A/N: This one's for Kay. Happy Birthday!
Disclaimer: With Jorja gone, I have to get my kicks somehow!
"A kiss is a lovely trick, designed by nature, to stop words when speech becomes superfluous." Ingrid Bergman's voice echoed across decades to filter into my living room, her timeless black and white beauty reminding the present day of the original definition of grace and poise. I swiped a tear out of the corner of my eye, silently scoffing at myself for being such a suck. I'm not a crier; I never have been, but for some reason watching her wilt like a flower in Cary Grant's arms tugged at me in a way I never thought a movie could. Hitting a little too close to home, I suppose. My phone rang abruptly as the familiar RKO symbol came across the screen, the words "The End" scrolling across the grainy film in a flowing script to the orchestra's boisterous finale. The modern ring of a cell phone sounded foreign to me after two hours of white-gloved women and candlestick telephones. I guiltily wiped the last secret tears from my face with the heel of my palm before I flipped my phone open.
"Sara, it's me. I need you."
I paused, realizing for the first time how similar his voice sounded to Cary Grant's. I tucked this away in my head for later and lay back on the couch with a sigh. "Where are you Grissom."
"Thank you. I'm on E street, by that crappy motel with the neon dancer sign; you know the one."
I did. "I'll be there as soon as I can." We both hung up without saying goodbye, a formality we had both forsaken long ago, and rolled off the couch to get dressed. Who needs a night off anyway right? I pulled on a pair of jeans and a stretchy black shirt, throwing my hair up into a ponytail without bothering to glance at my reflection in the mirror. Why depress myself. I sat in my car and waited for the engine to heat up, picturing a still black-and-white Ingrid Bergman working scenes in a hat and gloves, lifting her skirt to step over blood pools, covering her nose with a delicate silk hanky as she inspected bodies. Somehow the two worlds just didn't seem to mix. The car hummed, the cold pleather seat still biting at my thighs as I pulled out and made the ten minute drive across town. It was almost Christmas, but it's harder to tell in Vegas. Any attempts at Christmas decorations are always drowned out by the garish neon lights that have come to take over the entire city; though this year the lab had gotten a little festive, even going so far as putting up a small tree in the front entrance.
I thought about maybe getting a tree of my own this year as I rounded the last corner, the neon dancer calling me like a beacon in the night. We'd been called to this particular motel on more than one occasion over the last few years, it was always changing owners, always changing names, but that never seemed to make a difference. It was in a bad area, and there was no changing that. Brakes squealing, I eased in beside Grissom's car, slid out and grabbed my kit from the trunk. I scanned the parking lot, the cold wind blowing stray pieces of hair into my eyes. I shifted from one foot to the other in the freezing desert air, damning myself for not bringing a warmer jacket, when I spotted him. He was standing just outside the main entrance with his back to me, talking to a tall, thin police officer I didn't recognize. He turned as I approached as though he had sensed me, and my heart skipped a beat, like practically always. It used to bother me, the effect he has on me. Now I kind of look forward to it.
An involuntary smile broke out over my face as we made eye contact, and he gave me his signature smirk in return. "Hey," he called.
"Thanks for coming on such short notice."
"No problem," I shrugged, nodding to the police officer who nodded back absently; his hollow cheeks and melancholy, sunken eyes; making me think of a sad scarecrow. I waited as the officer debriefed Grissom on who had made the call, the ethereal green of the neon dancer making our skin glow a sinister, sickly green, as though we were radioactive. "Lead the way," I prompted as the conversation came to a close, wanting to get out of the cold as fast as possible.
Grissom turned, unexpectedly putting a hand on the small of my back, and guided me through the dirty glass doors. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and old carpets welcomed us, a painfully thin young woman working the front desk stood upon our entrance. Her hair was cropped, greasy, and dyed a color that can only be described as "paranoid pink." Her pale blue eyes narrowed into suspicious slits as she saw Grissom's vest, eying my kit with a frown. "Can I help you?"
Her voice startled me, so much so that I had to actively concentrate on not reacting to it. She looked like she could only be nineteen or twenty, but her voice sounded like it belonged to a forty year old trucker, and her teeth were the color of dried straw. Evidently she was a large contributor to the place's enchanting aroma. "It's okay Lily," a voice interrupted. A short, stocky man wearing stained sweatpants and a muscle shirt that I could only assume used to be white, walked out of the shadow of the hallway. "I called them," he explained. He stepped forward, the dirty yellow light showing that his shirt was practically transparent; certainly leaving nothing to the imagination. "My name is Lloyd." He offered no last name, and we didn't ask. It wasn't what we were there for. He stepped forward and reached out a hand to me, I took it without thinking. His face was round and red, covered in a slick of sweat despite the cold, and his dark shiny eyes watched me more closely than I was comfortable with as he clasped his clammy thick fingers around mine.
