Leaning back in the rental car seat, Sara stifled a yawn. Overtime at the lab was never ending; she'd already put in a full week and it was only Wednesday. Her special project wasn't making the situation better.
Sunlight poured into the car, heating quickly as it passed through the windows. Sweat slicked Sara's skin and dampened her T-shirt. The heavy camera grew slippery where her hands gripped the metal casing. "Come on," she implored softly. She'd been sitting here for over an hour. If she didn't get what she needed soon, Catherine would start to worry and call.
For once, Sara's luck held. Eddie exited the building at the far end of the parking lot across the street, and Sara automatically raised the camera. The shutter whirred and clicked as a second figure stepped from behind the only other car in the lot. With a quick glance around, Eddie walked forward, hand outstretched.
With a pleased smile, Sara caught their entire exchange in digital perfection.
The scene was over in less than a minute. Eddie ducked back into the club, and the other man drove off in his shiny Benz. Sara waited until the car had disappeared down the road before climbing out of her own vehicle. This was going to end today. Right now. Opening her cell phone, she dialed Catherine.
"Hey! Are you on your way home?" She could hear the smile in Catherine's voice. "Did Gil finally realize you had to sleep sometime?"
If only. Sara grimaced as she remembered his shock and displeasure when she'd refused to stay and wait for the lab results for one of her many cases. "Nah. I finally grew a pair and told him I was leaving." Not even the upcoming confrontation could stop her grin when Catherine laughed, but the expression faded quickly. "I'm running an errand now and then I've got to go back to the lab."
Silence greeted her comment.
"Can you meet me there in a couple of hours?" Sara persevered against the growing chill on the other end of the line. "It's important, Cath."
"You're going to owe me," Catherine warned. "I had breakfast in bed all planned for when you got home."
Guilt – and a strong desire to be nestled next to Catherine in their large bed – dragged at Sara. "Please. I really need your help with this one. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." After all the recent lies, it felt good to finally tell the truth. Even if the truth spelled the end of her relationship with Catherine. "I…I've got to go. Will you meet me?"
Damn Catherine and her emotional radar. "What's wrong, honey?" The voice. The support. The love.
For a minute, Sara nearly spilled all her secrets. Sucking in a deep breath, she choked out, "At the lab, Cath. I promise. I'll explain everything then." And pray her world didn't crumble. With Catherine's soft and worried agreement ringing in her ear, Sara closed the phone and trotted to the front entrance of the club.
It was dark inside, fitting the seedy feeling and the smell of desperation and sex that was probably ground into the very walls. Not wanting to draw too much attention from the handful of employees and patrons, Sara paid the cover charge and kept her badge and gun hidden beneath the tail of her jacket. Eddie was easy to find, camped out at a table against the stage with a drink in hand. Sara spared a second to wish he'd had the stupidity to snort his latest stash in the open. She wasn't Mob-trained. Being a bully-boy, no matter how good the end result, wasn't Sara's cup of tea.
Keeping a mental image of Catherine and Lindsey firmly in mind, she wended between the tables. "Mind if I join you?" she asked as she dropped into the other chair at Eddie's tiny table.
He looked at her blankly. Obviously, Eddie hadn't bothered to look at the photos of her that Sam had paid for. He didn't appear to recognize her.
Even better. This would give Sara a few minutes to lay the groundwork before Eddie figured out who she was and exactly what she had in mind. "You and I have some business, Eddie." Leaning closer, she lowered her voice and let a hint of anger past her control. "I'm going to give you a job, and you're going to do it. Free of charge."
"Who the hell are you?" Eddie hadn't learned to throttle his aggression. Rising half out of his chair, he loomed over the table and Sara.
Loser. "I'm your new boss. Sit down." God, it felt good to see the shock in his eyes, to watch Eddie collapse into the chair on command. "You have a deal with Sam Braun. He keeps you in booze, bimbos, and drugs."
Eddie's splutter of outrage and denial would have looked good in a cartoon. "Sam's a friend of my wife."
"Your wife?" If Sara had any lingering doubts about her mission, they all went out the window in a flood of righteous rage. "Catherine isn't your wife!" she snapped. Her hands fisted on the table to keep from reaching for Eddie. "In case you've forgotten, you're divorced." A flicker of movement behind Eddie caught Sara's eye. A waitress, heading their way. Sara bit off the rest of her comment and leaned casually back in her chair. She couldn't risk causing a scene.
