As always, my thanks go out to Merc because like me, she has some serious Brass love and she's a great writing inspiration. Oh, yeah, I don't own CSI or any of the characters and get nothing from it but the joy of writing Jim Brass.
1422 Holland Lane, Las Vegas, Nevada
"Sir, I think this is for you."
Captain Jim Brass took the envelope and stared at the three capitalized words handwritten on the front. "Where'd you get this?" he asked the officer.
"A guy handed it to me. Said to give it to the officer in charge. That's you, right?"
"Yeah, that's me. Did you get a look at this guy?"
"Not a good look. I was standing in front of that crowd of looky-lous over there and this guy in a dark blue windbreaker and a Mets ballcap handed it to me."
Brass felt along the envelope then feeling nothing suspicious, opened one end and looked at the sheet of paper he pulled out.
There is a bomb inside. It will detonate at 4:15am. You have been warned.
Brass quickly looked at his watch, 4:11am, then sprang into action. Hoax or not, he wasn't taking any chances.
"Get these people back! Get 'em all the way back!" he yelled at the policeman as he sprinted for the front of the house, the paper and the envelope falling from his hand.
He didn't have time to think; only react. Three CSIs were inside with the crime scene: his job, his responsibility.
Brass threw open the door, ignoring Catherine's strong protest about contaminating her crime scene. "Willows, Stokes, there's a bomb in here. Get out now!"
Catherine saw the look on Brass' face and knew better than to argue. Instinctively grabbing her kit, she was out the door and across the porch in seconds.
Frantically looking around the room, Brass felt his pulse pounding in his neck. The world seemed to be moving in slow motion. "Where's Sara?"
"Upstairs," Nick said hesitating as he reached the door.
"Go, Nick!" Brass glanced at his watch again as he took the stairs two at a time. Three minutes. "Sara!"
Sara Sidle was in the farthest bedroom, camera poised, still snapping pictures of the broken window and glass-covered carpet. Her concern wasn't with the commotion Brass was making; her concern was gathering as much evidence as possible.
"Sara, we've got a bomb in here! You have to leave now!"
She looked up to see a panicked, sweating Jim Brass hustling towards her. Grabbing her by the arm, he jerked her towards him.
"Hey, what the hell? I'm not done in here!" she argued back irritably, the camera swinging free from her grasp.
"What part of bomb did you not understand?" he asked, giving her no time to answer or react as he pulled her down the long hallway then pushed her ahead of him as they raced down the stairs. She might have been younger and faster but Brass had adrenaline on his side. He was with her step for step as they hit the landing but as she bolted through the front door, he felt the hairs on the back of neck stand on end. They weren't going to make it.
"Shit," he said, reaching out protectively for Sara and using his body to protect hers just as 1422 Holland Lane exploded into the cool, clear Nevada sky.
Sara opened her eyes, vaguely aware of what had just happened, and stared blankly at the grass. She could feel the vibration of thundering footsteps on the ground but only heard the continuous buzz of white noise in her head. She tried to move: arms, legs, anything, but only felt the oppressive, unmoving weight on her back and for a moment, she began to panic.
She remembered the last seconds: Jim Brass was right behind her as they hit the front porch; he had put his arm around her shoulder. It was his weight pressing against her back now and he wasn't moving.
"Brass?" Nothing. "Jim!" She was shouting, partly because she couldn't hear her own voice and partly because of the overwhelming anxiety she felt. Faintly, the sound of voices carried past the incessant hum in her ears; she knew help had to be on the way but it did nothing to calm her fears.
Ignoring the stab of pain in her shoulder, she extended her right hand and reached out for Jim's wrist then carefully twisted her fingers so she could feel for a pulse. Nothing. That didn't mean anything, she told herself, once again trying not to panic.
Not letting go of his hand, she began to give it a gentle squeeze at regular intervals, praying that he might respond to the pressure. Several long minutes later she thought she felt him move.
"Brass? Come on, Jim! Stay with me!"
This time there was no mistake as his fingers grasped hers. The moment was brief but it was enough to let her know: he was alive.
It took Brass several minutes for his sluggish brain to process what had just happened: a house, a note, a bomb, an explosion. Sara. Where was she?
He tried to call out her name only to have the words catch wetly in his throat, trapped along with the tortured gasp for air he struggled to take. Locked in the grip of cold and despair, one face drifted in and out of his conscience, one little blonde-haired girl whose smile could melt his heart.
