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 Ann and Burked 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.
Brass kept a wary eye on Nick as the two of them entered the station. The younger man's anger was palatable. While understandable, it was also counterproductive. If Nick went off half-cocked, it would put the other rescue workers on the defensive. They didn't see Hank as a two-timing womanizer, but as a friend and colleague who'd been brutally killed.
EMTs milled around the stationhouse listlessly, waiting for a call to give them something to concentrate on. The black bands on their badges and flower arrangements around the room served as reminder that Hank was one of their own, and he was missed.
"Keep your cool," Brass warned.
"I'm not joking. Go wait in the car if you can't control yourself."
"I said I'm fine," Nick huffed. "I can't believe what he did to Sara. She deserved better than that. You know how she is. That had to tear her up."
"I know. But now isn't the time. We need these guys' cooperation. Don't blow it."
"Right. Hey, Mike!" Nick said, nodding to a morose figure seated at a table. "That's Hank's partner, Mike Loggias. He's in the softball league."
Rounding up the shift supervisor as well, Brass and Nick moved them to a quiet corner of the room, where they offered their condolences.
"Do you have any leads?" the supervisor asked immediately.
"We're working on it. Do you know anyone who had a grudge against Hank?"
"No. Everyone liked him."
"Well, obviously someone didn't. Hank didn't kill himself, then dump his own body out in the desert," Brass stated. "Think about it: were there any troubles at a scene?"
"We get nasty drunks sometimes, but I don't recall Hank ever being threatened," the supervisor said, looking at Loggias, who nodded his confirmation.
"Any arguments with other EMTs?"
"No. Seriously, everyone liked Hank. He didn't cause troubles."
"What about jealous husbands or boyfriends?" Nick asked harshly. "Hank mess around with the wrong woman?"
"We know Hank played the field."
"Nick," Brass said coolly as the bewildered supervisor started to get angry.
"You know about Sara?" Loggias asked sheepishly.
"What?" the supervisor repeated.
"Hank was seeing one of the CSIs. Sara. You know - the cute brunette."
"Yeah. I can't believe you, man. You worked with Sara the whole time Hank was cheating on her. Why didn't you say something?"
"Hank was my friend. It wasn't my place to get him in trouble."
"What about Sara?"
"Hey, I know how it looks, but it wasn't like that," Loggias insisted. "Hank wasn't trying to hurt her. He really cared about Sara."
"He was using her!"
"No! Nick, I'm serious. He and Elaine had been together forever. We all figured they'd be getting hitched soon. Then he met Sara, and Hank was ... confused. He still loved Elaine, but Sara, Sara got to him. I really think he loved both of them."
"He had a funny way of showing it," Nick groused. "He had to know how Sara would take it."
"Yeah. Hank felt guilty about that, even before she found out."
"What about Elaine?" Brass asked. "Did he feel guilty about cheating on her?"
"I think so. That had to be the only reason he stayed with her after the truth came out," Loggias said angrily.
"Really? Do tell."
"We save lives. That's our job. But with Hank - that's who he was. Do you know what I mean? That's why he made EMT of the Year so often. He helped people; it was his nature. But Elaine, that insurance company, they killed people. They'd stall the paperwork until it was too late for their customers. Didn't even blink an eye about it."
"I can see where that would cause some troubles," Brass said thoughtfully.
"You don't know the half of it," Loggias sighed. "When the Insurance Commission investigated Sillmont Heathcare, Elaine was cool. Didn't give a thing away. The company was so impressed, they gave her a promotion, put her on the management track. Suddenly, a paramedic wasn't good enough for her. She wanted Hank to get a 'real job'. I really think Hank started regretting not picking Sara."
"Like she'd take him after what he did," Nick pointed out. "So what he had with Sara wasn't meaningless?"
"No, Nick, I swear. He really had it for her."
"But not enough to drop his other girlfriend. Yeah, yeah. He meant well. Did Elaine know how he felt?"
"I don't know, man. I think she knew something was up."
