Disclaimer: CSI and its related characters belong to CBS, Alliance Atlantis, and the show's creators; no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: A hearty thank you goes out to beaujolais, for the encouragement and input; including the much needed virtual slaps upside the head to get me motivated. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Jim Brass stood there, amongst the stray weeds and overgrown grass. The body lay hidden, but the crime that had been inflicted on her lay fully exposed. That's how the highway patrol officer found her; disposed of along the side of a desolate road—like trash tossed out of a moving vehicle. The officers had contained the scene then had called him and the criminalists in to process it. Jim was the first one there; he usually was the first one to a homicide. He had barely made it down the embankment when the squeal of brakes and the crunching of gravel signaled the arrival of another vehicle. He looked up and shook his head as David descended from the van, kit in hand.
Every night for the past week or so it had been nonstop, from one crime scene to the other with no rest in between—at least not for him. Through it all he had tried in vain to fight past the pain and fatigue that had settled deep within his bones.
Squatting down near the body he fought the urge to keep his nerve, that's what he could never get used to: dealing with dead bodies. She had once been beautiful, young, full of prospects, and with so much ahead of her. Yet, she was devoid of all that now—her life had been brutally taken from her—that's where Las Vegas' finest stepped in, to offer a voice to those unfortunate enough who couldn't speak for themselves anymore. Jim shone his flashlight over the length of her garishly exposed body, grimacing at the way she had been left there for others to discover. Silently cursing to himself, he rubbed his hand across his face, hoping to rub out the sleep that weighed heavily on his eyelids.
Nightmares always followed a case such as this and much to his chagrin they were happening more and more frequently.
He was running on empty.
Earlier that morning… Jim had stepped out of the interrogation room in a sour mood, after the conclusion to a rather arduous case from the night before. In need of a dose of fresh air he walked out into the parking lot toward his vehicle, seriously contemplating the thought of abandoning his shift in favor of the cold and empty bed waiting for him at home. But wouldn't you know it, a ringing cell phone—his mobile—scattered that thought on the wind.
Thus here he was, displaying a fake smile when David looked over his clipboard at him. Straightening up, he left him and his assistant to work while he strolled a few feet away from the victim, continuing to survey the ground for further evidence. He deeply sighed when three slender fingers adorned with bright red nail polish—presumably still attached to a hand—caught the beam from his flashlight and stood out among the dead weeds. "David, I may have found another vic over here," Jim called out.
A break in the cloud cover let the full moon fall on the rest of her, surrounding her in an ethereal glow and laid to rest his suspicions. Jim swallowed and looked away in outrage at whoever had inflicted the physical wounds on her face. There was extensive bruising on her cheeks and around each eye; she had also sustained a broken nose at the hands of her attacker.
Jim then moved the beam of light down to her chest and froze.
A fragmented memory flashed across his mind and he closed his eyes trying to recollect where he had seen that gold heart-shaped pendant before. Though, it ended up being just that—a fleeting memory—when he not only caught sight of the piece of jewelry encircling her neck, but of a hand imprint as well. Once again he looked away and decided he had seen enough, so he clicked off his flashlight.
"Looks like a double…" A familiar voice traveled down the steep incline and broke into Jim's thoughts. The rest of the cavalry had arrived. He observed as Gil and Sara conversed for a few seconds and she nodded, then Gil left her side, most likely to grab their gear. Sara made her way down to the crime scene and Jim went over to her and offered up a helping hand but she brushed it away with a tiny smile.
After Grissom had made his own way down the embankment, Jim took a couple of steps back to let them work. They processed the scene in their usual fashion, only speaking to each other and to him when something caught their attention.
The night was quiet, as such was the attitude between them all.
After a few minutes Grissom turned, taking note of the displeasure on Jim's face but ignored it in favor of his work. "Did you find anything that'll help to identify these women?"
Shaking his head, the detective raised his hand. "Well for now, that's Jane Doe number one and that's Jane Doe number two. Here is what I do know: HP said a driver had some car trouble, so he pulled over to the side of the road to check it out. Unfortunately for him he also stumbled across our crime scene."
