Brass did not slam his car door. He shut it with a precise, careful click.
He did not snap at Officer Dooley, a good man, capable of putting two and two together and coming up with the right answer. Instead, he thanked the man for waiting, and asked if anyone had come in or out of the building. They had not.
Sara was alone, then.
Brass thanked the man again for calling him, and sent him on his way. He paused before he went into the building, collecting his thoughts, imagining possible outcomes, readying himself for the coming confrontation. An angry Sara Sidle was something to see, and she would be angry, he had no doubt of that.
God knows I am, he thought, at her, for letting this happen, sending away the patrol cop- why wouldn't she file a complaint? At him, whoever he is. Brass's lips twitched briefly into a grim smile at the idea of getting his hands on Sara's boyfriend. Whoever he might be. And I'm angry at myself, he acknowledged, I didn't see any warning signs. I didn't even know she was dating anyone. The neighbor heard screaming. Sara was screaming. How long has this been going on?
His thoughts had carried him to her door, and he contemplated it for a moment.
It looked… like a door. No signs of forced entry.
If Dooley was right, and someone really had hurt Sara tonight, they had been invited. Or they had a key. He knocked, and waited. There was a slight rustle of sound behind the door, but it didn't open. He waited, then knocked again, calling "Sara, I know you're home. Open the door." Some more rustling, and then the door slowly swung open.
Brass stared at Sara in shock.
Not at her injuries, although his mind was running a quick mental tally of those- some bruises coming in on her neck already, she's holding herself oddly, too stiff, ribs maybe?- but at her eyes.
Sara didn't look angry at him for barging into her life. She didn't look anything. He had never seen those expressive brown eyes so flat and empty. Sara had the eyes of the dead.
She stood silently in the doorway, making no move to let him in. For a long moment he just stood and waited, though it was probably a mistake to give her the chance to ask him to leave. The silence settled in, until he thought he could hear his own heart's steady beat. Sara's face remained a blank. She barely blinked.
With a sigh, Brass stepped forward into the apartment. Sara quickly stepped back, and he noticed that for all her apparent inattentiveness, she was certainly doing a good job of staying out of arm's reach. Moving slowly, calmly, he shut the door behind him, turning the dead bolt and attaching the chain. When he turned back to face Sara, she had retreated a few more feet, still watching him with that blank, dead stare.
"Sara," he said, "we need to talk." He waited for her to tell him she was fine, that she didn't want to talk, that none of this was his business. He prepared himself to out-stubborn her, but she didn't seem to have heard him. Finally, she blinked and shook her head.
"I need to shower." Well, she did seem to be wearing a bathrobe. Probably not the best attire for this conversation anyway, even if it did seem to cover her entire body. Brass had seen nuns that showed more skin. Outside of Vegas. He nodded.
She didn't respond for a moment, and Brass hoped she might be gearing herself up to argue, but she simply nodded and walked away. There was some more rustling from the other room, and he heard the shower start. He would look around a little while she was busy; try to find out what exactly had happened here.
The apartment seemed neat, tidy, the décor a little warmer than he would have expected Sara's apartment to be, but there weren't any immediate signs of struggle. Of course, the patrol car had been slow to respond; she'd some time to clean up. Which she would have done before showering, being Sara, if only to make the responding officer more likely to write it all off as a false alarm. So see what she's cleaned up.
The living room looked pretty normal, and not having been in Sara's apartment before, Brass couldn't see anything significant in the way it was currently arranged, except that it was very clean and uncluttered. Then again, she'd clearly had company. Maybe she had cleaned for that.
The kitchen was clean, too. Unnaturally clean, company or not. The dishwasher was running quietly, and Brass was pretty sure Sara wouldn't have done the dishes with her guest present. The trash can was empty. There were no glasses or bottles visible in the apartment, either.
Had she not even offered him a drink? It seemed unlikely. No, Sara had definitely cleaned up, and more thoroughly than would be necessary to convince a cop there was no disturbance. So is she trying to destroy evidence, or is she just compulsive?
