Author's note: This story deals with raped and murdered little girls. There will be no graphic descriptions, but if the idea of this alone bothers you, please don't read. Also, this is my first attempt at writing something case oriented and I am definitely not a scientist, so please bear with any of my amateur errors. Oh, and don't be put off by the opening paragraph. I was just playing around with the title.
Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom filled with light and beautiful people, there lived a knight, a noble knight who, along with his brethren, was sworn to protect and avenge the innocent and the wronged. He had sworn to fulfill this duty using all of the weapons at his disposal, his mind, his body, and if needs be, his soul. This is his story...
The colorful lights of the police cruiser slashed through the night, announcing to the world that the large, Spanish-style, stucco house at the end of the quiet, upscale cul-de-sac was the site of some unknown tragedy. Three black SUVs pulled up to park beside the cruiser and the dark blue Taurus already at the scene. Six dark clothed investigators exited these three vehicles, descending on the house like a murder of crows descending on a roadkill carcass.
Capt. Brass met this group as they approached the open front door of the house. Addressing the supervisor of the Graveyard Shift, the detective said, "The girl's name is Tiffany Metcalfe. She's seven years old. She hasn't been seen for approximately six hours. The nanny put her to bed at 8:00 and discovered her missing at around 2 this morning. The parents claim they didn't hear a thing. I haven't had a chance to talk to them much yet."
"I want to be with you when you do," Grissom said.
"I'll talk to the nanny," Catherine declared.
"So, do you think it's the same guy who took those other two girls?" Greg asked. "It is the same subdivision."
Turning to address his team, Gil said, "We can't make that assumption at this point. Until we have evidence to the contrary, we treat this as a crime scene unto itself. Nick, Sara, go up to the girl's room and see what you can find. Warrick, Greg, take the grounds."
With somber nods and murmurs of assent, the younger members of the group quickly dispersed to their assigned areas. The older members continued on into the house at a slower pace. While Catherine followed Nick and Sara upstairs, Brass and Grissom stepped into the spacious, comfortably furnished living room. They found the parents sitting on an overstuffed couch. Mrs. Metcalfe was crying quietly while her husband rubbed her back, looking numb and in shock.
"Mr. and Mrs. Metcalfe? This is Gil Grissom from the crime lab," Brass introduced his colleague. "We'd like to ask you some more questions."
Gil seated himself in the chair across from the couch. "Did either of you find a note or anything in Tiffany's room, which might have been left by the kidnapper?"
"No," Mr. Metcalfe answered. "And Rosa didn't say anything about finding one either."
Metcalfe was a tall, athletically-built man in his early fifties. His light brown hair was only just beginning to show threads of silver at the temples. His wife was a good fifteen years his junior. She was quite lovely, with pale skin and thick, auburn hair.
"Is Tiffany your only child?" Gil asked.
"Yes," Mrs. Metcalfe answered tearfully.
"What time did the two of you go to bed last night?"
"Um, around midnight."
"And you didn't notice anything suspicious or out of the ordinary at that time, a car parked on the street that shouldn't have been there?"
"Can you think of anyone who might want to hurt your family for any reason?" Brass asked, hovering behind the chair in which Grissom sat.
"No," Metcalfe said. "I'm a corporate attorney for one of the hotel chains. I deal mostly with contracts. I'm not really in a position that would make enemies and Angela doesn't work. I can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt us or Tiffany."
"How long has Rosa Moreno worked for you?" Brass asked.
"She's been with us since Tiffany was three. You don't think Rosa had anything to do with this, do you?" Angela Metcalfe asked. "She adores Tiffany. Rosa would never hurt her. It's that same maniac who took the two other girls in the area, isn't it? It's been all over the news. That's who you should be out looking for. Why haven't you people caught him yet?"
"Mrs. Metcalfe, we're doing the best we can, but we don't know that this is the work of the same man," Brass pointed out.
"It's got to be! There can't be more than one sicko out there who likes to kidnap little girls."
"If only that were true, Mrs. Metcalfe," Gil said softly. "If only that were true."
"Mrs. Moreno, I want you to tell me exactly what you did last night, from the time you put Tiffany to bed," Catherine said.
