A/N: So sorry for the delay in posting—real-life, and some unexpected news side-tracked me. Thanks so much for the kind reviews and special thanks goes out to beaujolais for the continued help and much needed motivation.
Sara sprinted down the corridor, intent on figuring out first hand the identity of the mysterious figure. He was aware that he was being followed, that much was obvious by the glances thrown over his shoulders. There was no use in her yelling for him to stop; it wouldn't do any good, and other hospital personnel, patients, and innocent bystanders would only interfere with her gaining the extra edge she needed to catch up to him.
Someone inadvertently darted out in front of the suspect, and Sara skidded to a stop a few feet away. Her body tensed, and on instinct she palmed the clasp of her weapon holster. The man posing as a hospital orderly grabbed the startled elderly patient close to him, and pressed a syringe up to her neck, his eyes gleaming with desperation.
Sara sized him up noticing a thin sheen of sweat had broken out across his forehead; he then moved to take a step back using the patient as a human shield and winced. The suspect was wounded and practically cornered—this could turn out to be an explosive situation. No sooner had that thought crossed her mind, than she was distracted by a voice and rushing footsteps from behind.
That was the perfect distraction; the suspect's eyes widened, and he shoved his human shield toward Sara, knocking her off balance for a second. She made sure the elderly woman was all right before turning her attention back to the spot where they stood earlier. A fire escape door a few feet away slowly swung shut and she muttered a curse word under her breath. But before she could take a step forward, two security guards bellowed for her to freeze.
They obviously had no weapons on them, when she turned to face them, so with a quick movement she un-clipped her credentials from a belt loop on her jeans and tossed it at one of them. With a harsh glare she turned and walked away, adding a command over her shoulder, as she forcefully shoved the fire escape door open, "Call it in!"
She scrambled down the stairs, making sure each landing was clear. Sara was three flights up, but that didn't include the underground parking area reserved for hospital personnel so with a loud exhalation she slowly nudged open the fire door on the lower level. An unnerving silence greeted her, and the minute sounds of the city above seemed to be magnified. With the tip of her shoe she kicked the door open and jumped back. Sure enough it slammed closed. Another kick sent it back; she heard a grunt and the sound of flesh making contact with the cold metal door. The door began to swing shut, so she slid around it and trained her weapon on the man she was pursuing.
"Drop it!" Sara snapped at him, and motioned with her head.
The hollow clank of a metal pipe startled her, but she didn't allow herself to flinch, and the suspect glared angrily.
"Get up slowly, and keep your hands where I can see them," she commanded in a low voice.
"I would if I could. But, you see, your pal left a lasting impression."
"Then how did you manage to run down a few stairs without re-injuring yourself?" Sara asked angrily under her breath, and she received a shrug in response. "On your feet, slowly, hands where I can see them."
"My, my you're such a demanding woman," he said with a smirk. "Well, while you're down here pretending to be a policewoman, your friend up there is shrugging off the last remnants of his dreary existence."
"Tell me, what did you inject him with?" Sara's eyes narrowed and she approached him. His eyes widened imperceptibly, though he recovered quickly.
"Ah, that old woman in the corridor…" he spoke aloud, then he locked eyes with Sara again. "It's my own concoction, a little of this and a lot of that."
"What was in it?" Sara demanded in a dangerous tone.
"Well, why don't you find out for yourself?"
Sara was taken unawares at the next action he took.
The syringe flew at her like an oversized dart, and she happened to find herself in the position of being the dart board. Ducking out of the way she lashed out, and batted it away with her forearm, then lost her balance in the process. He snatched the opportunity and lunged at her, knocking both of them back against the cold and unforgiving metal of the fire escape door. Her sidearm clattered to the floor and spun away as she slid down onto the pavement, breathing harshly. There was a loud thump and a choking noise, which was cut off midway, located near the top of her head. She shook her head to dispel some of the cobwebs, and glanced over through the slight haze that enveloped her.