Knowing Sara, compulsive was probably a good answer. Well, the first thing a rape victim wants to do is shower. It's damned hard to stop them from scrubbing off all the evidence. Sara knows better, but then she doesn't seem to want to press charges. So she's scrubbing him out of her apartment, and since she knows very well that every contact leaves a trace… she's thorough.
With a quick glance at the bathroom door Brass followed his train of thought into the bedroom. Sure enough, it was less neat than the rest of the apartment.
The bed had been stripped, and the pillows were lying on the floor beside it, also stripped of their pillowcases. Sara had some photos on the walls in here, as she did in the rest of the apartment, but they were all artistic shots. Not one family picture.
None of her boyfriend, either, so maybe it wasn't that long-term a thing. Or she just didn't take his picture. Or she'd thrown it away. Yeah, some detective you are. You've got nothing. There was some kind of fight, or she wouldn't be bruised. She's not planning on taking him back, or she wouldn't be cleaning like this. That's something. But where's the evidence? Maybe this wasn't a domestic disturbance. Maybe it was a home invasion.
Suddenly the stripped bed took on a whole new meaning. Brass took a deep breath, held it a moment, and released it. Think. No one can get rid of all the evidence, not in that short a time. She missed something. You just have to look.
Brass cocked his head toward the bathroom again. The shower was still running. He had time. He didn't have Grissom's honed eye, he wouldn't spot an errant hair from 10 feet away, and he didn't have time to comb the whole apartment for clues, but he'd been a detective a long time, and his powers of observation were nothing to be sneered at, if he did have to say so himself.
Finally, he saw a bit of red on the floor, in the shadow of a discarded pillow. A rose petal. Still soft- probably from tonight. He felt his shoulder muscles unknot despite themselves. The evening had gone horribly wrong, it was clear, but between the undamaged door and the rose petal, Brass decided his initial gut feeling had been correct: whoever had hurt Sara had probably been invited into this bedroom.
Brass wandered back to the living room, keeping his eyes open for clues to the mystery man's identity. There were no pictures, he remembered, but Sara must have an address book or a day planner somewhere.
The shower was still running. In fact, she had been in there for a really long time. He was beginning to worry about that, too. Her injuries looked pretty superficial, but I wouldn't be able to see a concussion. She could have passed out in there. She could be drowning in the shower right now. No. There wasn't a thud…If she doesn't come out of there soon, I'm going to have to check on her, and the last thing Sara needs is someone barging into her bathroom. She must be feeling vulnerable enough already tonight.
Well, as long as he had to wait, he might as well keep investigating. It wasn't hard to find Sara's planner, sitting in plain sight by her phone. It was clearly going to be impossible to read the thing, though. She seemed to write in some kind of code.
He flipped to the current evening's space. A T and some squiggles. Sara, do you record things in Greek? Cyrillic? Or is it just your handwriting? Damn it. Well, "T" is a start, anyway. Brass flipped to the address book section of the little book.
There were 16 people with last names beginning with T, and multiple Tims, Toms, and Todds scattered through the rest of the alphabet. Brass mentally eliminated one name: Tyler Holmes was a judge, married, and elderly. He had suffered from polio in his youth, and walked with two canes. His was the only name Brass recognized and was able to rule out. Some of the "T" males were familiar: D.A.s, lab techs, or detectives. The rest were mysteries, and he found himself mildly surprised that Sara had so many people she didn't currently work with in her address book.
The quiet sound of the shower came to a sudden end; Brass almost jumped. He hadn't realized how intently he was listening for signs of life from that bathroom. He quickly replaced the planner and hurried to settle himself on the couch. He grabbed a book off of Sara's small shelf and pretended to browse through it as he listened to her opening and shutting drawers in the small bedroom. Art, huh? I would have thought it would be more forensics. Finally, she opened the bedroom door, and Brass stood, discarding the book.
Sara shuffled into the living room looking a little sheepish. Her hair was curly and wet, dripping a little onto the shoulders of her large Harvard sweatshirt and wetting the long scarf she had loosely wrapped around her neck, clearly trying to hide the bruises. Sweatpants, sweatshirt, and scarf. She's feeling defensive. And she's obviously not going in to work tonight.