She was interviewing the nanny in her small, but comfortable room, which was located right next door to the missing girl's. Rosa Moreno was a plump Hispanic woman in her late forties, with a faint, melodic accent and a kind, round face. She was quite obviously devastated by the disappearance of her young charge.
"I put Tiffany to bed at 8:00, just like I do every school night. We'd had a busy weekend, so I was tired. I went to my own room and watched some television until about 10:00 then I went to sleep. I woke up about 2 in the morning when I heard a noise. I went to Tiffany's room to check on her, but she was gone."
"You heard a noise? What kind of a noise?"
"It was like a scraping sound. It sounded like it was coming from Tiffany's room. That's why I went to check on her."
"And what did you do when you found she wasn't in her bed?"
"I looked around the room first. She sometimes likes to hide from me. It's a game we play, but she wasn't in her usual hiding places, under the bed, in the closet. I checked the bathroom, to see if she was there, but she wasn't. Then I woke up Mr. and Mrs. Metcalfe. When Tiffany was younger, she would sometimes sleepwalk. Occasionally she even went outside, so we all went out and checked the grounds, but we didn't find anything. That's when Mr. Metcalfe called the police."
"So, how much time do you think elapsed between the time you discovered Tiffany missing and the time you and the Metcalfe's went outside to look for her?" Catherine asked.
"Oh, um, maybe fifteen minutes."
"Did you happen to notice what time the Metcalfe's went to bed?"
"No, I didn't, but it was some time after me."
"Alright, thank you, Mrs. Moreno."
Sara took a deep breath as she pushed the door open and stepped into Tiffany Metcalfe's bedroom, followed closely by Nick. Pulling latex gloves on, the two investigators wandered slowly around the room, for now, simply taking in the general impression the room gave of the child who inhabited it.
It was a large, well-lit, tidy room with a twin bed and a matching dresser. The walls were painted a cheerful, pale green and low bookcases crammed with toys, stuffed animals, and even some books, lined the perimeter of the room. The walls were covered with pictures and posters of castles, knights on horseback and tall ships.
"Looks like she was a bit of tomboy," Nick commented, holding up a crude, hand-made, wooden sword. "A lot of this stuff reminds me of my sister Allison."
"Yeah, I had one of these when I was her age, too," Sara said, gesturing to a rock polisher sitting on one of the bookcases.
"Yeah, I used to love Legos when I was a kid," Nick said, indicating a large, plastic bin, filled with the small, colorful, plastic building blocks.
"Okay, I'll process the bed," Sara volunteered, getting down to business somewhat reluctantly.
"Right, I'll take the windows. They're the only way someone could have gotten into the room without coming through the house."
The windows were in fact three narrow windows placed side by side along the east-facing wall. The left-hand window was still open, the screen gone, but Nick still conscientiously dusted the white trim around all three windows for fingerprints. Unfortunately the only ones he found were entirely too small to be the kidnappers. They were obviously Tiffany's own. He did find a slight smear of red on the trim of the left-hand window. Testing it, he found that it was blood. He took a sample of it for the lab to process.
Leaning out the open window, he found that it was a tight fit. Shining his flashlight downward, he saw that below the window was a line of shrubs which appeared to be undisturbed. Continuing to move the beam of light up the wall, he found two scratched areas in the beige paint and shallow gouges in the stucco just beneath the window sill. The marks were spaced about right for a ladder. Grabbing his camera, Nick took several shots of these marks with a ruler stuck between them to provide scale for the photograph.
Meanwhile, Sara was busy meticulously going over every inch of the bed with her portable ALS unit. She found several long red hairs that she attributed to the girl, but not much else. She was going over the plaid, patchwork quilt that lay on top. As she approached the foot of the bed, she discovered a small, telltale, white stain. Taking a sterile swab from her kit, she tested the stain. She gave a heavy sigh.
"I've got a semen stain," she announced to Nick.
"Yeah? Damn... Find anything else?"
"Some hairs, but I'm pretty sure they're the girl's."
The two investigators examined the rest of the room, trying to find some overlooked clue or anomaly which might help their case. Looking over one of the bookcases, Sara picked up a framed photo of Tiffany. The girl was obviously dressed for Halloween, in an elaborate pirate's costume, complete with plastic hook and cutlass.