"Rather odd, you'd expect they would have some sort of identification on their person."
Jim flexed his left hand and glanced around furtively. "I've only had a chance to look around. Besides, with a crime scene like this, I think it would be best to preserve its integrity."
Grissom lowered his camera and looked over at his good friend. "You impress me, Jim."
"Look, at this stage I'm very tired." Jim scratched the nape of his neck in frustration. "So, I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or something else."
A stiff breeze blew through the tall grass as both men locked eyes again.
"Guys… I found something on our second vic. I've got two cards which she appears to have tucked away in her waistband; got a credit card and a DL issued to…" Sara's voice trailed and her eyes widened slightly. She stood and turned to face Jim. He looked at her, trying to discern what kind of emotion had set into her features.
"Sara?" Grissom asked.
Ignoring him, Sara approached Jim and looked into his eyes. "I think you'd better take a look at these."
He returned the look and detected a hint of anger and sadness in them then she broke eye contact. Jim extended his hand after placing his white handkerchief in it and took the offered cards.
Another breeze whistled through the overgrown grass and kicked up some dust, which softly pelted his cheek as he stared at the plastic ID in his palm. He had no idea how long he had been focused on the card when he felt a hand on his coat sleeve. Sighing softly and at war with his emotions, he looked at a distant point on the horizon for a few minutes and lost himself in the sea of darkness. Without a single word, he handed the evidence back over to Sara and trudged up the incline to his vehicle.
Grissom came up behind her and they both shared looks.
"Sara, what is it?"
"Well, um, our second vic was a detective and from the information on the ID. She worked homicide during the day." Sara shared the piece of information with her supervisor and he seemed a little confused.
She studied his placid features a few seconds longer then realization hit her: he wasn't aware of the connection Jim had shared with the woman.
"What's his connection with her?" he asked, turning away from the sight of his retreating friend.
Sara's reaction was to blink twice, over the similarity of the thoughts which were going through her head. She managed another look at the homicide detective, who seemed to have been consumed by the anger of the senseless crime which had been committed.
She switched gears and placed both cards into a plastic evidence bag then resumed her duties.
Her supervisor's persistence intruded into her private thoughts yet again: "Sara? What's Jim's connection with our second vic? If this is to have any bearing on the investigation then I suggest I'd be notified before Sheriff Burdick learns of this, and literally hunts Jim down so he can recuse himself."
"Well, besides her being one of the best officers within the department, Jim and her were very close." Sara paused, and her next statement stemmed out of annoyance with him, for not being privy to what was going on with the people he considered his family, "Grissom, he's your friend and always has been, even before I moved out here. Why don't you ask him?"
Grissom lowered his camera again and regarded the advice. Sara had a point; he always found it difficult to connect with his friends on a personal level. "I suppose you're right. Let's get this crime scene processed for now."
They did, though Sara was worried; she had never seen Jim react so strongly such as he had a couple of minutes ago. There had been a few cases that had impacted him on a personal level but this seemed different.
Jim sat and stared out of the windshield for several minutes then shifted in the seat when the radio in his car crackled to life. He listened with half an ear at the broadcast being relayed to any cruiser in the vicinity of Easton Avenue: a B&E with tragic results, from the information received via nine-one-one dispatch. The radio went quiet, only his breathing and heart rate sounded loudly in his ears.
Inevitably, those quilt ridden thoughts invaded his mind as he continued to stare out into the darkness beyond.
He would've preferred to have been summoned out to the B&E instead of this crime scene. Anything would've been better than discovering the identity of the other murder victim. Even in death she deserved better than being discarded the way she was, but at least she had been able to escape the despair and pain inflicted on her by the hands of her murderer.
A rage he hadn't felt in years coursed through his body and he gripped the steering wheel with such ferocity, that he grunted when a cramp traveled into his left wrist. Jim wasn't about to let go; the pain kept him in the moment but he didn't want to be here, there was just too much frustration and anguish inside of him. And he wasn't about to display an ounce of weakness in front of his colleagues, so he sat in his car until the conflicting emotions subsided a bit.
