A/N - Sorry for the enormity of the last chapter. I had a lot to wrap up but I hadnt realised it was sooooo goddamn long. Thanks as usual for the reviews. Hope you enjoy this one.


Chapter Twenty-Three

After his talk with Grissom, Greg and the supervisor headed down to the layout room only to find it already occupied and not by the night shift. Jack Robinson, the level three swing CSI, was stood at the large table, the backlight casting an eerie glow onto his already pale face.

Robinson was in his late thirties, a San Franciscan by birth, a father - of at least a daughter that Greg knew about – and judging by the wedding band that adorned his ring finger he was still married; a rarity in this day and age. Tall and gangly, almost awkward even, his overly smart suit hung off him as if it did not fit. Greg couldn't help but think he looked like a twig dressed in Armani gear.

In a way Robinson reminded Greg of Grissom but with a little of Hodges thrown in for measure. Sauvé, arrogant and a complete ass kisser, he was quickly becoming Ecklie's right hand on the swing shift. He was supervisor in all but writing. However Greg still liked the man. There was something reassuring about him, like he didn't know how to fail. Jack Robinson was relentless – almost on a par with Grissom – in his hunting down of suspects but he was also a little heavy handed which meant he lacked Gil Grissom's grace.

Jack glanced up from the pieces of black rubber he was sorting through, no hint of a smile or even a greeting.

"Conference room." Was all he said before turning back to his task, clearly preoccupied.

Grissom quirked his brow a little but did not make a move to head out of the room. In fact Greg was amazed to see the older man moving closer to the table, his eyes shinning with intrigue.

"Tire treads?" He asked, leaning over for a closer look.

Jack grunted. "What's left of them." As if sensing Grissom wanted more information, the newest member of the crime lab – despite having been on the payroll for over five months that title still stuck - continued to explain. "Big RTA on the highway. Thirteen vehicles including a bus, two eighteen wheelers and motorcycle. Five fatalities so far, three critical and more wounded than even I can remember."

"Messy." Grissom murmured, his eyes still on the table. Robinson pulled a face that belied his feelings on the whole matter.

"Understatement of the century. Half of swing shift is still out there processing with days. It's like the goddamn end of the world."

Grissom gave him a knowing look but what he knew Greg failed to see until the supervisor spoke again.

"You want to lend a couple of my guys?" Grissom asked.

Greg realised what the problem was suddenly. Robinson was pissed off, clearly. Days and swings had helped out nights with the whole Lindsey situation and now they wanted help back. Greg knew that a handful of swings and days had been called into process the basement, evidently leaving them short when this new case had come in. The problem wasn't that nights wouldn't help but that days evidently thought nights should be able to mind read and offer assistance without being asked.

It was illogical insanity.

Greg wondered how Grissom coped with the stupid bureaucratic bullshit that came with being in charge and for once was glad that as a level one he always had someone higher to defer to.

Jack paused, mulling the problem over in his head. Greg knew what he was thinking immediately. Days and swings needed help but if Jack asked for help Ecklie would think he couldn't organise his team and so there was a risk that if a supervisor position came up Jack would be passed off. It was a vicious circle of ass kissing and trying to get noticed. Greg was glad for Grissom and Catherine. Neither of them cared about being the boss's best friend. If they needed help they damn well asked for it.

Jack shook his head, seemingly having reached a decision. "No, thank you."

"If you do, let me know." Grissom said with a patient smile.

"Thanks, but I think my guys can handle it." Jack said returning Grissom's smile but there was a slight hint of irritation in it. "Besides," He continued, "You've still got that serial case to solve."

"Solve?" Greg guffawed, speaking for the first time since entering the room. " Rome wasn't built in a day and this case won't be solved in that time either."

"Well that's true." Jack turned solemn suddenly. "Speaking of which, Kerry Tomlinson – the beheaded girl in the warehouse – her sister came to ID the body this afternoon."

Greg inadvertently shuddered, his mind of its own accord recalling that scene. At the time he had been annoyed at having to take Jack with him because of his proficiency but he did not mind admitting that he had been glad to have the level three with him. Greg had believed it to be Lindsey Willows and been half a step from meltdown when he had seen the headless corpse. If it wasn't for Jack that scene would never have been processed.

"Was the sister interviewed?" Grissom asked attentively. Greg could almost see his ears pricking to listen as if he could glean the smallest clue from the CSIs words.

"Yeah, Vega performed, I sat in." Jack sighed deeply, "Girl was pretty broke up, couldn't have been more than twenty two. Said her sister was a good person and all the usual crap. No enemies, lots of friends. Kerry was your regular party girl, loved by everyone."