The suspect lay on his stomach, staring at her with unblinking eyes as blood poured forth from an open head wound. The sounds of rushing footsteps pulled her out of her dazed reverie.
"Miss, are you all right?"
"I-I think so." Sara, with the stranger's help, slowly stood up on shaky legs. The stranger continued to stare at the person lying on the cold floor with some discomfort then looked at Sara again, awaiting an explanation. "He's, um, don't worry about him. I need to get back up to the third floor."
"Well, I don't think the police will look too kindly on you leaving, without answering a few questions."
"Yeah, you're right." Sara grimaced at the spoken truth. Jim needed her; however, she couldn't very well leave the body there. Un-clipping her cell phone off her waistband she dialed her supervisor's mobile. Grissom answered and spoke to her in clipped tones. Apparently he and Detective Vega were in the hospital, and were on their way down to her.
With every passing second, her worry over Jim's life increased.
The sight of Grissom coming around the metal door eased her tension a bit, though the nagging feeling that they had some bad news to pass along gnawed at her insides. Grissom, sensing her emotions shook his head to discourage those thoughts, and beckoned her over. The crime scene would have to wait a few minutes, as he leaned over and whispered into her ear concerning what he knew of Jim's struggles to remain amongst the living.
Jim was on the verge of letting go but a voice deep within him urged him to fight. During his struggles he had pulled out the IV that fed him the vital fluids that were keeping him hydrated, unfortunately the tubing had also allowed the deadly poison to partially seep into his veins.
It was a cold feeling at first then the pain became too much and his eyes shut tight, and his fists clenched, the fingernails drawing blood from the inside of his palms. The breaths he inhaled into his burning lungs were shallow and it felt as if he was drowning; thus his body went into convulsions.
Hands and arms suddenly held him down and someone whispered into his ear. Everything will be all right, you're going to be all right, it said Jim didn't feel that way, and his eyes flew open, tears stinging the corners as they scurried down his cheeks. Everything was blurred, and the voices were distorted, but he was determined to put up a fight, and not let himself be dragged down into the murky blackness he knew was waiting for him.
He had no idea what he had been injected with; all he knew is that he wasn't going to let his assailant get the upper hand. How his thoughts remained coherent was beyond him but then Jim remembered those last words whispered to him by his attacker.
Another familiar voice, soothing and feminine, caused his thrashing to stop. The pain was unbearable, and he let a strangled cry escape his lips, but the voice persisted as if it had to tell him something important. Her cool touch came in contact with his forehead and he gasped; he looked straight into her eyes then blinked several times.
"We know what it was, Jim. Fight it, stay with us."
"S-Sara?" Jim's own voice was harsh and laced with pain, though, he slowly understood and subtly nodded his head. His eyelids fluttered and once again, his entire body tensed with a grunt causing her to emit a loud gasp.
The pain subsided and allowed him to relax long enough, and he listened to the distant unwavering shrill beeps from the electronic monitors he was hooked up to. Noises filtered through them and they managed to make it to his ears; shuffling, gasps, and a deep voice demanding everyone clear out of the room.
But what struck him as odd was the sudden and eerily palpable silence that enveloped him in its fierce embrace. His breathing was shallow, and each breath shortened until he no longer registered it with his muffled hearing. His panic rose then there wasn't any pain, just a warm tingly feeling and strangely, it felt welcoming.
Jim's eyes flew open and his hand reacted out of sudden desperation, grabbing whatever was near in a tight grip. There was a shift and the warmth it had encountered ebbed and flowed, until it no longer radiated into his flesh.
"Jim…" That was the last thing he heard then the silence overtook him.
"Doctor he's going into cardiac arrest!"
That was four days ago… on the sixth day Jim demanded that he'd be released from the hospital.