Luckily, the nearly-naked waitress wobbled by in her impossibly high heels and didn't stop at their table.
The few seconds were just enough for Sara to regroup. "From now on, keep your mouth shut and listen." Threats were easier now. "I know about Sam. About the way he's using you to get to Catherine. It stops today. Right now. I've got enough evidence to put you away for the drugs, and if I dig hard enough, I bet I can follow the money straight to Sam." Meeting his eyes, Sara did her best to project her belief in that blatant exaggeration.
Despite the air conditioning in the club, Eddie was sweating now. And fidgeting. She had him. "You said you had a job."
Weak with relief, Sara rode the wave of exhilaration. "It's simple, Eddie. I'm going to get up and walk out of here. As soon as I'm gone, you're going to call Ted Goggle at Family Services and tell him to drop the suit against Catherine. And then you're going to call Sam and tell him you're done. You won't be part of his game anymore."
"I can't do that. He'll kill me," Eddie protested in a strained whisper.
He had a point. If Sam was going to these lengths to get information about the case, the stakes were high. Unease skittered through Sara but she brushed it away. Eddie had known the dangers when he accepted the deal with Sam. Her only concern had to be Catherine and Lindsey. Her family. "And if you don't, he'll kill you anyway once I turn the evidence over to the DA. At least this way, Lindsey won't remember her father in prison orange." She didn't end with a plea for Eddie to do the right thing. He'd proven over and over that he was incapable of making the right decisions.
Instead, Sara stood and walked with slow, deliberate steps toward the door. She'd done all she could. It was time to head to the lab. To come clean with Catherine.
And to make her own decisions about the future.
The chair grew increasingly uncomfortable. Sara shifted. And shifted again. Nothing helped. Of course, it might not be the chair's fault. Grissom stared at her. The district attorney glared at her.
Sara shifted again.
"Ms. Sidle, do you any idea what you've done?" The DA's voice rose, and Sara hoped it didn't leak through the closed door and into the hallway. Although everyone would know the truth eventually, Sara wanted… Ah, no. She didn't want to admit her part in this disaster. She had to. "You tampered with evidence. We have to notify the defense. We'll have to end the investigation into the bank heist and Sam Braun."
Absorbing the truth of those words hurt. Sara flinched briefly before squaring her shoulders and meeting Grissom's eyes. Not the DA's. He didn't count. He was only part of this conversation because of his tie to Sam's case. Grissom was a friend. "I know. I knew that when I slit the tape on the evidence bag. But I didn't have a choice. I needed something to keep Catherine from losing Lindsey."
Her words deflated the DA slightly. At least, he didn't appear to have any quick comeback.
"You and Catherine didn't find anything to connect Eddie and Sam?" Grissom asked.
"No," Sara answered the question for the third time since the conversation began. "Nothing." Glancing surreptitiously at the clock on the wall, she calculated the time. Catherine was probably already here, waiting for her and the promised explanation. It was time to wrap this up and find her. "I'm leaving that up to you, Gris." With an astonishing lack of grief or regret, Sara stood and pulled a crumpled letter from her back pocket. "Here's my resignation. I quit," she tacked on in case he was too surprised to understand the initial announcement.
The letter stayed in her hand, poised over Grissom's desk. "Sara…" No longer confused, Grissom sighed deeply. New lines of stress and strain bracketed his mouth. "Are you sure we can't work this out? There has to be a way," he said, and it was unclear if he addressed Sara or the now-silent DA.
Making the decision for him, Sara simply let the letter fall gently onto the pile of open case files littering the desktop. "Even if there was, I wouldn't stay." The joy of the lab had been tarnished. Worse, Sara's trust in her ethics was damaged. Gil shouldn't trust her, and Sara ruefully acknowledged that she didn'ttrust herself.
What would Catherine feel?
Frantic movement outside Grissom's office caught her attention. One of the day-shift CSIs dashed down the hallway. Voices filtered through the wall. A second later, the DA's cell phone rang.
Experience said a big case had just hit the lab.
"Gris, let it go," Sara advised softly as the DA jumped out of his chair, phone glued to his ear. "It's over. I screwed up and you can't fix it." She'd had enough time in the last few weeks to make a semblance of peace with this decision. "I'm going to find Catherine and let her know what's going on. Then I'll clear my stuff out of the lab." With a rueful smile, she said, "You'll need to check out the boxes before I load them into the car."