"Why do you say that?" the police captain asked.
"She used to come in and leave little presents for him in his locker. About seven, eight months ago, Elaine came in with a box, but she stormed out. That was the last time I saw her in here."
"Thanks. We'll need to see his locker," Brass told the supervisor.
"Sure. I figured you would. Let me grab a set of bolt cutters for the lock."
"Alcott swore in her interview that what Hank had with Sara was just a fling," Nick said quietly. "I'm not buying that."
"Yeah, but she was the one being cheated on. Sorry, it's the truth. She has a right to be defensive. Look, she stuck with the jerk. Couldn't be too smart."
"Right. Whoa! Hold on. Let me dust that before you cut it up," Nick called out as the supervisor started to cut the lock. Setting his kit down, he began to methodically dust the lock and door.
Once the door was open, Brass pulled a set of gloves from his pocket and began a visual examination of the cluttered locker. Extra clothes, boots, and tools were tossed into the cramped space. "Where would you find a spot to put a box in here?"
Nick leaned back, chewing his lip. "No room in the bottom, with the boots and stuff. Top shelf."
"Which already has a box on it. Now this is interesting."
"Photos. Of Sara asleep."
"I don't think so," Brass said, handing him a photo showing Sara, fully dressed, sprawled out asleep on a couch. "Photos of Sara awake. Photos of Hank and Sara together. Movie ticket stubs. Birthday and Christmas cards from Sara."
"You don't keep mementos like that unless the person meant something to you. If Elaine found that..."
"I think we might be looking at motive."
Setting the tiles down, Grissom scowled as he peeled his gloves off. Every test he could think of gave the same result - there was nothing to indicate Peddigrew had been murdered in Alcott's bathroom.
While there yesterday, he had ripped down the tiles, the underlayment, even pulled the insulation from between the wall joists. No trace of blood, a bullet, or any indication of a crime. He came into work early this evening to care for the bugs he'd pulled from the body and measure their progress. Once that was done, he subjected the evidence from the bathroom to a battery of tests, but still nothing.
Coincidence. Alcott replaced tiles while she thought Peddigrew was on vacation. They just happened to be the right height to line up with the bullets that killed him. That's too convenient. But how could she have covered up the evidence so I couldn't find it?
Grissom's scowl deepened as he slid off of the stool. He had no reason to believe Alcott was the killer. How could she have gotten a weapon out of the lab? It was dangerous to assume she was the suspect.
Heading into the restroom, he let out a ragged breath. The trouble was that left Sara as the only other viable suspect they had. Grissom knew she didn't kill Peddigrew. It was one thing he didn't require proof about. And there was nothing to link Sara to the murder other than circumstantial evidence. She could have gotten the gun. She could have covered her tracks. She could have had a motive to kill him.
So far, the fact Peddigrew had been killed with a weapon that came from the lab had been kept from the press. Once that became public knowledge, all hell would break loose. Even if there were nothing that could implicate Sara, the accusation would hang over her head until they caught the real killer.
The problems were already starting. Cavallo had been concerned when he learned Sara was covering the Grimalkin art gallery bomb solo. He'd ordered Grissom to supervise the case closely. All he needed to do was find a way to do it without Sara thinking he questioned her abilities. Things were already strained between them.
Stepping to the sink, Grissom turned on the water and set his glasses on the ledge. He washed his face, trying to will some of the tension away before a headache started. Staring at his reflection in the mirror, Catherine's advice came back to him. Did he need to be more direct? It wasn't in his nature to be open with his feelings. At this point could it hurt?
The trouble was he didn't like Sara. No, that wasn't true: Sara was very likable. Like didn't describe the way she stole his breath when she stood close by, the way his heart raced when she brushed against him, the way one of her smiles could fuel a thousand fantasies. Like was inadequate, incomplete. But it is a start.
Grissom's smile turned to a wince; it couldn't have been more fake if he tried. Taking a deep breath, he tried again, working his facial muscles until he found a configuration that didn't seem to be forced. This can't be a good sign if I can't smile convincingly. How often do I smile at myself? It'll be easier with Sara. Hopefully.
