm heading back to interview her later."
"Nice timing. No one would miss him. Did the killer know that or just luck out?"
"Find me some evidence, and I'll get you an answer."
"There wasn't anything at the scene?"
"Warrick and Grissom didn't find anything."
"Damn," Nick muttered, his curse referring both to the detective's comments and the scene before him. The house was immaculate. Nothing was out of place. There was no sign of a struggle, no disturbed furniture, no visible bloodstains.
"You know, I was teasing Sara once. Asked her if Hank was her 'Mr. Perfect'. She said no," Nick said, turning to face Vartan. "He was too sloppy."
"Think Mr. Sloppy hired a maid?"
"Or someone tried to clean up a crime scene."
"Good evening, Gil," Robbins said. "How's Sara?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen her since she left the scene."
"It's a shame. No one should ever have to see someone they know in this condition."
"True," Grissom exhaled. "What can you tell me?"
"Cause of death is pretty straightforward. Three gunshots to the chest. Any of them would have killed him. One through the heart would have been fatal immediately. The other two each took out a lung, doing a lot of damage to the arteries. He would have bled out quickly from either of those. Pulled one bullet from the body. Sent it to Bobby. We're still waiting on the tox screen, but in every other way, he was in excellent health."
"Yes, the body's clean."
"Washed. We found a trace of soap in the scalp and the skin folds of the elbow. Sent samples to Trace. Any other evidence was washed off."
"Someone went to a lot of trouble covering their tracks."
"So it would seem. And it's a good thing his body was found while it was still visually identifiable," Robbins said, hobbling to X-rays hanging from a light box.
"Unless you had a DNA sample, I don't know how else you could have identified him. He's tall, but not unusually so. There's a hairline fracture to the wrist. Only broken bone. I'm not an odontologist, but I don't think his dental records would help. He has no cavities. You might have been able to exclude the body, but I don't think there's enough unique attributes to establish identity."
"Let me know when the tox screens come in."
"Don't I always?"
"Doc, do me a favor," Grissom said, pausing at the doors to look back at the autopsied body and organs spread across the morgue. "If Sara comes down, try to talk her out of seeing him like this."
"Of course, Gil," Robbins replied kindly.
"Oh, God," Elaine Alcott gasped, paling noticeably as she looked at the morgue photograph. "That's Hank. How, how did this... what... happened?"
"I'm sorry for your loss," Vartan said. "We've just started our investigation. Would you like some coffee?"
"No, no. No, thank you."
"Ms. Alcott, when was the last time you saw Hank?"
"It was Friday, after he got off his shift. We had a late dinner. He was leaving early the next morning."
"Where was he going?"
"A whitewater-rafting trip."
"You didn't go? Were you having difficulties?"
"Oh, no," she said, wiping her eyes. "Nothing like that. My idea of fun in the water is a tropical beach. But Hank loves doing those things. He hadn't gone rafting for a while. I told him to go ahead. I've been really busy with work. I couldn't get off, so we couldn't take a joint vacation. I wanted him to have fun."
"Had he mentioned any troubles? At work? Any fights lately?'
"God, no! Hank's a great guy. Everyone at the station gets along with him. He's everybody's best friend. I don't understand this. Why would anyone want to hurt him? Why?"
Sara set the bomb pieces on the table, swearing softly to herself. She hated bombers. Smart ones always planted a second or third one, rigged to go off later, maximizing the odds of killing or injuring the police and rescue workers who responded to the first.
She used to worry Hank would get killed. Happened anyway.
Sighing, Sara closed her eyes as she rolled her head back, working out the tension in her neck. As angry as Hank made her, she never wanted to see him like that. That wasn't the way she wanted to remember him.
He'd been nice that night at the bar fight, friendly and attentive. But as soon as he tried to apologize, she had cut him off curtly. She had been busy, but the real truth was she hadn't been interested in what he had to say.
Why was I so cold to him? It wouldn't have hurt me to have been polite at least. Did he die thinking I was a bitch? It doesn't matter. We were never going to get back together. If we had broken up for any other reason, maybe, but there's no way I'll ever trust him again.
I would trust him again. Damn.
Turning, she saw Catherine leaning against the doorframe. "Shift's over. Want to go grab a beer... ritto? A breakfast burrito? Nick says Los Tolteca makes great ones."
"Thanks, Cath," Sara replied with a half-grin. "I'm nearly done with this. Might as well finish it before I head out."
"Okay," the blonde replied, rolling her eyes at her verbal slip-up. Seeing Grissom walking down the hallway, looking in various labs, she fixed him with a sharp glare. "Lose something? A heart maybe?"
"Have you seen Sara? I want to apologize," he said, looking at Catherine over the top of his glasses.
"Layout Room. Can't guarantee she's interested in hearing it."
"I know," he said. Entering the room, Grissom drew to a sudden halt when he saw Sara holding a cluster of dynamite sticks.
"It's a dud," Sara informed him dryly.
"Oh. Good. Sara, look..."
"Bomb squad realized it right away. Whoever wired this didn't know the first thing about a circuit. Timer isn't even a timer. It's a digital thermometer for cooking. The dynamite is missing a key ingredient - the nitroglycerin. It's just sawdust. The caps are real, though."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get sick. It won't happen again."
"I know. It's not a problem. You had a terrible shock," Grissom said, fighting a wince when Sara turned to stare at him disbelievingly. "Why don't you go home? Shift's over."
"I want to finish this up."
The finality in her tone was impossible to miss, so Grissom headed back, hesitating at the doorway. I have to make an effort.
"Sara, don't do this. Don't bury yourself in work."
"And why not?" she replied sarcastically.
"You'll end up like me," Grissom said sadly, giving her a half-shrug before leaving the room.
He was halfway back to his office when his name was yelled out. Spinning around, he stared openmouthed as Bobby came running up the hallway.
"Grissom. We have a problem. Major problem."
"Calm down," he said, pulling him into his office and closing the door. "What's wrong?"
"I checked the bullet pulled from your victim. Hank."
"And the problem is?"
"I found a match in the database."
"Bobby, I think you lost me somewhere. Why is that a bad thing?"
"The gun was used in the Hollandale murders," Bobby said, getting up when Grissom gave him a puzzled look. "The case was solved years ago, Grissom! We have that gun - it's in our evidence vault!"
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