"Do you think she's a suspect?" Greg questioned.

Robinson shook his head. "Not a chance, even if she didn't have an alibi. Loved her kid sister to death – no pun intended." Jack added hastily, his expression sour.

Grissom smiled a little at that before he said. "Transcripts of the interview?"

"In her case file." Jack answered Grissom. "Had them typed up right away. Figured you would want to run over them as soon as you got in."

"Thank you, Jack." Grissom said heading for the door followed by Greg.

The conference room lay on the opposite side of the lab, passed DNA and ballistics. Greg took a moment on the brisk walk down the corridor to see who was on shift tonight and saw the attractive dark haired Wendy Simms was already at her desk, going over some paperwork. Ballistics was empty however.

Greg - as he always did when he saw the DNA lab - felt a nostalgic familiarity at what used to be his old home. He did miss it in his own way but both Wendy and Mia Dickerson, the other DNA tech and Greg's own replacement, were fantastic at their jobs. Almost as good as Greg in fact; although he would never admit that.

As they rounded the corner Greg got his first view of the conference room. Through the glass windows he could see Warrick and Nick sat at the table, seemingly in deep conversation. Greg was somewhat surprised – although he shouldn't have been – to see the brunette, Sara Sidle, had joined them already. He hadn't even realised she had clocked on yet. She was watching the two men careful but she didn't appear to be joining in whatever they were discussing.

The three CSIs glanced up as Grissom and Greg entered, the conversation halting. Greg immediately took the empty seat next to Sara, settling into it comfortably whilst Grissom took the head of the table. It felt weird without Catherine, who had taken some time off to be with Lindsey. Although it was not a rarity for one of them to be absent as Grissom tried to work the duty roster so that each of them had at least two days a week off. In practice however it never panned out that way. Over time was a given in this job and days off were like gold dust.

Once Grissom had seated himself, he pulled his glasses on and glanced around at his team.

"Ok, what do we know?" Grissom directed the question at Nick and Greg. They had after all done most of the work on the case.

Nick dragged a hand over his chin, leaning forward on the table. "Four vics." He pulled out a stack of photographs and slid a pile of various shots of James Faulkner onto the surface.

"This was your case, Rick." Nick said. "You want to do the honours?"

Warrick nodded and began speaking.

"Guy was found in his apartment two weeks ago. He was pretty messed up. Looked like he had gone about thirty rounds with Tyson. Anyway," Warrick continued, "COD was multiple blunt force trauma. Most significant was the wound to the occipital bone, crushed his entire skull like a tissue paper."

Greg took his eyes off Warrick to glance down at the photograph Sara had just handed him. The bloodied, bruised and hardly recognizable face of a Caucasian man stared back at him with glazed, bloodshot eyes. His short blond hair was matted with crimson clots in places, his cheek bones swollen like he had golf balls in his mouth. Greg felt a chill run up his spine. it was beyond brutal.

"He was unemployed," Warrick persisted, "in fact from his work records, aside from one courier job when he was about eighteen that lasted just a week, James Faulkner hasn't done a day of work in his life."

"How was he supporting himself?" Sara questioned, handing Greg the next picture in the pile. Greg, who had become consumed with the dead man, shook himself and quickly handed Grissom his photo before taking Sara's.

"I don't know for sure," Warrick said with a wry smile, "but my guess? From the amount of illegal substances that turned up in his tox screening would be drug running."

Sara nodded. It made sense. He had to be living on something.

"Anyway," Warrick continued. "I found traces of rock on his clothing. Turns out the vic was stoned to death. When Greg and I went back to his apartment we found the word scum written on his wall in blood."

"It had been washed off," Greg explained, "But a little light trick and the ALS picked it up clear as day."

"Ok," Grissom jumped in, rubbing a hand over his sprouting beard. Evidently he was growing it again. The beard of Gilbert Grissom had been on and off more than a light switch. "Next victim."

Nick lowered his eyes to the next file. "James Ashcroft. Thirty-two. Single." Nick opened a manila folder and quickly flicked his eyes over the notes.

Adrienne and Jack had done some work on this case as well. Nick obviously wanted to make sure he included all the details in his handover.

"Yeah." Nick muttered to himself before glancing up. "Works up town in a bar called Rosie's. Was found stuffed in his closet. Super Dave said the COD was multiple stab wounds at the scene and –" He broke off, momentarily sifting through the file for the coroners report. Finding it he scanned over it before nodding. "Yeah, four stab wounds to the back and torso, sharp force trauma to the back of the head… Doc Robbins says probably a knife wound. No weapon found at the scene as of yet though so we've got nothing to match it to."

