You know that pain you get in your stomach when you're nervous? Or maybe it's your lower stomach? Do you have a lower stomach? I don't know. Anyway, I get a terrible pain in my "lower stomach" when I'm about to try anything new, whether it be Chinese food or a new job. It starts grumbling and talking to me like a mumbling lunatic having a conversation with himself. Eventually, I know that whatever this new experience is, I'll do fine with it. Yet the pain still comes, and I still feel like running away from a challenge, any challenge, and hiding in the little girl's room.
That's the feeling I had today. My Lucky Charms were churning inside of me as I drove my POS to my new job at the Las Vegas crime lab. How does a girl like me who doesn't know if the human body has a lower stomach get a job at a crime lab? It's called being a secretary, and it has saved my butt more than once. I couldn't tell you the difference between your sternum and your...um....other-um. But I can answer phones, I can take down messages and numbers, and I can relay them to other people. How's that for talent?
Pulling up to the building, it was worse than I thought. It was so official looking, but not in an official government way like the sterile DMV. It was clean and streamlined, with sleek tinted glass doors and a discrete exterior. There were navy blue trucks parked everywhere, and my tiny car cowered at the presence of these monsters. When I don't know what to do with myself, I start talking to the car. I even named it Cornelius.
"What have we gottin' ourselves into, Corny?" I asked him, his response being nothing but a rusty muffler and squeaky brakes.
The inside was even worse. People walking everywhere, reading open files and pulling pens out of the pockets of their lab coats. There was no specific division between the rooms; it was like one giant ballroom with glass partitions to keep the cool kids away from the nerdy kids. I wondered which side I belonged on.
I tried to blend in, playing it cool like I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going. That didn't last long, though, when I walked into a dead end hallway. Maybe a different direction....
Eventually, I found my new boss and my station. She was a short, plump woman with harsh eyelashes and a severe perm. Her official title was Dr. Clark, but we were welcome to call her Missy. She hoped it would break down any uncomfortable barriers between employee and boss, but I knew it wouldn't. I bet she has a lot of cats. She looks like the kind of woman who wears Christmas sweaters with jolly snowmen on them and tucks her cats into bed at night. Creepy.
Since I was a "newbie", Missy didn't want to start me out on a hectic routine. I was to stay at the desk and only answer the phone, do nothing else. If it was an emergency, I was supposed to find Missy immediately and leave the rest of it up to her. But how often can the phone ring in a crime lab? I realize that this is a highly important business I'm working for, but I won't be chatting all day, will I? Maybe there was a computer I could play on somewhere. I had been meaning to perfect my solitaire.
Oh how wrong I was. Within my first two hours on the job, I had received 34 phone calls, no repeat callers. Some were from the newspapers, others from attorney's offices, and even more from other crime labs. They had tested the DNA, sperm, blood, etc...and found out the identity of it's owner. Isn't technology great? Those were the calls that confused me the most. The person on the other line would use 6-syllable words and assume that I understood exactly what they were talking about. To be honest, Japanese would have been easier to comprehend.
By hour three, I started to get into the grove of how everything worked. There would be scientists in here 24 hours a day, studying in their eerily lit labs and speaking all sorts of jive that I didn't understand. But they weren't as intimidating as I had first thought them to be. Many of them came up to the desk, asking if I had a pen they could use or just saying hello to the new face. I know it's not a life changing moment when you share your Sharpie with someone, but it's quite a big step.
This is pretty much how I met all of my new co-workers. Missy was swamped that day, and didn't have anytime to take me around to all the stations and tell me what not to touch, where not to go, and whom not to speak to. My first encounter was probably the strangest of all. A man in maybe his mid-50s came walking up to my desk, his nose deep in a manilla folder. Before speaking to me, he turned his head upwards, as if searching for Jesus in the ceiling panels. Only his eyes were closed, not tightly like he was tense, but just barely like a sleeping baby. Eventually, he lost interest in the Virgin Mary or whatever it was he was looking for and focused in on me.
"You're new, yes?" He spoke with a matter-of-fact tone. A tone like all of the teachers in high school who pose everything they say as a question to make you find the answers. He sounded just slightly nasally, like the president of the Audio Visual club, and I was sure that he had once been a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast.
"Yes. I'm Matilda Swanson." I stood up from my cushy rolling chair and offered my hand to him. Take this peace offering good sir, and we shall be allies in battle.
He reluctantly shook my hand, staring me squarely in the eyes the entire time as if he didn't trust me. Did I fit the profile of a murderer? Short, dark haired, pale skin, slightly chubby? Was I the Daughter of Sam?