That thought reminded him of his own schedule, and he glanced at his watch. He still had an hour or so before he had to leave for his shift, assuming he didn't get called in before then.
"I'm fine." Sara's voice, though a little hoarse, seemed loud in the silence of the room. "I appreciate your coming by, but everything's under control now."
Okay, at least she was talking. Defensiveness was fine. Hell, anything was better than the devastating blankness with which she had first greeted him.
"Under control? Sara, you need to tell me what happened here. And you need to explain to me why you didn't let Officer Dooley do his job. And then you need to give me an official statement so I can get this guy. Sit down."
"Look, it's really none of your business. I know you're just trying to help, but it's over, okay? It will never happen again."
"Sara. Sit. Down."
Sara sat on the couch.
She gave him a nervous glance, and he realized he was now towering over her. He sat near her, trying to remain within reach while giving her some room to breathe.
"I don't understand this, Sara. You always try to get victims to talk. You take it out of their hands when they won't."
"I'm not a victim. I don't want to talk about it. I didn't ask you to come here."
"But here I am. So talk." She bowed her head, studying her hands. Brass noticed that her fingers were trembling just before she curled them into fists, steadying them.
Sara remained silent. Well, if she wouldn't talk to him, he would just have to go over her head. "I'm calling Grissom. This is a crime scene."
"Don't! Please…" Her head snapped up, her eyes locking with his, and he was startled at what he found there. Fear, yes, and that was bad enough, but worse than that… shame.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Sara."
She seemed to consider that for a moment. "No, this is my fault. I knew better-"
He cut her off. "You didn't bruise yourself, Sara, and you didn't force him to hit you. This is not your fault. You know that. I've heard you say this a thousand times."
"Right. And that's true, in general. I mean, I mean it when I tell victims that, I do. But… look, if I talk to you, will you please keep this quiet? I don't want Grissom to know. I don't want anyone to know." Her voice was pleading.
Brass considered this offer. It went against the grain, but Sara was trusting him, a little.
A lot, if he considered the fact that she had allowed him to stay in this apartment while she showered and changed. She hadn't actually asked him to leave, so she probably did want to talk. And really, even if we pick this guy up, the law isn't going to offer her much protection. So he spends a night in jail, and she gets a TRO. It would be better than nothing, but it won't change things.
"Tell me what's been going on, and I'll think about it. I won't keep quiet if you're in danger."
Sara nodded, and took a slow breath, obviously looking for a place to begin.
"Was tonight the first time?" Be honest here, Sara. I know it probably wasn't, it wouldn't escalate out of nowhere like that.
"Yes." Brass shot her a skeptical look, which she met with a rueful smile and little shrug. The shrug seemed to hurt her.
"No, then. I mean… look, he's an ex. He… I shouldn't have gotten involved with him again, I knew better, I, uh, I really did know better, it was stupid. He, um, when we were together before, he, uh, he… he hurt me. But this is the first time since then." She paused. "I'm an idiot. I know that, you don't have to say it. Never again."
"Anyway," she continued, "he's gone. Or he will be soon. He's leaving town in the morning. Early flight. So there's really no point in making a statement at all, it isn't as if the state's going to extradite him back here for this. He was only in town for a few weeks, for a project. That's why I figured it would all be okay, you know? But then he asked me to go with him, and I said no, and he got… he lost his temper."
"No kidding," Brass observed. Sara Sidle went back to someone she had to know would hurt her? And this guy thought she would actually move for a man?
"I did think about it. Pathetic, right? I asked Vega what the L.A. lab was like. I knew he was going to ask me to move. And it isn't like things have been perfect at work lately, a change might be so bad, but… I don't want to make those decisions based on other people's needs, not anymore. And I think I didn't really trust him, at least not enough to move to a new place with him."
Sara chewed her lip for a moment, her gaze wandering over the room, looking everywhere but at Brass. Finally, she glanced at him beseechingly. "So… I told you. And you can see, he's not going to be back. Can we let this go?"