He knew what his next step was: handing over the investigation to another homicide detective and officially designating himself hands off. That was going to be difficult, after all, two women were dead and one of them had been a cop… she had also been a very good friend.
It was an extremely disheartening thing to lose one of their own and a case such as this demanded the entire police department work together, to bring the perpetrator to justice.
This time though, it was deeply personal.
Eyes closed and fists balled up in anger, he jumped slightly when someone tapped on the window. Jim identified the person who had intruded into his thoughts and sighed. Somehow he knew that Gil Grissom's presence there would be to remind him that he was too close to the case. He expected no less from the scientist, but that didn't stop him from being a little annoyed.
Another impatient tap on the car's window, and Jim signaled Grissom to step back so he could join him outside.
"Are you and Sara done with processing the scene?"
Grissom studied him for a minute and sensed a pent up rage, thinly veiled below the surface.
"The elements beat us to the majority of the evidence, however, I suspect the victim's bodies will offer more than the crime scene was able to."
Jim looked over the man's shoulder as David and his assistant wheeled the bodies into their van. Another gust of wind howled through the chilly desert night and the detective shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"Sara and I are done here." Grissom glanced over to his side and watched her for a few seconds as she stowed away the evidence into the back of the SUV. "Jim, is there anything you'd like to add?"
"I told you all I know. There are no witnesses and it doesn't surprise me that the scene would be somewhat compromised." Jim sidestepped the question, by only offering up what he already knew concerning the crime scene.
"Jim, I need to know what your involvement with this detective was before I proceed—"
"Well, this isn't the time or the place to discuss this, is it? I'm also well aware of what I need to do."
"I hope for your sake you do," Grissom said, causing Jim to smirk in annoyance. "We'll handle this case delicately, but I still need to be informed of how you're connected to her."
"Gil, she and I were close but that was several months ago. I do suggest you treat this case delicately, or you'll have the entire department on your ass if you don't. She was a good detective and very well respected."
"Are you sure about the entire department? Or are you speaking about yourself? Look, you sound biased, what about the other woman that was found with her?"
Jim let the question go unanswered—an argument wasn't something he wanted to get himself into right now. Grissom on the other hand, braced himself for a defensive remark.
"This bastard murdered two women and one happened to be a cop, you better believe some of my guys will take this personally." He stepped forward slightly; the comment had only served to make his blood boil. "Oh and, don't you say I'm being biased. Please find out the identity of the other woman. I'd like to know what her connection was with Detective Tobin." Jim opened the car door and looked into his friend's eyes. "I need to get out of here since there are a few things I have to get squared away then I'll be turning the case over to another detective."
Grissom reached out and placed his hand on the car door, impeding the homicide detective's departure. "This discussion isn't over, Jim."
"It is for now," he answered, and tilted his head to the side, urging the scientist to back off. "Process the evidence, figure out what went wrong and if possible, find out who killed them."
"Sound advice, but I know how to do my job, Brass." Grissom took his hand off the door and stepped back.
"Then why are you still standing here? Just let me know what you and Sara find out."
Jim slammed the car door shut and started the engine. He sat in the vehicle for a few seconds and watched the criminalist walk away. Finally putting the car into gear, he made it back onto the blacktop and sped off toward the familiarity of the P.D.
The next few hours would prove rather difficult for the homicide captain.
The Las Vegas Police Department was a bustle of activity and it would never cease to be that way. As usual, a few uniformed officers and fellow detectives greeted Jim with a customary nod of their heads as he strolled into the building.
He knew precisely whom he wanted to head this investigation, since he was relinquishing the lead. Stepping into the officer's bullpen, he scanned the room and took note of some of the detectives occupying their desks, but no sign of the man he wanted to see. He didn't want to walk the entire length of the building looking for Detective Vega and decided to page him from his office instead.
Jim turned to leave and hesitated near the doorway—there was something holding him back from taking another step. It was the sudden thought that one particular desk would forever remain unoccupied—by the woman he had shared a deep friendship with—that sent a pang of remorse through him. He was lost in thought when he left the room and walked the few feet to his office, where he sank heavily into his desk chair while massaging the nape of his neck.