She was there with him now, holding his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze, just like she had done all those years ago, when they'd walked up to Old Man Smoot's corner store for ice cream.
Don't let go, daddy.
He didn't want to let go but his thoughts were running together now, anxious and indistinct, making it impossible to focus as darkness encroached.
Ellie, like the rest of his life, was slipping away.
Catherine Willows slowly lifted her head and opened her eyes as bits of debris fell off her clothing and hair. She was afraid at what she would see; unfortunately, her fear was justified.
The two-story house they had just vacated for the safety of the other side of the street, had been leveled to a heap of collapsed wood, shattered glass and bent steel. Particles of dust still drifted through the air, settling on neighboring yards, cars and people. But what caught her attention directly after the explosion wasn't the wreckage or the lack of movement from the front yard—where she had last seen Brass and Sara. It was the deathly silence.
And then chaos.
Car alarms, sirens, screaming onlookers, shouting policemen, and victims, caught by the falling debris, crying for help all seemed to erupt at once in a mass of confusion and panic.
"They made it out, didn't they?"
The fear in Nick's voice mirrored what she felt. "I saw them," she said, still feeling the shock of what had happened.
Looking around, processing the scene in slow motion, she saw a woman sitting on the back of an ambulance, blood covering her face, and in the distance she could hear the sound of more sirens. Across the street, police officers and paramedics were rushing in, their attention focused on one area, their voices carrying on the still air.
Maybe they found Jim and Sara.
"I'm going to help," Nick said, nodding to the officer working the crowd then jogging over to join in the search.
Catherine remained on the curb, conflicted by what she should do. Part of her wanted to rush in and help but part of her couldn't stand the thought of what they might find. Sara was a co-worker, someone she didn't always see eye to eye with but a friend nonetheless. Jim was…
Catherine let out a long, shuddering sigh at the thought of losing Jim. She'd known Jim Brass since he came to Vegas. They'd commiserated over divorce, kids and cheating spouses together. Sometimes she felt like he was the only one who really understood what she had to deal with, never judging her for her mistakes.
A sudden shout cut through the night air, shaking her from her reverie. Jogging across the road, she stood clear of the fray but close enough to see the men carefully removing chunks of wood and twisted metal.
Jim was going to be okay—they both were. She wouldn't let herself think otherwise.
"Over here!" The voice was loud and male, probably close by but Sara still couldn't be sure.
Jim hadn't moved again in the last five minutes and now she was becoming acutely aware of the pain in her shoulder and the wetness soaking through the back of her shirt. Not wanting to think about what that meant, she tried to focus her thoughts elsewhere but they kept coming back to the same place.
She remembered the hard push in her back as Jim forced her to the ground and she remembered the feeling of the earth move under her—like the earthquakes she had grown accustomed to back in San Francisco. But they had been clear of the house before the explosion, hadn't they? Whatever hit them would have been secondary or tertiary injuries, not primary. How bad could it be?
Concentrating, she tried to recall the text she had read not so long ago: secondary meant flying debris and that could mean penetrating injury or blunt force trauma. Brass would have shielded her from the worst of it, leaving himself exposed to the brunt of the debris. Realizing the implications, that Brass could be dead, she closed her eyes and clasped hold of his hand, refusing to let go and praying help would hurry.
It felt like hours had passed before the noises became louder. Voices, indistinct, shouting orders, sirens, and debris falling to the ground and then suddenly a rush of cool air on her face: help had finally arrived. A man was on his knees in front of her, talking to her, and several long moments later the weight lifted off her back.
"Are you okay?"
She still couldn't quite hear him but she understood his question. Nodding, she immediately asked, "How's Jim?"
"Let's get you checked out, okay."
Sara nodded slowly, aware of what avoidance of a direct question meant, and didn't protest as he examined her right arm.
"I'm going to get this immobilized for you and then we're going to transport you to the hospital, okay?"
He must have known she couldn't hear him very clearly because he was looking directly at her and speaking slowly.
He wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. "Sit tight. I'll be right back."
She didn't move. She couldn't. Something else held her attention. Right now, Sara was focused on the scene playing out not ten feet away, oblivious to what the attending paramedic was now doing to her arm.