Unlikely, because before I really knew what was going on, he was telling me to come with him. I had become accustomed to the other people in the building by now, but this guy freaked me out. I followed closely behind him, not even realizing I had disobeyed Missy's orders and left my station. He just had that authoritative feel to him, like a sinister gym teacher who would make you climb the rope, or else.
"I didn't ask you what your name was." Oh good, Matilda. At least now he knows how observant your are. He kept walking rapidly in front of me, and I thought maybe he hadn't heard the question. After a moment though, he turned his head sideways so that I could see his profile, his eyes trying to watch me walking behind him.
"Gil Grissom." he said. I guess he wasn't much on talk. Or preparing the welcome wagon.
Despite my most sinister preconceptions of Grissom, he wasn't going to interrogate me in a cold, dark room. He was just taking me around the stations and doing what Missy should have done a long time ago. Each room was set up for some different aspect of breaking down a crime. In one room, they had gathered all of the physical evidence of a particular case and there were three people hovering around it like hungry vultures to lost, starving tourists in the Nevada desert. They only looked up when Grissom cleared his throat. He was obviously their superior.
"Sara Sidle, Warrick Brown, Nick Stokes, this is Matilda Swanson, our new receptionist." Receptionist. I liked the way he made it sound. So official, like I really did have a purpose there. The two men and one woman smiled at me, not bothering will the whole mess that would come with hand shakes and a proper meet and greet. I did the same, waving like a little kid does to their parents in the school play. I quickly put down my hand and held one arm in the other before I caused them to do anything stupider. Hey look, guys! I can juggle evidence!
I didn't have much of an opportunity to study the three as I would have liked, but I got the gist of who they were. Warrick was a tall man with a mini-afro (minus the obligatory pick comb stuck in the back) and a somewhat dark complexion. Yet his eyes were clear, piercing blue, leading me to believe that he is mixed. See, I can do this science stuff. The girl, Sara, had a comforting feel to her. She wasn't overly gorgeous or boastful. She wore her hair down in a plain Jane way, and had a gap between her two front teeth that seemed to only make her more approachable. I knew I was going to like her. Nick was built like a football player, with a thick neck and stout muscular build. I could smell his cologne from the doorway, and immediately labeled him as a lady's man. My later experiences with him would prove this theory wrong and give me the clue that I need to stop watching so much "Saturday Night Live".
I stood behind Grissom as he spoke to the three about what they were reviewing. They obviously didn't find me as a threat being in the room, and I couldn't blame them. No master criminal I have ever heard of wears an Old Navy floral sweater on the first day of the job. Although I have heard stories about Charles Manson...
My train of thought was broken by another unavoidable presence in the room. A tall boy, if you could call him that, maybe in his early 20s, came almost galloping into the lab. His hair was spiked to the heavens, and a piece of paper was grasped tightly in his hand like a Christmas present. He had a dopey look of satisfaction and "I-told-you-so-ness" on his face.
"Boss," he said, directing his enthusiasm at Grissom. "I got the results back from the blood sample on the sweatshirt. It doesn't match the victim's blood, or his mom's." Clearly, they had all forgotten that a quaint receptionist was still in the room, overhearing every detail of a no-doubt highly guarded case.
"If it's not the mother's blood, that rules out our only suspect." Sara said from across the table, disbelief in her voice. They all hung their heads in agreement.
"Who does the blood belong to, Greg?" Grissom asked the Chia-Pet look alike. I took advantage of their oblivion to get a better look at this Greg character, and saw the sort of cuteness that I would have swooned over in junior high, but not now.
"We're still waiting for the results." Greg replied, looking at Grissom like a puppy dog with his tail between his legs who just pooped on the carpet and knew his owner would be disappointed.
"Well when you know something, come find me." Grissom said, and at that, Greg turned on one foot and began to make his exit. It was the sight of me, an unknown, that slowed his departure.
"Hellooo..." he said, his shoulders perking up and his shame gone. "Who are you?" he asked as we politely shook hands with one another.
"This is Matilda Swanson," Grissom answered for me, suddenly coming back down to earth and the fact that I had been in the room the entire time. "She's the replacement for Mrs. Finn." Poor Mrs. Finn. They ship her off to the retirement palace and replace her with a newbie like me.
"Greg Sanders," he said, satisfaction slowly creeping back onto his face. "Welcome to the crime lab."
For a second, I felt my knees go weak and my face turn bright red like a tomato. Was I in junior high all over again?