He didn't register the soft knock on his office door at first, and the second time around he looked up to see a concerned face staring back at him. Clare always dropped by during the course of his shift, to hand off any personal messages and she also took care of any requests he had. He didn't have a need for a 'personal assistant' as he often referred to her, but she insisted it wasn't such a big deal.
And right now, he actually welcomed the intrusion.
"I have those reports you requested, Captain."
With tired eyes he observed as she arranged the files in a neat stack on the corner of his desk. "Thank you, Clare."
"You're welcome, Sir." Clare stood there then finally added, "I um, heard about tonight's discovery."
"Yeah, I'm sure the entire department knows…"
"There's a minor problem, Captain."
"And that is?" Jim asked, full of curiosity.
She fidgeted under his intense stare for a few seconds. "She was here several days ago…" Her voice trailed off, and she locked eyes with her boss.
"Is there something I need to be aware of?"
"Tobin—she was here several days ago. Well, I saw her sitting over at Vartann's desk, and he filed a report on her behalf."
"I need that report on my desk immediately. That could impact heavily on the investigation." This new development had sapped some more energy out of him. He should've felt elated, but somehow this news sounded ominous to him.
Clare nodded her head and mulled over her next comment but was interrupted before she spoke up.
Sara framed herself in the doorway, and had cleared her throat, "May I come in?"
Clare glanced over and smiled then turned her attention back to her boss. "Will that be all, Captain Brass?"
"That's it for now. Get me that report ASAP," he managed to say and stood up with a tired grin on his face, directed at Sara.
"…Sir, some advice; speak with someone. It would appear something about this case has you preoccupied."
Sara's eyebrows shot up at the familiarity in tone, with which this young woman addressed him.
"Well, your advice is duly noted, Clare." Jim watched as she excused herself.
Sara turned to him with a questioning stare. "Did I interrupt something?"
"No. Ah, please, have a seat." He gestured for her to sit and he lowered himself back into his own chair. "What is it?"
"She's right you know. Talk to me, Brass. How long did the two of you…?"
"I really would rather not discuss this right now. I have to ask though; did Gil send you along to make sure I'm fine?"
"No, I came as a friend. But, I will add that he's a little worried that this will hinder the investigation."
Jim looked away and then settled his blue eyes on her face again. Answering her would be difficult; he always kept his personal life to himself, except this time he knew without being reminded, that it had a tremendous bearing on this criminal investigation.
"Sara, we had a history her and me. The one thing I can't seem to get out of my head is the fact I didn't recognize her out there." Jim wiped his face with both hands. "There was something going on and she wouldn't let me in."
"Brass, this wasn't your fault."
"That doesn't make me feel any better."
The desk phone rang and he broke eye contact with her.
Sara looked up into his face and watched as the detective closed his eyes, and tensed his jaw. She grew concerned and recognized the familiarity of those emotions… anger and confusion.
"Who's this? Listen to me, we can…" He slammed the phone back onto its cradle, and Sara flinched.
"Brass?" She was more than just concerned now; more like startled by the sudden burst of emotion from him.
"This investigation just became personal," Jim said, with a very heavy sigh.
Just as she was about to speak up, he held a palm up to stop her. He got on the phone and asked for Detective Vega to be summoned to his office immediately; something he had held off in doing when he had taken a seat behind his desk. After speaking for a few minutes on the phone, he settled back into his seat and cursed under his breath.
Several seconds later Sara thought it was safe to speak up again, "Brass, what's going on?"
"The perp in this case just introduced himself, and his exact words to me were: 'There will be more'. This has definitely taken a turn for the worse." Jim sat there with a pained expression in his eyes.
The crime lab was also brimming with its share of activity that night. Whoever said that criminals preferred to stay indoors during the chilly months, preceding and during the winter season should've had their theory supported by more evidence than was used. Besides, this was Vegas—the temperature dropped in the evenings, even when the Metro and surrounding area happened to be baking in the rays of the sun during the day.