She watched, unmoving, emotionless, as they tore away the bloodied blue shirt, the same one she had complimented him on earlier, and frantically tried to save Jim Brass' life. She knew what they were doing but it really didn't matter. What did matter to Sara Sidle had more to do with why: why she was sitting on the ground, living, breathing, feeling the morning sun beat down on her head, while others were trying desperately to keep a slightly cynical homicide detective alive. Their roles should have been reversed.
He should have been sitting where she was; she should have been fighting for her life. It wouldn't have been the first time. She was used to it.
Looking away, Sara saw Catherine kneeling on the ground beside her, viewing the same grim scene that she saw, and welcomed the comforting squeeze of her hand. Tearing her eyes away, she glanced over at the crowd of onlookers and suddenly felt very angry.
"Can't they get them out of here? None of those people know him or care about him. They're just here out of morbid curiosity."
Before Catherine could think of a response, Nick Stokes came up beside her. "Hey, Sara, how you holding up?"
When she didn't answer, Catherine pointed at her ears, diffusing Nick's curious look and making him nod his understanding.
Turning his attention to Catherine, the younger CSI said, "I found the note but Simms says he remembers there was an envelope too. He said he thought Brass tossed them both to the ground when he took off for the house." Nick turned his attention to the paramedics and watched as they still labored over the detective. "He's hurt pretty bad, isn't he?"
"The paramedics say he's got a penetrating chest wound. They can't transport until they get him stabilized." Catherine replied in a voice much calmer than she actually felt.
Nick dropped his head, feeling the sadness in the situation. While Brass wasn't a CSI, he was like one of the team—a friend. He might have been a pain in the ass sometimes but Nick genuinely liked the guy.
He couldn't watch any more. Standing up, he walked over to Sara and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. When she looked up at him, he smiled.
"Not much left of our crime scene," Nick said, nearly shouting.
Sara looked around at the surrounding devastation, at the debris that had buried them both for what seemed like days but in fact was less than twenty minutes. It was a miracle really. If Jim hadn't been so insistent; if she had lingered at the scene just a few seconds more; if either of them had been a half a step slower…
Shuddering at the thought, at the realization that Jim's life still hung by a thread, she watched as they carefully loaded him onto the stretcher then wheeled him over to the waiting ambulance.
"Can I ride with him?" she asked the paramedic.
The young man shook his head. "I'm afraid not. We have a nice, shiny carriage just for you."
"I want to go with him. He saved my life."
"I understand but there's no room. You're going to the same place so you can check on him when you get there."
Catherine stood alone, watching as they loaded one of her closest friends into the back of the ambulance. She had asked if Life Flight wasn't a better option; they had nearly exhausted the "golden hour" and now it was down to minutes but the paramedic had assured her that this would be just as fast. Catherine understood. Neither way really made a difference. Jim would be lucky if he made it to the hospital alive no matter which option they took.
The door closed and the ambulance squealed away from the curb, siren echoing in the still of the early morning. With her arms wrapped around her chest, Catherine suddenly felt the chill in the air as worry, stress and fatigue bore down on her.
Looking around at what had once been her crime scene, she noticed Agent Rick Culpepper and the handful of men in dark windbreakers. FBI had jurisdiction in a bombing; now it was their crime scene. For once Catherine didn't care. They could have all the evidence, the splintered wood, the bomb fragments and anything else they found. Too many other things were important now.
"I called Grissom," Nick was saying. "He's working another investigation but will be at the hospital as soon as he can. Anyone you'd like me to call?"
Sara shook her head. "Just let me know about Jim, okay?"
"Will do. See you at the hospital." He gave her hand a squeeze then waved as they loaded her into the back of the ambulance and shut the door.
Sam Vega reached down to pick up the bloodied, torn tan jacket, removing the badge from the breast pocket.
"Can I? Just for a minute."
Vega stared at Catherine for few beats before handing it over then slowly resumed gathering up the rest of Jim's possessions and putting them neatly into a clear plastic bag.
She held the gold badge in her hand, feeling its weight, running her fingers over the seven-pointed star. Noticing the flecks of blood and dirt across the embossed face, she carefully ran the facing over the sleeve of her shirt, polishing it until it once again shined. Feeling the growing lump in her throat, she handed it back to Vega before slowly, numbly walking to her truck and climbing inside.
It wasn't until she was alone, away from the media, from Ecklie's team, from Culpepper and the FBI, from the prying onlookers that Catherine Willows allowed herself to cry.
To be continued…