"I like...," he began, frowning briefly. "Sara, I wanted you to know that I..."
Grissom whipped his head around when Archie walked in. When the tech gave no indication he'd overheard his supervisor talking to himself, Grissom grabbed his glasses and quickly headed out. This was stupid. Why was he taking Catherine's advice? Because I need all the help I can get?
Steeling himself, he tracked down Sara to get an update on the bombing case. Grissom found her at a workstation, a string of paper cups showing she was in full-caffeine mode. He'd been disappointed, but not entirely surprised, when he came in early to find Sara already at work. After her forced vacation, he hoped she would find a distraction.
He watched her silently for a moment. Considering all that had happened in the past 24 hours, maybe work was giving her a distraction from the personal turmoil. From the amount of coffee she drunk, it seemed she hadn't slept that day.
"How's it going?" he asked.
"Oh, hey, Grissom. This is weird. The bomb's a fake, but the blast caps are real. I tracked them down. They were stolen in West Virginia two weeks ago. Blast caps are hard to get, but not that hard. There's probably dozens of construction sites in Nevada alone using them."
"Think the would-be-bomber brought them with him?"
"Maybe. We have a list of people the gallery owners said would have a grudge," she said, picking up a thick stack of paper. "They know how to make an impression."
"Artists tend to be temperamental. A showing at a major gallery like Grimalkin's can make a career. And a bad word by them can end one."
"You think an artist could be involved?"
"Considering some of the ones I've met? It wouldn't surprise me," Grissom said. He paused a moment when Sara looked back at him. This was an opening. "My mother ran an art gallery. Some of the people she dealt with weren't exactly stable."
"Oh," Sara managed to say after a quick double take. Grissom making a personal admission was a rare occurrence, and she wasn't sure what to make of this one.
"Do you have a handle on this?" he asked after a long pause.
"I think so. Yeah."
"Let me know if you need help. With the art business, anything like that," he added quickly, hoping his first statement hadn't sounded harsh.
Grissom rubbed his beard as he moved to his next destination. Walking into Trace, an overly chipper Hodges bounced over to greet him.
"Good news, boss. Well, potentially good news. Or not. I guess it depends on how you look at it."
"Can we stick with the facts and leave the interpretation alone?"
"Oh, sure. First, the gun. The solvent was the only thing we found on it," he said, handing over a printout. "The good news, so to speak, is the brand isn't what the police use. The type someone working here would have easy access to. Like if the killer came from the lab, what they could find."
"I know what you mean," Grissom stated.
"Right. Well, bad new is that it's the best-selling brand. Every sporting goods and department store carries it. Not going to be able to track it."
"From the gun? Nothing. It was cleaned too well. The grit Catherine pulled from the tires? It is consistent with dirt from the dumpsite. Unfortunately, it's also consistent with large areas of southern Nevada. There's nothing geologically significant about it. This is a sample of gravel from the access road. Quartz, feldspar potash, mica. Basic granite gravel. This piece of gravel was in the tires," he said, holding out a rock with greenish-black streaks. "It's mainly limonite, with some copper carbonate. Definitely not a match."
Grissom left the room silently, reading the printouts as he headed to his office. Hearing Warrick call his name, he paused to let him catch up.
"Sorry, man. I couldn't find anything at the dump site."
"I'm not surprised," Grissom said as he took a seat.
"I meant the only evidence in this case is the amazing lack of evidence."
"Yeah. You questioned Sara," Warrick stated calmly.
"You have no idea," Grissom agreed, looking up as Catherine walked in.
"The blood in the truck? A match to Hank."
"But the gravel in the tires doesn't match the scene."
"I talked to Hodges, too. The dirt is a match. Who knows how long that piece of gravel was in the tires?"
Grissom shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "Which still doesn't prove a thing. At most, it's possible his truck was used to move the body. We haven't a single clue as to who did it."