He was finally on his way home, and he felt numb. It wasn't due to the painkillers and the near-death experience he'd been through; Jim's heart had ceased beating for two minutes he'd been told. No, it was the overwhelming weariness he felt all the way down to his bones. He had asked for a cab to take him home and was absorbed in his own thoughts, when something in the bag containing his personal effects began ringing.
"Hey yourself… Jim, where are you?"
"I'm headed home."
"I take it you discharged yourself against your doctor's wishes?" No response. "Well, how are you feeling?"
"A little tired." Jim flexed the fingers of his right hand and winced. "This isn't a social call is it, Cath?"
"I need to see you. There've been some developments in our double-homicide investigation as well as your assault case."
Jim closed his eyes and sighed. How long was this investigation going to drag itself out? In any event he was eager to listen to what she had to say; he'd been left out of the loop for far too long… and having been unconscious for two days had its major drawbacks.
"Come by the house and we'll discuss it there. I assume you still have my spare keys?"
"Okay. Let me take care of a few things here at the crime lab and I'll bring the case-file, including any pertinent notes over."
"Good. I'll see you in a bit."
He closed his cell phone then rested his head back. The rest of the trip home, Jim spent racking his brain on what kind of developments the criminalists had uncovered. Would it lead to them solving the case once and for all?
Jim paid the cab fare and gingerly exited the vehicle feeling every inch of his injured shoulder scream in protest. He groaned as he straightened up and surveyed the neighborhood; he had definitely missed the welcoming sight of his home-sweet-home.
He rummaged within the clear plastic bag for his own set of keys and had just barely made it inside the door when he'd recognized the tell-tale signs of an unwelcome visitor.
So much for taking it easy, he thought with another groan.
Jim quietly made his way to the adjoining living room and making as little noise as possible, opened a secret compartment he had had built into his custom made entertainment cabinet. He was relieved by the comforting weight and feel of his earlier issued .38 service revolver. There was a muted thump from the vicinity of his personal office and he flinched, as two male voices reached his alert ears.
"You're such an idiot!"
"There's nothing else here. This is pointless."
Jim's eyebrows furrowed as he considered what action to take next.
"Hurry, we've been at this fruitless search for nearly thirty minutes."
"You're a bit jumpy this evening. Pop another Vicodin and shut up."
"You think he knows?"
Another thump and Jim moved closer to the living room's entryway while keeping to the shadows.
"Relax. I imagine he's still recovering from our associate's murder attempt… oh what an unprecedented failure that was." Silence, then the voice continued, "Anyway, too bad Bruno died, or I would've killed him myself. Nevertheless, he was a liability to our plans… just like that idiot Stacey."
"Don't forget that cop; she got too close as well. I wonder if Detective Brass is aware of what he has in his possession."
Jim's eyebrow arched and he figured it was time to put his plan into action but he'd forgotten about Catherine's request to visit him. The sound of keys rattling in the keyhole suspended their search and everything went quiet for a couple of beats. Jim had to react quickly or she would be ambushed and possibly hurt as she tried to enter the house.
The door opened a fraction of an inch and Catherine cried out, "Jim, are you here?"
The detective, still hidden in the shadows, swallowed thickly and made a move towards the door.
"It's that blonde. Get rid of her and do it with a minimum of noise," came a whispered command from the office.
Jim stepped out of the living room shadows as the sound of rushing footfalls approached and he intercepted one of the anonymous intruders. He used his good shoulder and sent the man sprawling onto the carpeted hallway. The unwelcome visitor was taken by surprise but with a burst of speed he turned over onto his back and yelled out for his cohort to come to his aid. Jim kicked the man in the side and brought down the butt of his revolver on the man's temple, painfully knocking him out.
"Oh, for Christ's sake… I told you to do it quietly!"
Catherine had stepped into the foyer and made eye contact with Jim then quickly moved into action. She withdrew her firearm and came up beside the detective as he tried to catch his breath. They quickly nodded to each other and moved into the living room intending on surprising the other stranger as he came out of the room to investigate.