"Hmm, most little girls this age want to be a princess or a ballerina," the woman commented with a slight smile. She held the photo out to her companion.
Nick accepted the picture and couldn't help smiling at the wide, gap-toothed grin on the girl's face. She had been missing one of her front teeth at the time the picture was taken. Despite this, she was a very pretty child with a thick head of long, coppery-red curls. She had wide, light brown eyes and a pale, heavily-freckled complexion. With a sad sigh, he handed the picture back to Sara.
"You know, I'll bet she can be a handful," the woman said, taking another look before returning the photo to its place.
"Yeah, I think she might've fought back some. I found blood on the window trim. Of course, it could belong to our kidnapper. Those windows are pretty narrow. They were kind of a tight fit for me and my shoulders aren't that broad."
"Oh, they're plenty broad enough, Nicky," Sara said, in an unnaturally high and breathy voice. "As long as they're wide enough for a girl to rest her little head on, that's good enough." Moving closer to him, she did just that and gazed up at him with wide, vacant eyes.
Chuckling at the ridiculous concept of Sara Sidle as the wide-eyed, helpless innocent, he moved his shoulder away from her, saying lightly, "Get off me!"
Stepping apart, they returned to the reality of their surroundings and their levity quickly evaporated. Looking back at the bed, Nick's mind drifted back to a different little girl's bedroom, in a different state, in another time... He remembered he and his sister Allison playing elaborate games in the bedroom she shared with their sisters Molly and Emily. These games greatly annoyed the two older girls as they involved much bouncing on the bed, loudly raised voices, and hitting each other with pillows.
Of course half the fun of these games was the simple the fact that they did annoyed the older girls. They easily could have taken the games to Nick's room. Theoretically he shared his room with their older brother Chris, but by this time he was away at college most of the time, so the room was basically Nick's. They could have played their games there and not annoyed anyone, but hey, where's the fun in that?
"Nick? Hey, hello...?"
"Hmm?" he turned, to find Sara standing very close to him. He hadn't even been aware of her approach.
"You zoned out on me for a minute. Where were you?"
"Oh, uh, I was just thinking." In truth, Nick had been fighting a very nasty head cold for a few days now and occasionally, at the most inopportune moments, his mind seemed to simply wander off.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
That three word question had quickly become the most common question asked of him by his fellow investigators since his return to the field, following his abduction. They asked him constantly. If he was being too quiet, they asked him. If he didn't smile on cue, they asked him. His three word answer was always the same, but still they asked. It had all become like some strange two-part mantra. He wondered if the words themselves actually meant anything anymore. The mantra seemed to have become more about the ritual of the question itself. He supposed it was the only way they could show that they cared without seeming to smother him. So, he tried very hard not to get impatient with the repetitive question.
Nick helped Sara bag up the quilt and the rest of the bed linens. The two investigators gathered up their kits and their collected evidence and headed downstairs. They found the elder members of the team in the kitchen with the Metcalfe's.
As soon as Nick and Sara entered the room, Grissom said, "Sara, gather up all the evidence we've collected so far and get it back to the lab. Tell Mia and Hodges to drop whatever they're doing and start processing our stuff ASAP."
"Right," the woman said, starting out the door with her armload of evidence.
"Mrs. Metcalfe," Nick spoke up, "I'm going to need a sample of Tiffany's DNA."
"Oh, alright, what do you need?"
"A hairbrush, a toothbrush, or anything else that might have skin cells or other body fluids on it."
"Um, okay, I can get you those things, just a moment." The investigator waited until after the wife had left the kitchen before he set his case on the floor and took out a swab. "Mr. Metcalfe, I'm going to need a DNA sample from you as well."
"We found a semen stain on Tiffany's bedspread."
"Oh, God..." the older man breathed, a second or two later, the full meaning of the investigator's request hit home. "Wait a minute, you don't think that I h-?"
"It's just procedure, Mr. Metcalfe," Grissom interrupted quickly. "It's mostly so that we can rule you out as a suspect. Are there any other males who might have had contact with your daughter, a gardener, perhaps?"