"Why'd you take him back?"
"It was stupid. I was stupid."
Brass waited, and after a moment she started again, her gaze locked on her coffee table as if she would find the answers there.
"He emailed me, a while ago. Said he'd heard I was in Vegas, he was glad I was doing well. He said he was sober now, for a few months, and he wanted to make amends. Part of his steps, you know? And he would understand if I never wanted to see him again, but if we could meet for coffee while he was here, he wanted to apologize to me and explain things a little. And I thought it was a bad idea, I was going to say no, but then I thought, 'what could he do over coffee?' So I said okay, I'd meet him someplace public, just once.
"It went well. It went really well. We talked; he was really gentle and sincere. He was his old self, but calmer and more stable. And I fell for it. He made me laugh. T- He's a lot better with people than I am. He's really funny, and he has this way of talking people into things. I thought I was immune, but I guess I didn't want to be. He was the first person I was ever in love with, and I…I'm not in love with him anymore. I'm really not, but it's hard to stop caring about people once you let yourself love them. He said he'd changed. He said he barely recognized himself when he thought back to Berkeley."
She glanced at Brass, bristling a little at his obvious skepticism. "It sounded a lot more believable when he said it."
"It must have."
Sara gave a hollow little laugh. "Well, he had changed. He was in A.A., went to meetings here. And he only hit me when he was drunk, before." Her voice was quieter now, introspective and heavily laced with shame. "He wasn't the only one to blame, when we were together. We were young. We fought a lot. I have a temper, too, and I'd do things to set him off. Push his buttons. Everyone… everyone makes mistakes."
True, Brass thought.
A memory flashed in his head, his wife raging on and on and on about his hours, about money, about Ellie, until his hand flew almost without conscious thought. The silence, sweet and terrible at once. The red mark on his wife's face, her tongue running along the inside of her lip, looking for damage. The odd light of triumph in her eye, as though she knew that this was her victory after all. Ellie's shocked gasp, standing in the doorway in her pajamas, her face pale and frightened and betrayed.
He had never hit any woman before that night, and he hadn't since, but he had done it. It was a thing he was capable of.
"Why did you stay, back then?" He really wanted to know. He knew it could happen to anyone, but he also knew that there were types who stayed in abusive relationships, or more accurately, types who attracted abusers. Sara didn't seem like the type. Her confidence was almost obnoxious, especially when she was younger and new to Vegas.
Sara coughed, and winced. Brass gave her a slow once-over, trying to get a better estimate of her injuries. "Do you need medical attention? Your ribs?"
"No! I'm fine."
She must have realized she'd spoken too quickly to be convincing, because after a moment she added "I really am, physically. Just bruised, and embarrassed. And they don't really do anything for cracked ribs anyway. I'll take some Tylenol."
Great. She thinks her ribs might be broken. It was bad.
Sara rose. "Do you want anything? Tea? Coffee? I can put a pot on."
"A beer, maybe?"
"I, uh, I don't have any. I thought things would be easier if I just didn't have any in the apartment." Sara. You didn't trust him. Why did you bring him here?
"Coffee would be great." She nodded and passed behind the breakfast bar, rummaging in a shelf for a tin of coffee.
"Why did you stay?"
Sara measured the coffee carefully. She glanced at him and chewed her lower lip.
"Love, at first. We were in love, Jim. He had a mean temper; well, so do I. We were young, and we were just getting used to being in a long-term relationship, and all the ups and downs that go with that. It… it didn't happen that often, and it wasn't so bad. At first, it was really the idea of being hit that was so painful, he didn't actually hurt me. We see a lot worse every day at work."
I certainly hope so. I work homicide, Sara.
"T- He's really charming. I know it sounds corny but it's true. And he's…uh, he's sexy. And I loved him. We had a lot in common. I mean, we were both young to be in grad school, we graduated from college early. We both came from- from the same place, basically.