The man's footfalls drew closer and Jim tensed, sensing a confrontation brewing. The footfalls stopped and a loud sigh, then a curse word escaped the man's breath. Jim took a chance and emerged from the living room's inky darkness to offer his visitor a gracious greeting.
"You know, I was never one for subtlety." Jim trained the gun on the stranger as he slowly turned. "Find what you were looking for?"
"But, you're supposed…"
"Surprise." Jim smirked. "Answer my question."
The man lunged in response and Jim fired a shot; its trajectory was thrown off target and the bullet whizzed past the man's head embedding itself in the ceiling. They both went down and Jim's assailant applied pressure to his injured shoulder causing the detective to cry out in pain. Jim's .38 went sliding into the nearby baseboard and disappeared in the gloom. The detective tried to use the extra surge of adrenaline to shove his attacker off when out of the corner of his eye he saw Catherine come into view.
The assailant stilled his movements when he felt the cool tip of Catherine's gun barrel on his neck. Jim used the opportunity afforded him and pushed the man off into a nearby wall then the stranger slowly struggled to his feet.
The detective with the aid of Catherine got to his own feet and winced at the sudden dull ache traveling down his right side.
"We should check him for weapons," Jim said with a grunt.
"Too late, Captain." The man smiled wickedly and pointed Jim's discarded revolver at Catherine and fired.
Jim yelled and shielded her with his own body as the bullet shredded the thin material on the lower left side of his loose shirt, impacting the wall behind them. She fired her weapon and the stranger grunted as her own weapon's trajectory found its target. The unknown assailant dropped down to his knees, loosened his grip on the revolver and pitched forward onto his face. Blood gushing freely from the wound in his chest, he exhaled one last time then his body went limp.
Catherine turned and looked at the detective strangely. Jim was out of breath and a small amount of blood had soaked through his bandage and the shirt he wore; his adrenaline gone, he looked up and smiled slightly. She returned the smile and let out the breath she had been holding.
"I think so. Too bad our prime suspect is dead. Jim Brass, meet Brian Trevino."
Jim glanced at Catherine and back at the man lying in his own pool of blood.
"Name's familiar… That's my neighbor," Jim said as he knelt down on one knee and rifled through the man's pockets.
"That he is. Were you aware that he'd been keeping a close watch on your movements since he'd moved in?"
"I thought something was a bit off when he introduced himself the day he moved—"
"Wait, that tipped you off?"
"The man was quite… excited to be living within arm's reach of a homicide detective."
"Well, I think I'd feel safer having a police detective as a neighbor."
"That's the thing though, not many of my neighbors know who I am. And another thing, he knew who I was before he was even settled in; also claimed to be from San Diego."
"Yeah, that's a bit strange," Catherine said and joined him in searching through the man's pockets. "What did you find?"
"Might've found what he was looking for, however, I've got a feeling they weren't able to find everything." Jim braced himself against the wall and stood up stiffly. "I think I need to sit down."
"Sounds like a good idea. I'll call nine-one-one and then advise Grissom and Sara to continue searching for the rest of those documents." Catherine stood up and reached into her jacket pocket for her cell phone. "I've got this under control. I think his pal is going to be out for some time."
"I should think so, after that blow to the head he just received." Jim chuckled and shook his head as he walked in the direction of the kitchen. "Oh by the way, who is the other guy, Cath?"
"Nobody you'd recognize, Jim. I imagine he was placed among Trevino's little band to keep an eye on his progress. We'll know more once he wakes up. Though, I have my doubts as to whether he'll be saying much about his involvement."
"Sorta like watching the watcher… He'll lawyer up; from the looks of it, it'll be as soon as possible too. No, I don't think we'll find out too much from him." Jim then waved the newly discovered sheets of paper in the air and added with conviction, "I have a feeling Detective Tobin will be the one telling us everything."