He nodded. "I know." The quiet words were a sign of capitulation. Grissom has finally accepted reality.
Sara turned, mind already grappling with the best way to tell her story to Catherine, but her retreat halted when the DA snapped his fingers to get her attention. When she glanced his way, he held up a finger in a clear gesture to wait. "I'll be at the scene shortly," he said and hung up. His face was set and grim.
Even though she was standing, and not sitting in that uncomfortable chair, Sara shifted on the balls of her feet. The DA hadn't said anything after closing his phone, and the weight of the silence pressed at her.
"That was the Sheriff." He continued to watch Sara. "His deputies are responding to a call from the Rampart."
The Rampart. Sam's hotel. Sara froze mid-shift.
"Eddie Willows just shot Sam Braun," the DA announced.
Catherine paced Sara's tiny lab. Tension drove her back and forth with increasing speed. Something was wrong. She could feel it. Sara had sounded so odd on the phone, and she'd been anxious all week.
What was the damned woman up to?
And more importantly, how did Catherine stop her? If Sara was back to thoughts of leaving Las Vegas, Catherine vowed to duct tape her to their bed.
For the thousandth time, Catherine checked her watch and then scanned the hallway. If Sara didn't show up soon… On her next circuit across the room, her next check of time and hall, she finally saw Sara. Thank God. The relief was dizzying.
That was her internal explanation (more excuse) for grabbing Sara in a bone-shattering hug the second she walked into the office. "Are you OK?"
For a second, Sara remained stiff in Catherine's arms. Then she relaxed. A little. "I'm fine, Cath," she said, just like she had during their earlier call.
"No, you're not." As if Sara had dropped a match into tinder, Catherine's emotions flared. Anger and frustration replaced relief. "You're not fine! You haven't been fine for weeks." Clutching Sara's arms, Catherine glared up into Sara's eyes and prepared to go on.
Sara's kiss derailed her entirely.
When Sara drew back, Catherine could only gape. "There's so much I have to tell you. So many things…" Her voice trailed off, and Catherine noticed how young, how vulnerable Sara appeared. "I had to work through a few things, Cath. I'm sorry if you thought something was wrong. Or," she added with a crooked grin, "that I was planning to leave you and Linds. I'm done running, I swear."
Emotionally off-balance, from the kiss and the lingering worry, Catherine let go of Sara stumbled back a step.
"Hey." Sara followed quickly and took Catherine's hand. "It really is OK." Her smile was gone, and an unfamiliar, serious expression took its place. She hesitated, peering down at Catherine. "You probably aren't going to be happy with most of what I have to say. Can you promise to hear me out before trying to kill me?"
"You aren't leaving?" It was the only part of Sara's comments that Catherine understood. Or it was the only part she cared about. Crazy confessions were old hat after her marriage to Eddie. And there was no way Sara was about to admit she'd had sex with a hooker or snorted coke.
With a shake of her head, Sara answered the question. "I'm not leaving unless you totally freak and chop me up for Olivia food to hide the evidence."
Sara's sincerity was palpable, and Catherine was able to relax enough to link their fingers. "Hmm, that's one I hadn't thought of. I was just going to use the chipper-shredder the next time the landscaping crew is in the neighborhood." With a squeeze, she let go of Sara's hand and got down to business. "So what's been up with you?" Hopping up, she sat on one of the counters along one wall of the lab and waited for the much-hyped explanation.
"It's good you're sitting down." Quietly, Sara said, "I had this entire conversation planned when I talked to you this morning. But things changed, and now I don't really know where to start."
Catherine gripped the edges of the countertop and didn't tell Sara to start at the beginning.
"So, um, I'm going to skip a lot and get to the big news first." Her deep breath sounded ragged. "Sam's dead, Cath."
The soft words brushed along Catherine's mind, never settling in. Just flowing around and around with increasing speed.
Sara took a step toward her. "I've been following Eddie. That's why I've been so late every day. I finally had enough evidence, pictures of him with a bunch of women and buying drugs. It was pretty damaging stuff. After I called you this morning, I met with him at a club and I told him he had to tell Sam their deal was off. That he was dropping the lawsuit. Or I'd give the photos to the court."
The whirlwind in Catherine's head slowed. "Eddie had to know Sam wouldn't stand for that." Her fingers ached, and Catherine wasn't surprised to see the white around her knuckles where they gripped the counter.
