Part 1 – He Ain't Heavy...
There was no greater night in Vegas then a Friday night. To some, it was Xanadu, Utopia, the Land of Oz, a 24-hours party that no one hand to worry about leaving early. It was possible to go to bed and wake up to the same party still going strong. Such was the case for April Winchester and Claudia Bennett. They were riding high the energy of the bright lights and the giddiness of three shots of vodka apiece. It was a pretty sweet deal. They'd come to Vegas for the NCAA Cheerleading championships, and some how the coach had waved a magic wand over the budget so that they could stay in the MGM Grand right on the strip. Imagine that! As they stumbled out of room 802, cackling like loons, the two girlfriends made their way to 814 down the hall. April tottered on her heels as she banged on the door.
"Miranda!" she called. "Come get wasted with us!"
No answer came from within. April knocked again, harder as Claudia began to hum We are the Champions by Queen under her breath.
"Miranda! You got a guy in there or something?"
Claudia laughed at this. "Or a girl?" she added teasingly.
When no answer came, Claudia tugged on April's arm. "Come on, everyone's waiting for us." They stepped onto the elevator, prepared to go for a night on the town. Friday night in Vegas promised to hold tonnes of glitz and glamour.
And for others, like Greg Sanders, miles away in the cool, 72-degree break room of the CSI lab, the night could be not as glamorous but just as exciting. His little Gizmo, his baby sister Renee was in town with her cheerleading squad, and in a matter of minutes, he'd be off to pick her up at the MGM and have a real dinner with her. She was so busy of late that it was impossible to get her to answer an email, but granted, she was finishing her doctoral in psychology. It still blew him away that she had done so much in such a short space of time. The girl was a freaking genius, she'd graduated high school at sixteen and had finished her undergrad, a two year masters program and was about to finish her doctoral all before she turned twenty five. It made him cringe to think he'd gone from his lowly bachelor's degree right to the work force at the same age but more often than not, that feeling was overshadowed by the great surge of pride he felt whenever the subject of his little girl came up.
Now, as he finished writing his report while listening to Green Day on his iPod, Warrick walked in, saw him bobbing his head along with the music.
Warrick couldn't help but smile. Some things would never change. Nick would perpetually be a blunder-bus with women, Grissom would never find the nerve to ask Sara out, and Greg would always love his punk rock music. He sat down at the table beside his co-worker – hell, beside his friend, Greg had somehow managed to become that annoying little brother to all the CSIs – reached over and pulled out the ear bud, causing Greg to look up.
"One of these days, Gregg-o, you'll have to learn to separate Marilyn Manson from Charles Manson."
Greg quickly shut his iPod off. "Contrary to popular belief, I am so much more then heavy metal. That happens to be a very riveting audio-book, the latest in latent print extraction techniques," he lied quickly, struggling not to flush and betray himself.
Warrick just shook his head. "You're a level 1 now, not a lab tech."
Relieved the moment had passed, Greg sighed quietly. "Never hurts to remember your roots. And besides, tech speak is a major turn on with the ladies."
At this, Warrick burst out laughing, then turned it into a cough when the boss man walked in, a large stack of files in hand.
"Greg, since it's a slow night, you're switching off with Nick. He just pulled a few doubles in a row, and you need the practice." Grissom then turned to Warrick. "You finished the report for the aggravated assault case?"
"Signed, sealed, delivered." Warrick passed the dossier over to Grissom, who promptly left. At Greg's curious look, he elaborated. "Turned out the imprints on the vic's face and torso were a match to the golf clubs found in his girlfriend's house, clubs that just happened to belong to her brother. Apparently big bro didn't take it too kindly when he found out his baby sis was knocking boots with his co-worker, so he used the guy's face to break in his new seven-iron. Takes all kinds to make a family, huh?"
Greg snorted, continued to write as he spoke. "
I don't know. I'm a pretty cool guy-" Warrick chuckled at this "-but when anyone of my buddies ever tried that with Renee, I'd lay down a bones crushing."
"My younger sister."
Warrick then turned his attention back to his own report. "If she's anything like you, I'm sure you've never run that risk."
As the two CSIs worked on their reports, Grissom strolled through the lab, praying silently Judy didn't have any messages for him. It had been a hell of a week and his backlog of paperwork was enough to gag a maggot. Deep in his own thoughts, he would have bypassed the young woman at the front desk without so much as a flick of the eyelids had it not been for the direct albeit sweet way she spoke.
"Excuse me; I'm looking for Gregory Sanders."
Grissom turned around, felt his jaw nearly hit the floor. The woman was certainly young enough to be his daughter but as a scientist he could appreciate the great beauty of her face. The bone structure was immaculate, the deep blue-green eyes, the button nose, and the jaw-length swing of deep auburn hair were somehow vaguely familiar, but Grissom couldn't quite place it. She carried an oversized hobo purse, the same shade as her hair, and when she spoke, she flashed a smile revealing perfectly straight and blindingly white teeth.