"We have a landscape company that comes in once a week, but they would have no reason to come in contact with Tiffany."
"Still, if you could get me the name of that company, it would help."
"Oh, yes, of course I'll get it for you. Alright then, what do you want from me?"
"I just need you to open your mouth, sir," Nick said, with a slight reassuring smile.
Snapping off the cap, he slid the plastic, protector down from the sterile swab and wiped it against the inside of Mr. Metcalfe's left cheek. Finished, Nick slid the protector back into place, covering the swab, and snapped the cap back on. He deposited the whole thing back into the cardboard box it had been originally packaged in. Taking a pen from his field vest, he quickly jotted down the pertinent information about the sample and tucked it away.
Nick glanced around the kitchen, still unconsciously seeking more clues. His eyes fell on a large, flat, rectangular, white box, sitting on the counter top. Curious, he wandered over and lifted the lid with a gloved finger. Inside were the meager remains of a chocolate sheet cake with thick, white icing. It was the kind of cake that comes from a professional bakery. Lowering the lid again, he read the name McCormick Bakery which was stamped on the top of the box.
"Tiffany's seventh birthday was this past Tuesday," Mrs. Metcalfe explained, walking up to the investigator and holding out her daughter's hairbrush and toothbrush.
Nick produced two evidence bags and indicated for Angela to deposit the items into the separate bags. "So, I take it that you had a party for her?" he asked, nodding toward the cake box, as he sealed up the evidence bags.
"Yes, but the party wasn't until the night before yesterday, Friday night."
"Were there a lot of adults at the party, as well as children?" Grissom asked, picking up on the conversation and moving closer to join them.
"Yes, quite a few of our friends were here as well. We had a barbecue."
"Could you make a list of all the guests who attended the party for me?"
"Uh, yes, I could to that... Do you honestly think one of our friends might have taken Tiffany?"
"I'm just trying to be thorough, Mrs. Metcalfe."
Outside, Warrick moved slowly around the lavishly landscaped grounds. The subdivision was located well outside the city limits and the houses all had large lots. As the end lot on the cul-de-sac, the Metcalfes' was somewhat larger than most. There were plenty of places where someone could hide and watch the house.
The investigator scanned his flashlight around the numerous shrubs and ornamental trees, but found nothing probative. There were motion-activated, security lights set around the perimeter of the house and Warrick found that the light that should have illuminated the side of the house which Tiffany's bedroom windows faced had been disabled. He photographed the unit and dusted it for prints, but found nothing. Their kidnapper had apparently worn gloves.
He also discovered tire marks in the grass near Tiffany's room. The investigator seriously doubted the Metcalfe's would ever park a car on their immaculate lawn. The marks had to have been made by the kidnapper's vehicle. Unfortunately the Metcalfe's had an automated sprinkler system. The grass was too wet and springy to have retained anything more than a very general tire impression. It would be impossible to figure out the model of vehicle the suspect had driven. Although, taking careful measurements and photographs, Warrick was hoping he'd be able to determine the type of vehicle used from the distance between the four tires.
While Warrick checked the outer area of the grounds, Greg stayed closer to the house. After carefully examining the entire exterior of the house, the young CSI found nothing to indicate any attempt at entry anywhere, except the area directly under the girl's bedroom windows. He found a couple of disturbed spots in the gravel that surrounded the house, which appeared to be where the clawed feet of a ladder might have rested. He snapped off a few pictures and slowly ran his flashlight upward from that spot. He also saw the two marks on the side of the house, which Nick had photographed earlier. Greg snapped off a few photos of his own.
Discouraged by the relative fruitlessness of their searches, the two investigators headed into the house, to rejoin the rest of the team. Walking up to Mr. Metcalfe and introducing himself, Warrick said, "I noticed that you have motion-sensor security lights around your house, were you aware that the light under Tiffany's bedroom was disabled?"
"No, I didn't know that," Metcalfe said.
"Do you remember any of the security lights going off last night?"
"No, but they may have," the older man admitted with a heavy sigh. "There's a coyote that's been coming into the neighborhood at night, getting into people's garbage cans, setting off everyone's security systems. It's been going on for a couple of months. Everyone has pretty much been ignoring their security lights or just turning them off altogether."