Sara had been studying one of the pictures and said. "What's the TOD on James Ashcroft?"

Greg spoke this time. "David put it at about eleven o'clock Monday evening, give or take a couple of hours."

"So two days before the third victim – Marcus Rowley – was found." Grissom mused, his lupine eyes scanning over the photograph Sara had just passed him.

It was like some sadistic game of pass the parcel only there were no prizes when the music stopped, only dead people and no answers as to who killed them.

"Are these crosses on all the victims?" Sara asked, having taken the picture of James Ashcroft's hands from Warrick.

Greg recalled the crosses burnt into his hands with a small shudder. The killer was trying to make a point with such a strong symbol but what that point was bypassed Greg completely.

"No, just this guy." Greg replied to her question. "But at every murder we've found words written."

"What did you find at this guys scene?" Warrick asked, leaning idly back in his chair. To an outsider it looked as if the african-american man was not really paying attention but Greg knew him well enough to see he was mentally fitting all the pieces of the unfinished puzzled together.

"Nothing as of yet." Greg continued. "We didn't get chance to finish processing Ashcroft's apartment but there will be words somewhere there, I would bet half my pension on it."

Grissom said. "First job on the list for tonight is to finish that scene." The group nodded in agreement. "What else did you and Nick find?"

Greg quickly relayed about Ashcroft's car being found at Kerry Tomlinson's scene. He brushed over the details of his attack in the alleyway and definitely steered clear of any mention of dumpsters, not wanting to get into that again with Nick and Warrick. Once he was finished Sara spoke.

"So the killer uses a car from the second murder in the fourth?"

"Weird, I know." Greg agreed. "All I cant think is that he wanted Ashcroft found and we hadn't done so quickly enough."

"Do we know for definite it was used in James Ashcroft's murder?" Grissom interjected, obviously feeling they might have been getting ahead of the evidence.

Greg nodded. "I managed to get a blood sample just before I was hit. DNA came back as Ashcroft's."

"That's how we ended up in that guy's apartment in the first place." Nick added.

Silence resounded around the room as the three CSIs looked over the remaining photographs of the body and whilst Nick took a moment to look over the case notes. Warrick was just looking over a photograph of the closet were Nick had found the body, when his green eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

"Why in the closet?" Warrick remarked to no one in particular.

"Why not?" Greg responded with a flick of his shoulders.

Murder was never logical.

Warrick gave him a somewhat frustrated look.

"Well, Einstein, because Mr Ashcroft lived alone. Why go to all the effort of hiding him? Who the hell was going to find him?"

Greg opened his mouth and then shut it again. He had the feeling he looked like a sea lion doing so but he couldn't think of an argument to counter Warrick's. Also he felt somewhat stupid for not thinking of it himself. Why the hell had the body been in the closet?

Grissom raised a brow. "It begs the question of who our killer was hiding him from."

"Domestic staff maybe?" Sara said causing both Greg and Nick to laugh. She cast them an affronted look.

"Sara, if you had seen this apartment-" Nick began.

Greg shook is head, his mirth back under control.

"Dirt on dirt is a phrase that springs to mind, Sara. That apartment hasn't been cleaned in months."

"Ok," She continued, her tone still reproving, "then maybe some other service."

"The guy did like his take out." Greg mused.

"Yeah but dead guy's don't order food, Greg." Warrick countered.

"Ok," Grissom pulled them all back into the task, knowing the knack they had for getting off topic at times. "Third victim was Marcus Rowley. A lawyer, married but no children. He was found hanged from the banister of his house, his hands tied."

Nick took another set of photographs out and passed them around the group as Grissom continued to talk.

"Tox turned up GHB in his system and at the scene Greg found Judas written under the bed in his blood and Doc Robbins found thirty pieces of silver in his stomach." Grissom stated matter of factly.

"GHB?" Sara quirked her brow. "That's a new one. Did any of the other vics have any drugs in their system?"

Nick obligingly flicked through the coroners reports before shaking his head. "Faulkner tested for coke, heroin, even some weed but no pharmaceuticals."

"What about Mr Ashcroft?" Warrick asked.

Sara had Ashcroft's file in front of her and began perfunctorily flicking through it.

