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.
"What?" Grissom exclaimed loudly, snatching the printout from Vartan's hands. What was he talking about? How could there be phone records? Sara said she hadn't talked to Peddigrew in months. The only way there could be records was if she lied.
There has to be a mistake.
A quick scan of the report verified it was the correct name and home address across the top of the page. Peddigrew wasn't a common name, and even if there had been two 'Hanks' in the city, they wouldn't have had the same address. Vartan hadn't gotten the wrong phone records by accident.
Letting out a sigh, Grissom ran his eyes down the page until he reached the first highlighted line. His stomach started churning as he triple-checked the digits. By the time he examined each of the multiple, yellow-marked lines, Grissom could feel the sweat running down his back.
Each one was Sara's home phone number.
But she told us - told me - that she hadn't been in contact with him. That it was over between them. What's going on? Sara wouldn't lie to me.
She couldn't. I don't believe it. I don't want to believe it.
The evidence never lies.
God, the proof is right here. If she isn't lying, where did these come from? These phone calls, some of them lasted for minutes. That's a conversation. It's not like he called, then hung up.
Sara lied - she lied to me. Why? I thought I could trust her. I was ready to trust her with everything. How I could be so wrong? She lied to me.
That's what I thought before, when she told me she wasn't in a relationship with Peddigrew. I was wrong then. I didn't trust her. I should have. Unless she lied about that, too. What else has she lied about?
God, what am I thinking? This is Sara. She wouldn't lie, not about something like this. I was wrong to believe Gerard. He was using my own fears against me. I know what he's like. It's the type of tactic he's mastered.
I pushed Sara away after that, practically drove her to Peddigrew. I ruined our friendship afterwards. Look how badly I screwed things up between us. I have to trust her. She deserves it.
But the evidence never lies.
Well, neither does Sara, dammit. There has to be another explanation. But what? I'm not thinking straight.
Grissom dropped the report to the table as he looked to Sara, the fear and confusion clear on his face. He needed for her to explain what was going on. He desperately needed her to make things right. More than anything, he needed to know she hadn't deceived him.
Since Vartan produced the printout, Sara had been disturbingly quiet, staring at the detective. The tilt of her head and the crinkle around her eyes were the only hints she wasn't totally calm.
"Sara?" Grissom asked hopefully.
Turning to him, her mouth opened briefly, before she gave a slight shrug. Both men started when her hand reached around to the holster on her hip as she stood up. Before Vartan could reach his own weapon, Sara set the holstered gun on the table.
Grissom shook his head, his tongue licking his lips as he tried to decipher her actions. Why would she surrender her gun? Was she turning herself in? God, no. She's not a killer. What then? God, she's quitting. She's leaving me. No, she can't. We'll work this out.
When she pulled her key chain from her pocket, Grissom started frowning, looking to Vartan in confusion. The detective seemed equally bewildered and tense.
"Run any tests on it you want. Here's my car key. It's parked out front. My apartment. My locker. My safe deposit box," she said as she pushed each key across the table. "You don't need warrants. Check anything you want."
"We will," Vartan stated, pulling her gun out of her reach. "The phone calls?"
"I don't know! I never talked to Hank. I can't explain it."
"Oh, give me a break."
"I'm not stupid," Sara barked, resting her hands on the table and leaning towards him. "I knew you'd check the phone records. Why would I lie about something like that?"
Grissom's jaw dropped as he watched Vartan mimic Sara's aggressive position, trying to catch up on events. Sara wasn't leaving. She was as confused as he was. And she was starting to get angry. Decking the detective would definitely not look good on her evaluation.
"I don't know. Maybe you were careless. Maybe you thought a dumb cop couldn't catch a brainy CSI. Maybe you thought you'd be able to catch another break. Kept you out of jail last time."
"I don't want any special treatment. I haven't asked for any special treatment. I don't know what's going on!"
The dueling pair both turned to stare at Grissom, who had also adapted the hands-on-table stance. He paused, closing his eyes as he tried to get his breathing under control. He couldn't help anyone if he didn't remain calm.
Internally, his instincts were in a pitched battle. The need to remain detached, to remain professional, was clear in his mind. It was a core part of who he was, and it was also necessary if they were going to solve the case. If this had been any other suspect, Grissom would understand Vartan's attitude. The evidence never lied, and at the very least, it suggested Sara lied to them, even if she wasn't their killer.