Warrick nodded sadly. "Alright, thank you, sir."
With all the evidence collected and the questions answered, Grissom gestured for his team to follow him out of the house. He stopped out on the front walk and turned to quietly address his people. "LVPD is sending over a couple of scent dogs. We're not holding out much hope, but who knows? I want to be here with the dogs. Greg, you're staying as well. You get to be my designated runner. The rest of you, get back to the lab and help Sara start processing the evidence.
"Oh, Catherine, get with Ecklie. I want all of Day Shift's paperwork from the two earlier kidnappings. I think there is a connection between all three... All right, get going, I'll see you all back at the lab."
It was almost an hour's drive back to the lab from the vic's subdivision. Nick was sitting in the back seat of the SUV. Warrick was driving and Catherine was in the passenger seat. As the driver, the tall, African-American CSI had claimed the right to choose the radio station and he had found a contemporary jazz station that was playing a lot of mellow, saxophone stuff. Warrick and Catherine were quietly discussing the case.
Comfortably sprawled out on the bench seat in back, Nick could feel his head cold catching up to him. He hadn't slept well this morning and he was definitely feeling it now. Between the other CSIs' quiet voices, the mellow music, and the vibration of the vehicle, the Texan could barely keep his eyes open. He tried to force himself to stay awake, since he was technically still on the job, but it was a lost cause...
Nick found himself standing in a dense, shadowy forest. Tall, broadleaf trees loomed above and all around him, blocking the sunlight and creating a feeling of claustrophobia. There was a slight breeze rippling through the high branches, ruffling the leaves. It sounded disturbingly like many soft voices whispering above him. The more reassuring sounds of crickets, birds and other animal life let him know that he wasn't completely alone in the eerie woods. Looking around and picking a random direction, he started walking. Dry, dead leaves crunched under his feet, sounding unnaturally loud in the relatively hushed atmosphere.
The sound of humming caught his attention and he turned to his right, searching for the source of the sound. A flash of bright red flitted through the trees off in that direction. Nick felt his heart rate increase. The flash had been too big to be a cardinal or any other harmless animal. But it had also seemed rather too small to be a human... at least an adult human.
Hearing the high-pitched laughter of a child, the investigator quickened his pace, moving toward the flash of color. Abruptly stepping into a large clearing, he saw the back of a small figure wearing a long, hooded, red cloak. This was the flash of red he had seen through the trees. The hood was pulled up, so he could see nothing of the person, but the outline of the cloak.
The little figure turned to face him and he saw it was a young girl. In fact, recognizing the coppery curls spilling out from beneath the hood, he realized it was Tiffany Metcalfe. She gave him a wide grin. The front tooth had grown back, so the smile was intact and perfect. She waved to him, indicating that he should follow her, and turned to disappear into the trees again.
"Wait!" Nick called out to the child, but she had already vanished. As he was about to start after her, he heard the humming again. It was a simple, children's tune, hauntingly familiar, and yet the Texan couldn't think of the words.
"Tiffany, wait, come back!"
An unexpected hand touching his shoulder brought him very abruptly back to reality. Nick sat up with a gasp, finding himself still in the back seat of the Tahoe, with Catherine leaning around the passenger seat, watching him in amusement. Warrick had apparently already gone inside.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, but we're back at the lab," Catherine said, smiling.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry, Cath. I'm really embarrassed," Nick said, rubbing a hand over his face and trying to banish the strange dream from his mind.
"It's all right, don't worry about it. It's not like we were in the middle of some crucial experiment. We were just driving from one place to another. It happens... Are you feeling okay? You look a little pale."
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just have a slight cold. It's no big deal."
"You sure? I mean maybe you should go home."
Nick sighed. If anyone else on the team had suggested going home because of a cold in the middle of a huge case like this, they would have been ridiculed. But because in this instance, it was Nick and everyone was still treating him like he was made of spun glass, a cold for him was tantamount to pneumonia for anyone else.
"I'm fine, Catherine. I just didn't sleep well this morning. I'll be okay once we start working on the case."
To be continued...