"No." She said finally, "but there was a substantial period between his death and him being found. It's possible that if he was given GHB it was out of his system by the time the tox screening was done. I mean it's usually got a half life of about six hours, give or take, depending on dosage and food taken in that time… If the killer took a long time to kill him – and the blood in the car would suggest that – then it's also possible it was out of his system peri-mortem."

Greg glanced at the photograph of Ashcroft on the table. "I think food was the last thing on his mind." He said pulling a face.

"What about Kerry Tomlinson?" Grissom pressed.

Nick pulled the file from the bottom of his pile, opening it and thumbing through it.

"Uh, yes. Minute traces. Could have been a larger dose given initially but as Sara said GHB runs through the system quickly."

Greg almost sighed with relief. He was glad that she had been drugged. Her death had been the most horrific of the four. Greg figured being intoxicated was probably kinder.

"Ok so that brings us nicely onto the fourth victim," Nick continued. "Kerry Tomlinson, the youngest of the four at nineteen, was found abandoned in a warehouse, head removed clean from her body. It still hasn't been found." Nick said with a wince.

A resounding shudder ran around the group. It was gruesome enough that her head had been removed but the fact it had been taken by the killer was even more disturbing.

"Yeah, Jack and me worked the scene." Greg said quietly. "Found the word whore written next to the body and not a lot else."

"TOD was approximately seven o'clock Thursday night." Nick added.

"Faulkner two weeks ago, Ashcroft Monday, Rowley Tuesday, and Kerry Thursday. This is definitely escalating." Sara noted.

"Mmmhm." Was the only sound Grissom made as he stared into the table as if it held all the answers before finally saying. "Most serials don't act so quickly. They take time to plan, arrange things. Leave no room for mistakes. They don't want to get caught. This seems almost… rash. Rushed. But precise. Each victim was killed meticulously. He had all the tools he needed. Brought everything with him, took everything away."

"So why the short time span?" Nick threw the question out.

"You think something triggered him to go on a killing spree?" Warrick asked Grissom.

"It would seem that way." Grissom replied with a tired sigh. "Simply because of the intensity and frequency of these crimes. "

They all mulled that over before Greg said. "Then the killer has to know the vics. Has to have known their movements, where they would be so he could murder them. You cant just randomly hack four people to death on a whim. Planning is essential. He had to know he had time to take Kerry's head off. To write Judas under Rowley's bed... He must have been watching the victims for weeks."

"Exactly." Grissom said favouring the younger man with a pleased smile.

"So we're looking for a link again." Nick groaned. "Man, this case feels like its going round and round in circles."

"Maybe." Grissom responded. "But the answers lie in the evidence. The transcripts from the interviews with Kerry Tomlinson's sister should be in the file. Maybe they can shed some light on the case." Grissom said.

Nick rummaged through the manila folder and finally located a wad of paperwork, stapled in the corner. He passed it down the table to the older man who took it from Greg, scanning his eyes over it. After a couple of minutes he was already finishing the last page and tossed it negligently onto the table.

"Sister says Kerry was a student at Amelia Morison Dance School." Grissom said.

Greg nodded. "I found a necklace with that on."

"Seems she was well liked. Spent a lot of time out on the strip partying. Worked on the side at…" Grissom flicked back through the transcript. "Harley's Café to pay tuition fees."

"Any of the other vics have anything to do with Harleys? On the employment roll? Ate there?" Sara asked.

Nick shook his head.

"Doesn't seem so."

"She also has a previous for street walking," Greg recalled.

"Maybe that was how she used to pay her fees." Nick grunted.

"Yeah college is damn expensive." Warrick rolled his eyes.

"Well it fits with the whole whore thing." Sara said. "Maybe our killer has a thing against selling flesh."

"He sure likes to play with it though." Greg muttered wryly.

"Four vics. All similar MOs but nothing to link them." Warrick mused. "What's the deal with this guy?"

Grissom exhaled deeply, brushing his fingers over his lips thoughtfully. "There has got to be something to link these four people together. We must be missing something."

"We just have to find it." Sara agreed.

"Ok," Grissom said finally, realising they had exhausted this avenue and now was the time to hunt for evidence, "Nick, Greg, the three of us will head up to Ashcroft's apartment, process it fully. Sara, Warrick I want you two to go over the car. See what you can get from that. I'll talk to Archie, see if he can find anything in their backgrounds that might suggest a common link."

The CSIs all got to their feet and filed out of the room. Greg had a feeling this was going to another long shift. With a nonchalant attitude at the inevitable his only thought was that at least his overtime would go some way to pay for a new car after his accident.

It was a small consolation.