Gil Grissom always argued the matter of solid evidence when building a case, but this double homicide wasn't offering much hope in the way of that. He had gone over the bodies himself, gathering as much information as he could from the story each of them told him—by way of the wounds and anything else which stood out. The rest would be up to the resident medical examiner: Albert Robbins, and whatever he managed to glean from his autopsies of each of the victims.
It was obvious to Grissom that they had gone through a terrifying experience at the hands of their murderer. And even though he was thought of as being detached from his investigations, he still had a heart, and every single case he had dealt with left a little scar behind. This was no different, and it was made all the more important when the second body was discovered to be that of a detective, who he no doubt had worked alongside with when she was still alive.
He stood back and gazed a few seconds longer at both of their bodies as they each lay motionless on the cold hard steel tables, exposed to the bright fluorescent lights overhead. Was it out of sadness or something some other emotion that caused him to bow his head and shake it subtly? He resigned himself to the fact that this crime was just another senseless act.
It was up to him and Sara to solve the case; in the end offering the souls of these two women a much needed rest.
"Mr. Grissom, are you done processing the bodies?"
He was a bit startled by the familiar voice over his shoulder, and turned. "Yes, of course, David."
"Good. I'll be doing the autopsy on your Jane Doe, and Doc will take care of um, Detective Tobin."
"Page me if you two find anything of interest."
Grissom responded with a nod of his head and left. He walked the length of the crime lab and handed off each piece of evidence he had gathered from the bodies to each of the lab's experts, adding instructions that they be handled with top priority. Somehow—as he walked down the hallway to his office—he couldn't get out of his head that a case such as this only seemed destined to get worse. No sooner had he rounded his desk, when Sara stepped slowly into the room behind him, with an odd expression on her face.
"Sara, is everything all right?"
"I have some important news concerning this case that you need to be aware of."
Grissom tilted his head and raised one eyebrow; he braced himself for the other shoe to drop. Another voice floated into the room and an exasperated look crossed his features as he continued to stare into her eyes.
"Let me handle this, Sara." Jim slowly made his way next to the chair she occupied and slid a couple of sheets of paper over the desk to Grissom.
He looked the detective over for a few seconds and hesitated before turning the documents over.
"Aren't you hands off on this case, Jim?"
"Hey, I can't help it if others don't seem to agree with you," Jim replied, then dropped into the other chair facing the desk. "To answer your question, yes, I'm hands off but I think you need to read through those before I head out the door."
"She filed a TRO on an old boyfriend of hers," Grissom said aloud, more to himself than to the company in the room. "Jim, if the two of you were so close, how is it you weren't aware of the situation?"
"Well, I checked the ex-boyfriend out and you can cross him off your potential list of suspects… apparently he died during an unrelated drug investigation."
Grissom glanced briefly at the older man. "I wonder what other secrets Detective Tobin kept from you."
Jim remained silent and a look of extreme annoyance settled onto his features.
Sara couldn't believe her ears. The tense situation within the office had just grown worse. She expected a remark like that from him, but right now it wasn't what was needed. Jim was going through quite a bit emotionally and she already knew this had only served to drain whatever energy the detective had out of his body. She was angry at Grissom, and this time she wasn't going to sit idly by and let him get away with it.
"Grissom, you have the reports, and Jim has handed the investigation over to Vega. Just leave it at that."
"That still doesn't change the fact that Jim here is still considered a suspect." Grissom looked from her eyes, and into his friend's. There, he admitted to what had been eating at him since finding out about the detective's involvement with the murdered officer.
"Oh, is that what this is about?" Jim leaned forward in the chair, trying to keep his temper from flaring out of control. He was tired and this was beginning to grate on his nerves. "Last time I heard you told Nicky to assume nothing, and here you are thinking I could have done this to these two women. What kind of a man do you really think I am?"
The detective held up a hand, cutting Sara off then he rose out of the chair. He stepped forward and dropped another sheet of paper on the desk then added some emphasis to it, by slamming his hand on the desktop. "Here is the key piece of evidence that exonerates me from being considered a suspect."