"Any luck with the gun?" she asked.
"Four sets of prints on the evidence box. Two belong to the CSIs that investigated the crime, the other two belong to evidence vault clerks."
"Whoever did this knew what they were doing. They would have worn gloves," Warrick pointed out.
"They aren't that good," Grissom stated. "They cleaned the gun. That shows they don't know our procedures."
"Which would suggest the killer isn't from the lab," Catherine added with a smile.
"Hey, guys," Nick said as he breezed in. "Might have something. We found this in Hank's locker. Elaine Alcott stormed out of the station after looking in his locker a few months ago."
Grissom fought to keep his anger under control as he examined the photos. These were scenes he'd often imagined, scenes that crept into his dreams, but Sara was sharing them with another man. Because I shut her out.
"They all of Sara?" Catherine asked.
"Yeah. And his partner said she was the only other woman Hank, uh, dated. Said he was serious about her."
"Shoots down Alcott's story that Sara didn't mean anything to him."
"She'll be glad to hear that," Warrick said. "That had to hurt her. You know she doesn't trust people easily. Bad enough he was cheating, but if she felt he was just using her?"
"Yeah. You know, I tried to hook Sara up with a buddy of mine when I heard she broke up with Hank," Nick said, not noticing the sharp look Grissom directed at him. "Now I know why she turned me down so quick."
"And she knows what kind of guys you have for friends," Catherine added with a smirk. "Okay, so Alcott let Hank off of the hook once. Then she finds this. I'm thinking she's not that forgiving."
"Let's not jump to conclusions. She wouldn't be the first jilted lover to delude themselves about their partner's indiscretions," Grissom pointed out. "How did she get the gun? How could she move the body? She's angry, and she's taking it out on Sara, but that doesn't make her a killer."
"Yes, she is," Catherine threw back. "She didn't hesitate to withhold treatment on a cancer patient that was dying. She could do it easily."
"There's a difference between killing a stranger through inaction, and deliberately planning and carrying out a murder of someone you know."
"She could do it," the blonde insisted.
A knock at the door caused the four CSIs to look sheepishly around. With an embarrassed grin, Sara stepped into the room, and placed a report on Grissom's desk. "You need to sign that, then you can get back to talking about me again. I have some evidence to go hide anyway."
Warrick was the first to laugh, getting up to drape an arm lightly around her shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Sorry about losing it at the scene."
"You kidding me? Finally got proof you're human! About time. You were making the rest of us look bad."
"Oh, right," Sara said, blushing slightly, grateful when her pager went off. It didn't last long; Grissom's pager went off almost immediately afterwards.
"Vartan," she said.
"Me, too. Shall we?"
"I'll meet you there. Need to put some stuff away first."
"I'll give you a hand," Nick offered. When Warrick trailed after them, Catherine gave Grissom a sad smile.
"Remember what I said," she told him before leaving.
Grissom arrived in the interrogation room a few moments before Sara. Immediately, he noticed how tense the detective seemed. It didn't take long to see he was angry as well. Before he had a chance to question him, Sara walked in.
"Do you want to wait until Brass or your attorney gets here?" Vartan asked without preamble.
"No. What's up?"
"Do you know the access code to Peddigrew's security system?"
"I did. The old one."
"I checked with the security company. It hasn't been changed since you broke up."
"Nick found a bunch of pictures of you in Hank's locker."
"Really?" she asked, tilting her head so she could avoid Grissom's stare.
"Yes. Lots of keepsakes. Cards. Seems like an odd thing to do for something that was over."
"I don't know why he did it."
"Uh, huh. And the last time you spoke to him was?"
"A couple months ago at that bar fight. I told you," Sara said, clearly confused by the direction of the questioning.
"I know what you told me," he said hotly, leaning across the table. "Then how do you explain the phone calls?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I pulled his phone records. Over the last four months, there were a number of calls to your apartment from his house. Last one was on Friday, the day he was last seen alive. Why don't you start telling me the truth?"
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