"And I have a feeling she will," Catherine said under her breath then added, "I'm getting some paramedics out here to check on that wound of yours."
"No need. You can handle it, right?"
He turned and she smirked in response then her eyes took on a serious gleam and his face fell. At least I tried…
But he was definitely feeling better now that the case had been officially closed with Trevino's death. However, there was still the issue of figuring out what Detective Tobin had been so close to uncovering. She had paid with her life and Jim was adamant that her ghost receive the justice it deserved.
He turned on the overhead fluorescent lights then sat down on one of the barstools in his kitchen and sighed heavily. Jim rubbed his eyes with his free hand and shook his mind loose of the past, then commenced looking through the papers his unwelcome visitors had been so determined to find.
It was with the sounds of rapidly approaching sirens that Jim came across the answer and closed his eyes. Catherine stepped up behind him and placed her hand on his uninjured shoulder to provide the man some comfort.
"What is it?"
Jim's shoulders tensed then sagged at the sound of her voice.
"It's all here, Catherine. She tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. For the first time in my life I didn't listen."
"What's all there, Jim? You're not making any sense."
He turned to her with a haunted expression and Catherine gave his shoulder a squeeze.
"Save that for later, Brass, when we're in an official capacity to take a recorded statement."
They both turned to see who had interrupted them and glanced at each other briefly. The rest of the team with Detective Sofia Curtis in the lead had managed to arrive without a noise. Jim realized he had blocked everything out and wasn't aware that they had been observed for a full two minutes before the other detective had spoken up.
Jim stared into Sofia's eyes and nodded his assent. She smiled and stepped further into the kitchen. "What happened out there?"
"It's a long story," Catherine answered.
"Well, I suggest you let the medics check you out, Jim. We can pick this up at the station in a bit, so I'll leave them to it." The blonde detective turned to go then added as an afterthought, "Let me know when you're ready and I'll meet you two there."
"Will you be alright, Jim?" Catherine gave his shoulder another squeeze.
"I'll be fine. Go talk to Grissom, I suspect he's worried."
"Okay. Let me know when you're ready to go."
She walked over to the kitchen entrance as the paramedics rushed past.
Sofia had ushered Jim and Catherine into Gil Grissom's office at the criminalist's insistence. He thought the use of an interrogation room wasn't such a good idea and Jim deserved as much privacy as he could get after what he'd just been through. Everything had been set up and they were just awaiting the under-sheriff's arrival; he was intent on asking the questions.
Jim fidgeted in his seat and groaned softly.
"Are you sure you're alright, Jim?"
"It's nothing, just a slight twinge," Jim answered Catherine's concern laced question. "I take it this interview will go on for a few hours?"
"All we need are the bare bones, Captain. Don't worry, we're well aware of the physical state you're in; we won't put any unnecessary strain on you." Sofia opened the door for the under-sheriff to step through.
"Right. A few things before we get started," he addressed everyone in the room. "As per Catherine's phoned in request we have issued a bulletin for the whereabouts of Lieutenant Stacey. But there seems to be a problem."
"Let me guess… you can't find him?" Jim asked. "Try his upscale penthouse suite in Summerlin. It's registered under an alias…"
"How do you know that, Captain Brass?"
"It's in the file," the detective replied, gesturing to the manila folder sitting on the desk. "Detective Tobin was very precise with her notes and observations."
"I'll get on the horn to the patrol officers in the vicinity." Sofia stood and searched through the file then found what she needed and went around the desk to leave. "Excuse me for a…"
"It's no use," Jim interrupted her and everyone looked at him in confusion. "I suspect Stacey is dead, either by his own hand or by one of his associates. I'm leaning towards the latter."
"Explain, Detective Brass." The under-sheriff took a seat on the edge of Grissom's desk.
"I overheard the men who broke into my home discussing how much of a liability he was to their plans. Just like Detective Tobin proved to be."