But another, more primal, instinct was fighting to emerge. He wanted to shield Sara, to protect her. On a logical level, Grissom knew Sara didn't need his protection, that she would probably resent any attempts to do so, but Vartan's comments about her near-arrest infuriated him. He remembered how sad and defeated she'd been that night. He never imagined she could reach that low of a point in her life. There was no way he would allow that to be used against Sara.
"You started the party without me. And here I wore a clean suit today," Brass stated as he barged into the room, moving to stand next to Sara. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he pushed gently while saying, "Sit". Turning to Vartan, he gave the other detective a sharp look. "Down."
Waiting until both had returned to their chairs, the captain focused on Grissom. "Next time, you wait until I get here. You knew I was on my way. Clear? Good," he said, sighing as he settled into his chair. "Now, why does everybody have their panties in a bunch?"
"Sara told us she hadn't been in contact with Peddigrew for months, but his phone records say otherwise."
"Hank's been calling you?"
"I guess so," Sara exhaled, vaguely waving a hand in the direction of the report.
"I haven't talked to him. I haven't!" Sara answered, turning to face Grissom. His slight nod and gentle expression surprised her, but at the same time his acceptance helped to calm her nerves.
Sara had no explanation for the phone calls, but she couldn't argue with the evidence. The phone calls had been made. No wonder Vartan had thought she was lying. Hell, she would be her own prime suspect if this were her case. And that bothered her. Logic was a guiding force in her life, and she had no logical way to explain the phone calls.
While there was no direct evidence linking her to the murders, it was clear she was the likely suspect. They couldn't convict her of the murder legally, but that wouldn't stop people from reaching their own personal verdicts. Normally, what other people thought of her didn't bother Sara, but her professional reputation was already on shaky ground.
That's why Grissom's reaction was so confounding. From past experience, she expected him to be the one doubting her. Instead, he'd reacted angrily, if only briefly, to Vartan's insinuations. And she could tell from his expression that he was angry for her, not because the lab's impartiality had been called into question.
Leaning her head back, she took a deep breath before turning to Brass. "I can't explain the phone calls. Look, there are my keys. I have nothing to hide. Process me. Process my stuff. I want answers as much as you do."
"Okay. You have any odd phone calls lately? Blank messages? Wrong numbers?"
"Yeah. But I get those all the time."
"All," she huffed. "There's a deli, Jack's Place. Our numbers are the same except for the last two digits. Mine ends in '24'. Their number ends in '42'. I get calls for them all the time. I even have messages from people placing orders."
"You didn't notice that they came from Hank's house?" Vartan asked coolly.
"Don't have Caller ID," Sara replied, looking at her folded hands. The truth was, she didn't get enough phone calls to justify the expense. At times, she wondered if she wasted money buying the answering machine. She was more likely to get someone else's message or dead air than something for her.
Had there been any more of those calls than usual? She spent little time at her apartment, but she still didn't pay much attention to wrong numbers or calls with no one on the other end. It was part of the irritating flotsam of the day that Sara took in stride.
"Okay. Did you drive here?" Brass asked. "I'll have Auto Detail take your car back to the lab. Why don't you go grab a soda? I'll give you a ride back in a few minutes."
Sara nodded, pausing briefly to give Grissom a grateful look. Once the door was closed, Brass leaned back in his chair, his gaze hovering between his two colleagues. "I was serious earlier. You question her again without me present, and you won't be sending me flowers. Capiche?"
"I asked if she wanted to wait for you. I asked if she wanted a lawyer. And I wasn't planning on sending you flowers."
"You have no idea how glad I am to hear that."
"Did you learn anything new?" Grissom asked impatiently.
"Besides the fact I can't leave you kids alone? Seems the deadly departed Peddigrew was still carrying a torch for Sara. And Alcott probably found out about it months ago. Right after that, she started making a lot of cash withdrawals from her checking account. More than $30,000 in the last six months."
"Could be a gambling problem," Vartan surmised. "Or bribe money. If she's the killer, she needed help to get the gun."
"I'll call Catherine. She can compare the time the calls were made to his work schedule. We know they were made from Peddigrew's house. That doesn't mean he was the one making them," Grissom pointed out eagerly.
"Maybe. Maybe not," Brass shrugged, nodding to Vartan. "Get Sara's phone records. See if the calls were returned. I'll check out Alcott."
"Gil, you send someone over to process Sara's place. Make sure they grab the answering machine. Let's see if her story about blank messages holds up."
"You don't honestly think she could have killed Peddigrew."
"Of course I do," he replied gravely, mollifying his statement with a grin. "Probably the same odds that I'll be the next Miss America."