The night shift supervisor flinched, enough for his good friend to take notice. Grissom read the document and confusion flickered across his eyes.
"The suspect called you?"
"Well, it would seem that way, wouldn't it?"
"This is raising some very obvious questions that need to be answered, Jim."
"Ask Sam, I've made him aware of what's going on. I'm too close to this. And that exchange with the perp didn't help me in any way."
"It certainly didn't help you, but it does make solving this case a little more difficult." Grissom let out a deep sigh. "Do we have the makings of a serial on our hands?"
"Not if he's stopped, before he has the opportunity to kill again."
"Oh, I agree with you, but this has really put us under the microscope. If the media get wind that this double homicide might turn out to be the beginnings of a serial killer, then that kind of publicity won't help with our investigation."
"Wait a minute, when did you become so worried about the lab's image? That never seemed to be of importance to you." Jim rested his palms on the desk and tilted his head to the side, challenging Grissom to come up with a good answer.
Grissom seemed at a loss for words and Jim straightened himself back up. They locked eyes once again and the scientist looked away. The lab's image had always been important to him whether anyone knew it or not, this case, coupled with the fact that the evidence was sparse didn't help matters. The integrity of the lab had been tested a few times in the past and he knew this was only a minor setback.
Why then, was the thought nagging him so much?
Jim relented; obviously the man didn't have an answer for everything. "Never mind, talk to Vega and you two do what you do best. Find this guy."
"Jim, wait," Sara finally spoke up, after having to put up with their subtle bickering.
The detective stepped out of the office and added as an afterthought, "I need some air. Gil, I expect to be kept in the loop. I want this bastard to pay for what he did."
"Not very sympathetic now, were you?" Sara looked into her boss's eyes for a few seconds longer then rose out of her own chair.
"And where are you going? We've got some evidence to process."
"A dose of fresh air sounds good. I'll be back shortly."
Grissom pursed his lips together then pinched the bridge of his nose in anger and sighed. The thought occurred to him that he had probably just pushed his long time friend away—including Sara. Once again, he was letting a case take precedence over everything and everyone else.
The cool desert air once again proceeded to slap him in the face while off in the distance were the rumblings and flashes of light, signaling the onset of a stormy morning for the city. He stood by his car in the parking lot staring off into space, with hands deep in his pant pockets, and his mind flashed back to the crime scene. I could've prevented her death… I should've done something. He swallowed dryly, letting the anger and the sick feelings pass.
There were certain things he was slowly finding out about Erin and it was a painful process, but he had to know. The TRO she had filed was a surprise and slowly he came to the realization that it was the reason she had pushed him away, when he had offered to help her.
Jim's mind traveled back to a time when he had asked her about the past and that had touched a nerve within her; the past was just too painful for her to talk about. So he let it drop, but he never forgot.
A hand came to rest on his shoulder and he turned his head to look into Sara's eyes.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Sure. How are you doing?"
"I came out here because of you, Jim. You seem to be lost."
He looked down at the pavement and shook his head. "No, I know exactly where I am."
"Are you sure?"
He really wasn't sure if he was being truthful with himself. This case, losing Erin, and the anguish further added to the fatigue he carried.
Maybe he was lost.
Jim reached up and gave her fingers a squeeze, "Yeah, I'll be fine. I'm just very tired."
She wasn't buying it though; she knew when to let something like this go. There was so much sadness and anger inside his body that she could practically sense it radiating out. Sara returned the gesture by squeezing his hand.
"Go on home then. Grissom and I got it covered; I'll call you if we get any new developments in the case."
He sighed loudly, and he knew he shouldn't argue the point with her; it was very good advice. Jim flashed a tiny smile at her and nodded his head in agreement.
She stood there long enough to watch him drive out of the parking lot and onto the deserted street. Another gust of wind sent a chill down her spine and she stuck her hands deeper into her jacket pockets. After several minutes of being lost in thought concerning the investigation, the emotional turmoil Jim was in, and a feeling that he wouldn't come away unscathed in the aftermath, Sara turned around then disappeared back inside the building.
To be continued…