If this was Greg's date for the night, maybe he didn't give his newbie enough credit. Grissom tipped down his glasses to look at her.
The woman nodded, the smile flashing again. When she spoke, her voice sounded like Minnie Mouse with a two-packs-a-day habit. "You must be Dr. Grissom. Gregory speaks very highly of you."
Grissom glanced down at the hand she offered. He accepted it, confused. "I'm sorry, who are you?"
"Oh, I'm his sister, Renee. Whereabouts can I find him?"
The stack of files on the desk made Greg want to whimper. He'd been so looking forward to the steak and baked potato with his name on it, waiting for him at the Navajo Grill. He could smell the butter as he pulled out his cell phone to call Nadine, the cute, cute nurse he'd met two weeks before, when he'd been dragged to Tina's hospital thing by Warrick as back-up in case he wanted to throttled any snippy doctor. Beside him, Warrick was reviewing the case synopses
"So which one you want? Suspected food poisoning on purpose or frat boy with a goldfish in his stomach?"
"First I have to call and tell my date I'll be a no show."
"Yeah, I was supposed to pick her up when I finished having dinner with my sister tonight." Greg stood up to excuse himself as he dialled Nadine's number.
"Typical mad scientist. You'd rather play with your chemistry set then spend fifty bucks on a meal with a pretty girl."
"Not now, Gizmo, I'm busy." The name didn't register with Greg, until he looked up, annoyance replaced instantaneously by sheer joy. "Giz, what are you doing here?"
Renee smiled as her big brother caught her up in a hug. "Last day of the cheerleading championships was today, and my girls won. They wanted to do the strip-crawl thing, so I thought I'd pop over and see if you could grab some dinner."
Torn, Greg squeezed his eyes shut. "Grissom just got me started on a second shift. How about dinner tomorrow? We'll hit the Orpheus, my treat."
Renee smiled. The last time her brother had treated for dinner had been when they found Jimmy Hoffa. "Yeah sure you will." Then she looked past him to where Warrick was still seated at the table, a look of pure shock on his face. "Who's the fan club?"
Greg turned around, saw Warrick all but drooling. "Oh sorry. Rick, this is my baby sister, Renee. Renee, this is Warrick Brown."
They ad-libbed hellos, the initial surprise gone from Warrick's face but still lingering in his eyes.
"Well, I won't keep you from working. I'm gonna go grab a drink at that place you mentioned, the Orpheus."
As Greg watched his sister leave, he turned back to where Warrick was gulping like a guppy on dry land.
"Clearly she's adopted."
As she sat down at the bar, ordered herself a whiskey sour, Renee couldn't help but grin. Seeing Greg at work was amazing, and the uber-cutie black guy he was working with – Warrick, Greg said his name was – hadn't stopped staring at her. Maybe she was much prettier then Kenny had realized. Oops, don't go there, girl, you're well rid of him and you know it. Then suddenly, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck start to prickle. Glancing to her right, she saw a man of about thirty five or so staring at her, as if puzzled by her appearance. He certainly was handsome, but Renee knew that handsome often went hand-in-hand with pure unfiltered trouble. His long fingers tapped the beer bottle rhythmically as he continued to stare. As the feeling of uneasiness grew, Renee stared right back at him.
"You looking to buy something Junior or just window shopping the candy counter?"
"No, not it's just…you look kind of familiar."
The light bulbs flashed on and off as crime scene photos were taken. The coppery smell of blood hit Warrick like a fist full of pennies as he entered room 814 of the MGM Grand hotel. On the bed, propped up like she was watching TV, was a young woman, the wound at her throat gaping open angrily.
"What do we have?"
Grissom looked up to see Warrick and Sara, field kits in hand, walking in the room. "Miranda Simpson, age twenty two, in town for the national cheerleading championships. Two other girls on her team notified hotel security when she wouldn't answer her door."
The words cheerleading championships stuck in Warrick's brain like a bad noise.
"According to their initial statement," Grissom continued, "Miss Simpson was sharing a room with the coach of the team, and her current whereabouts are unknown."
Sending up a small prayer, Warrick walked over to the opposing bed, where a nifty little luggage on wheels was unzipped, and a convention badge carelessly tossed on top. Warrick put on his gloves, gingerly picked it up. The breath seemed to catch in his chest.
Staring back at him was a picture of Renee Sanders.
"She was at the lab earlier." Warrick said it so softly that he wasn't even sure he'd said it out loud. But he had, as Grissom's head snapped up in response.
Warrick heaved a sigh. Damn it. "Renee I. Sanders," he read off the badge, and then turned it to Grissom for inspection. "Greg's sister is the girl who's gone missing."
At the noise near the door, both Warrick and Sara turned around. There stood Greg, his face ashen, his fists clenching and unclenching. No one said a word; the only sound was Greg's ragged uneven breathing.