"He got me. I don't think anyone has ever known me so well. He knew me, and he liked me. He loved me. It was, um, heady stuff. So even when things started getting bad, I could always make excuses for him. He was always so sorry, afterward. When it got worse, I still loved him, and I was ashamed, you know? This may sound dumb to you, but I'm kind of a success story where I come from. A good example."
"That doesn't sound dumb."
"Well. I didn't want to let that go, and to be honest, money was a factor. I was broke. He was broke. San Francisco, the bay area, it's expensive. Living together, we could make rent and student loan payments and tuition… I thought if I left, I'd have nowhere to go, and I wouldn't be able to afford groceries, so I'd tell myself it would be okay."
"So why did you leave?" What did he do that was bad enough to break through your rationalizations?
"Well, that's easier to answer," Sara remarked as she dug the Tylenol bottle out of a drawer. She shook out two as she continued, "He asked me to marry him."
"What? You lost me." Thank God you didn't marry him.
"He asked me to marry him, and all of a sudden, it hit me.
"This was not going to work. Love isn't always enough. He wanted to get married and have kids, and I, well, I don't know if I ever want kids, and at this point in my life the choice may be out of my hands anyway, but it was a very real question right then, and I knew right then that I could never marry him. He wanted to have children with me, this nice, traditional little family, and I wanted this whole other life for myself. And if I do ever have a kid, I'm going to do it right, no child of mine is ever going to grow up in that kind of household. I just wouldn't do it.
'The more I thought about that, the more I realized that my life with him just wasn't worth it. I loved him, but I hated him, too, and I was hating myself more and more every day. I wasn't that good example anymore, either, I'd dropped out of grad school, basically because it made him nervous when the people I was studying with flirted with me, and I was working at the morgue. I wasn't being the person I wanted to be, and I never would be, with him, and I was sick and tired of being angry and afraid… so I left."
"I didn't expect such a complete answer. Did he try to stop you from leaving?" Will he be coming back tonight?
"I moved out when he wasn't around. I just boxed up my stuff and slept on a friend's couch until I could find an apartment."
"He didn't come after you?" Brass could see her shoulders tense from across the room. He waited. She opened the dishwasher and pulled out two mugs, shaking them a little to cool them. Sara poured the coffee.
"He did. Would you like cream? Sugar?"
"Black is fine. What happened?"
"Well, you know what happened. I left. I didn't go back to him until he came to Vegas."
"Why does it matter? He broke my wrist, okay? Spiral fracture."
"Did you press charges then?"
"Yeah." Well, she might as well say his name, then. I can always look it up.
"But you won't now?"
"No." She handed him his coffee.
"No." She was firm. Brass snuck another look at his watch. He was cutting it close now, it was almost midnight. Well, time to prioritize.
He pulled out his phone, ignoring Sara's look of betrayal as he hit the speed dial. Time to call in. "Brass here. I can't make it in tonight. A family emergency," as he continued his phone call, thanking the dispatcher for her concern, he watched Sara's face flicker from anger to surprise to a pleased, if wary, smile. He hung up.
"A family emergency?"
"It's true. You should know that by now." Brass smiled, touched at the tears he saw in her eyes. She blinked them back rapidly, embarrassed, and he changed the subject.
"Don't you have to call in? Grissom won't take it well if you go AWOL."
Sara looked like she might disagree with that, but she held her reply to a short "No, it's my night off. Big date, remember?"
"Are you going to just tell me his name, or are you going to make me work for it?"
"I'm going to make you work for it." She smiled. "So… I've told you everything."
"You don't really need a play-by-play, Jim, do you?"
"No, I guess not. So… Got any good movies?"
"You want to watch a movie? Now?"
"Well, we have the night off. We're caffeinated. We might as well… I'm not leaving until after his plane goes. And I'm getting you a better lock first thing in the morning." He settled into the couch, kicking off his shoes.
"You don't need to do this. I can take care of myself."
"Jim?" Sara's eyes were gleaming again, and she swallowed hard, keeping careful control over her emotions.
"Thanks." He smiled at her as she sank onto the couch beside him, sharing his space but keeping her distance. She passed him the remote.