"That's one bathing suit contest I don't want to see. Jim, Sara didn't do this."
"My legs are one of my better features, I'll have you know. And it's nice you feel that way, Gil. But I don't have that luxury."
"It's a fact, not a luxury."
"Look, back in Jersey, there was a guy who lived down the block from us. Mousy guy. Real wimp. Well, eventually, his little admiral wouldn't salute anymore," Brass said, raising his finger graphically.
"I'm following you."
"Well, he was too embarrassed to see a doctor about it. And his wife, well, let's say she started looking for some active-duty seamen. Well, semen, anyway. Husband finds out. Kills both of them. Then chopped them to pieces. Found them in his freezer - he'd been feeding them to his neighbor's pet pit bulls."
"Nice neighborhood you lived in."
"Actually, for that town, it was. My point is, you never know about people. What makes serial killers so deadly? No one ever suspects they're serial killers."
"I can't believe you're considering her your suspect in this," Grissom huffed, holding his hands on the table.
"Oh, I never said she was my main suspect. That would be you."
Grissom's head snapped up as he stared at the police captain. "Did you just say what I think you did?"
"That if the killer is from the lab, it's probably you? Yeah. I could see you pulling a Lurie."
"Give me some credit, Gil. I was there when you made your little speech to Dr. Lurie. I'm not stupid. I even used to head CSI. I know exactly what - and who - you were talking about."
Grissom blinked, wondering if his hearing condition had resurfaced in some new, bizarre configuration. It seemed the only way to explain what his brain insisted Brass was saying. I'm a suspect? Me? He's serious, too. I wonder if it felt this surreal to Sara. "Why would I kill Peddigrew?"
"Everyone can see things are rough between the two of you. Things started falling apart around the time Hank showed up. Easy to see that you'd blame him for your troubles."
"Let's not forget the little promotion stunt you pulled. Any chance you had with Sara is probably shot to hell by now. Maybe she did get back with Peddigrew. Sounds like he treated her well, other than the cheating. Maybe you found out. If you couldn't have her, you sure as hell weren't going to let him have her."
"You're crazy if you'd think Sara would take Peddigrew back after what he did to her."
"I think Sara is too forgiving for her own good," Brass said lowly and pointedly. "Try looking in a mirror sometime."
Grissom raised an indignant eyebrow as he turned in his chair. It was unintentional, but the action did have him facing the mirrored window that opened into the observation room. What greeted him didn't impress Grissom.
What did she see in me? She has to know by now that I'm not good with personal issues. But she stuck with me. What did Nick say? She didn't want to be hooked up with any of his friends. Being betrayed like that - that had to have hurt her deeply. Made her question her judgment. But she was willing to give me another chance. And I shut her out again. Is it really too late now?
With a long sigh, Grissom spun back around, giving Brass a weak shrug.
"You really hurt her with that promotion. What the hell were you thinking? Don't get me wrong. Nick's a good guy. I'm the one who hired him. He works hard. He's made a lot of progress this last year, but he's not in Sara's league."
"I don't know," Grissom replied, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "At the time, it seemed the logical choice. I really thought I was making the right decision for the right reasons."
"Yes. Now... now, I don't know if I made the right decision for the wrong reasons, or the wrong decision for the right reasons."
"Don't forget the wrong decision for the wrong reasons."
"Or it could have been the right one for the right reasons," Grissom added sourly.
"Yeah. You are stupid if you still believe that."
Grissom refrained from answering, closing his eyes as he tried to process everything that was going on. He knew he didn't kill Peddigrew, and short of a signed confession, there was no way he'd believe Sara was capable of it. How to prove it? The bugs are the only solid evidence we have. Bugs - damn.
"I'm nearly done with the linear regression on the bugs. I think they'll finish maturing within in a day or two. I'll send a copy of all the data to Jan Kersbergen at the University of Boulder. She can verify my findings."
Brass smiled at his friend. "That'll be good. Doesn't make sense to have a suspect processing the evidence."
"I swear, Jim, I didn't do this."
"I know. I really don't believe either of you did it. I have to check. Job sucks sometimes."
"So I'm learning."
"Bit of advice: Send someone else to process Sara and her place. That's a strain neither of you needs right now."
"Sounds good to me."
Brass got up slowly, his head nodding from side-to-side as he carried on a mental debate. "One last piece of advice. Go talk to Sara. If you had reasons for giving Nick the recommendation, let her know. It might help."
"I think it's too late for that now," Grissom realized sadly.
"Tell her anyway. She deserves to know."
Previous | Story Index | Next