"How do you explain the other women's murder, then?"
"She happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time." Jim shook his head as he answered the question. "Carey was just another expendable human being to these men."
"You seem to have all the answers, Detective Brass."
"I had ample time to skim through the file on my way over here." Jim flexed his fingers and winced. "Care to hear more?"
"Well, this is an official inquiry concerning tonight's events that took place at your residence. I suggest you continue. And, rest assured I'll be looking through this file to make sure you haven't missed a thing."
"Who's the one under suspicion here?" Jim massaged his wounded shoulder in frustration.
"You aren't, if that's what you mean. I just like to have your story corroborated by facts. You did say Detective Tobin took meticulous notes and also made careful observations?"
"Yes. Like I've already stated, it's all in the file."
"All right then, please tell us what you've read so far, Detective Brass."
Jim coughed then cleared his throat. Catherine offered him a cup full of warm tea but he refused and settled in to explain what he'd read in Tobin's notes.
"Detective Erin Tobin had stumbled onto some heavy dealings between Trevino and an anonymous benefactor, who in turn had dealings with one the city's major crime syndicates. She integrated herself among them during an ongoing murder investigation and reported back to her supervisor, Lieutenant Stacey. But she wasn't aware that she was being used and exploited. Stacey was as corrupt as they come and had developed a hidden vendetta against me." Jim took a moment to collect himself and then continued with his narrative, "Several years ago I had arrested his lover on suspicion of murdering another man during a fit of jealousy. He was found guilty and subsequently killed himself in his holding cell pending his transfer to the Nevada State Correctional Facility."
"So what connection do these two men who turned your house upside down this evening have to do with Stacey?"
"I'm getting to that, Sir." Jim sighed in frustration. "Brian Trevino was a hired hand and he was ordered to retrieve those notes because they would put an end to the ongoing murder investigation, implicating himself and the anonymous benefactor… Lieutenant Stacey. One thing I knew about Stacey is that he didn't like getting his hands dirty. Granted, I only knew the man for a very short time but that's one particular quirk that stood out like a sore thumb, whether he investigated a homicide or was doing something else altogether.
"The other man on the other hand was sent along, more than likely to take the fall, should anything go wrong to throw Trevino off his game. But I think he coveted the reputation Stacey had among the syndicate. I suppose Trevino used this hired assassin to his own advantage and offered him more money to rid him of Stacey, Tobin, and then come after me because I stood in his way of getting anywhere near those incriminating notes. Trevino intended on taking over Stacey's position among the gang, that's why he was killed. He, or should I say they weren't counting on me leaving the hospital so soon."
"But they could've ransacked your house looking for these files at any time during your hospital stay." The under-sheriff began pacing the confined office.
"No, they couldn't have," Catherine spoke up and all eyes focused on her. "My presence kept them away. Well, someone had to water your plants, collect your newspaper and feed your fish, Jim."
"Thanks for keeping an eye on the place, Cath." Jim grinned while Grissom and Sofia looked on in amusement.
"…Well, I think that's all for now, Detective. If the department has any more questions—"
"Yes, yes I'll be at home, probably in a painkiller induced haze." Jim rose to his feet and grimaced as a dull ache traveled down the length of his injured arm.
The under-sheriff raised an eyebrow and shook his head as he exited the office with the manila folder tucked under his arm.
Sofia collected her recording equipment and notepad then said over her shoulder, "I'll get a couple of cars out to Summerlin."
"I'll get Sara and Greg and we'll meet you out there, Sofia." Grissom stood and followed her out.
That left Catherine and Jim alone in the Grissom's office. Jim turned then smiled at Catherine and she smiled back.
"It's over," she said.
"Yeah, let the healing begin," Jim added wryly. "It's not over, Cath. It'll never be over, at least not for me."
And with that final comment Jim walked out of the dimly lit office, leaving Catherine to stare at the empty doorway in confusion.