"Yeah, he mentioned that before I left him in the bar." Sara was poised halfway between Catherine's position and the door. In the harsh light of the lab, her skin looked ashen. "He must have decided to make the first move. He shot Sam in front of the Rampart not long after I left him."
"He shot Sam," Catherine repeated numbly. How had her spineless ex-husband managed such decisive action? "Is he in custody?" He'd need a really good lawyer. She knew the best, had sat across a courtroom from them for years. Despite the lawsuit and the threat of losing Lindsey, Catherine wouldn't leave Eddie to face this alone.
Cold fingers touched her arm. Sara, still looking far too pale. "He's not at the Sheriff's Office, Cath."
Catherine stopped planning and focused solely on Sara. "Where is he?"
"At the morgue. When Eddie shot Sam, Sam's bodyguards opened fire." She linked her fingers with Catherine's, the touch somehow anchoring Catherine as the world around them wavered. "They're both dead, Cath."
"They're going to put a plaque on this bench." Sara didn't open her eyes at Catherine's comment. She did, however, scoot a few inches to her left so their legs touched when Catherine sat next to her. "I mean, our most important moments as a couple have been right here on this spot."
The exaggeration was too much to resist. Opening her eyes and turning her head, Sara gave Catherine an exasperated look. "Really? Every important moment?" Then Catherine's triumphant smile registered. "You bitch!"
Catherine's laughter rang through the park, the sound well worth the slight sting of her teasing.
"They're going to put a plaque, alright. Commemorating Las Vegas' newest unsolved murder," Sara said with mock menace. She relented quickly after Catherine brushed a light kiss over her cheek and rested her head on Sara's shoulder. She wrapped an arm around Catherine, pulling her even closer. "I love you, even if you do constantly make fun of me."
They sat in companionable silence for a while. Sara soaked up the peace and quiet and the feel of Catherine pressed against her. They rarely had this long to just…be together.
And that was why, a few minutes later, Sara gently dislodged Catherine's head from her shoulder. "Before we have to pick Linds up from school or Grissom pages you," she said and stood up, suddenly restless. "I wanted to give you this." Reaching to the inner pocket of her jacket, Sara pulled out an envelope and thrust it at Catherine. It was unopened. She hadn't quite had the nerve to peek when it came in the mail yesterday.
"What is it?" Catherine didn't open it, either. She peered at the address and then at Sara. "Are you taking a vacation? Or did you find Olivia a new home?" She raised an eyebrow.
"A new job." Sara chuckled and admitted, "Well, I think it is. I was kind of afraid to check in case I read the interview committee wrong."
Waving the envelope, Catherine watched Sara closely. "Two things." The envelope paused, mid-air. "OK, three. One, you don't have to get a job. Linds and I both love having you home during the day, and we're doing surviving financially." When Sara started to object to that last statement, Catherine pointed the envelope at her. "Don't interrupt; I'm not finished. Two, I've lived and worked in Vegas a long time. I know exactly what The Orchard is. Three, you don't have to prove anything to me, Sar."
Tears blurred Sara's view of Catherine and the envelope. She blinked rapidly to clear them away. "Before we argue about any of those points, let's find out if it's even necessary." Pushing her anxiety to the side, she snatched the envelope out of Catherine's hand and ripped it open. The heavy bond paper unfolded.
We are please to invite you to join our Upper School science faculty for the remainder of the 2000/2001 school year…
"I'm in." Excitement bubbled, mixing with Sara's restlessness. Pulling Catherine into her arms, she whirled them around. "I'm in, Cath. And I want to be in." Her words tumbled together as she tried to convey all of her emotions at once. "I came to Vegas for a reason, and it wasn't to help Grissom with a case. I was bored in San Francisco. I needed a change – I just didn't know that change would be finding you and Lindsey. Learning I could live outside of the lab. Getting over my past. I'm ready to build my future with you and Linds. The Orchards is part of that. The offer is for the rest of this school year, teaching science in their Upper School. The high school so I won't be dealing with a hoard of little kids every day. If they like me," Catherine grinned, as if that was a given, "then they'll extend the contract. The salary isn't much, but they said Lindsey would be able to attend for reduced tuition, if we wanted to enroll her, too."
It got very hard to breathe as Catherine grabbed her in a bear hug. "I love you, Sara Sidle, and I think you've made an excellent start on our future."