Grissom cleared his throat and Lloyd disengaged his vice grip on my
hand. "Could you lead us to the room please, sir?" Lloyd
continued to look at me, nodding wordlessly. He licked his lips and
turned to walk down the hall. Grissom and I exchanged dark looks as
we followed him, and I made a mental note to disinfect myself as soon
as humanly possible. I stuck closely behind Grissom as Lloyd led us
down a dark hallway, the wallpaper yellowed and peeling, only a
single, dull bulb remaining to light the way. I tripped on a corner
of curling carpet, Grissom reaching back to grab my hand and
shoulder, steadying me just in time. I smiled at him in thanks in the
dim light, and he released my shoulder with another smirk; but he
kept a hold on my wrist just in case. I told myself it was the
adrenaline of nearly eating the floor that had my heart pumping like
My excitement subsided as Lloyd stopped outside room six, the brass number hanging crookedly on the door. He unclipped a set of keys, unlocking the door and pushing it inward. It groaned eerily, the acrid smell of coagulated blood diffusing into the hall as it opened. "After you," he gestured. "Coroner's been and gone, so you're okay to do whatever you need to."
Grissom entered, tentatively looking around. "Did you touch anything?" he asked automatically.
"I know better by now," was the simple reply.
I entered behind Grissom, breathing through my mouth as the smell of old blood mixed with the sickly-sweet stench of rotting flesh; the smell of death. I didn't see the body until I looked to my right, into the small adjoining bathroom. A ghostly hand dangled over the rim of the grubby bathtub, Grissom already taking pictures. I felt Lloyd walk up behind me, so close I could feel the heat from his body on my back. Without turning around I walked towards the bathroom, "Thanks Lloyd, we'll let you know if we need anything else." In other words, you're dismissed, creep. I heard him snort, followed shortly by the sound of the door closing. I could have sworn I heard him call me a bitch under his breath. Asshole. I walked into the tiny bathroom, edging in behind Grissom to get a look at the victim. Forty year old male, balding, overweight, bloody mess. There was a single shot to his heart, and a large dark pool of sticky blood had collected beneath him. "Any ID?" I asked as Grissom snapped another picture.
"Not so far, you want to go through his personal belongings?" Without realizing I was right behind him, he backed up to get a better angle and pinned me between himself and the wall. He let out a startled, "Oh!" turning to face me as I regained my balance. "Sorry, are you alright?! It's tight quarters in here."
"Yeah, yep!" I smiled, nodding idiotically. "I'm fine! I'll just go check out the bedroom." I turned away quickly before he had the chance to see me go bright red, walking briskly out of the bathroom. I paused, waiting for my heart to start beating again; and still flustered, began to take a look around. The room was depressing just to be in, mostly because it was the kind of place you'd only stay in to participate in something incredibly illegal; either that or you were severely down on your luck. The threadbare carpet was the color of old socks, the walls covered in stains I didn't even want to contemplate the origins of, and a single burnt-out light bulb dangled precariously from the cracked ceiling. The only light to see by came from the neon sign that buzzed outside, washing everything in a slightly disturbing alien-green glow. I pulled out my Maglite, sweeping it across the room until I found what I was looking for; a pile of clothes that had been balled up on the floor beside the bed. Snapping on a pair of gloves, I picked up the clothing and placed it on the rumpled bed sheets, checking the jeans pocket for a wallet. A pair of well-worn underwear fell out of from inside the pants, with a hole in them big enough to put my fist through. "Ingrid would never have to put up with this," I muttered, tossing the underwear aside as I felt what I was looking for. I pulled out the wallet, flipping it open and pulling out the license. It had expired in 1992.
"Dwayne Matthews," I called to Grissom.
"He looks like a Dwayne," he answered quietly.
I smiled to myself at that. "Forty-four years old, diabetic, resident of Petemont North Dakota, or at least he was in '92."
"A diabetic; that would explain the needle marks on his abdomen. And here I just assumed he was an addict," Grissom responded, emerging from the bathroom.
"Actually he was type 2, not insulin dependant, so chances are…he was one."
I smiled and moved aside so he could get a shot of Dwayne's belongings. Between the two of us we finished working the small room in less than two hours, and all we had to show for it was a gold chain that Grissom had found beside the tub, and pieces of splintered wood that I'd noticed beneath the window. Lloyd was standing outside as we exited, leaning on the wall with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. "So, what can you tell me?" he asked, butting his smoke out on the wall next to his head.
"Actually, we were just about to come to take your statement, sir," Grissom replied curtly.
"It's like I told that lanky cop outside, I heard a shot come from the bedroom at around 9:00pm, when I went to check it out I saw some guy running down the hall for the exit, and the dead guy in the tub. That's it."
"And you don't know anything about the deceased?" I asked skeptically.
"Other than their credit card numbers, I don't want to know anything about the human garbage that comes in here." I found that statement rather ironic coming from him, but I bit my tongue. "Besides, asking too many questions around here is bad for business."
"And you can't give us a description of the assailant you saw running away?"
"Uh…" Lloyd lit another cigarette, taking a long drag and exhaling before answering. "He was tall," he scratched the top of his head with his thumb, "maybe like six-foot-two…had dark hair. He was wearing black."
"Thank you," Grissom answered bleakly.
Lloyd, ever the gentlemen, offered to show us out. He brushed the front of his body up against my side as he walked past, sidling past as though there wasn't another entire foot of space for him to utilize. I fought the urge to elbow him in the solar plexus, instead concentrating on not cringing at the reek of stale sweat that emanated from him as he passed. Now that I was directly behind him, I could see the array of skin problems mottling his flesh, especially loving the bleeding boils that were festering on the back of his neck. Those were my favorite.
I practically ran the last few steps down the hall, pushing through the doors with a sigh of relief. The fresh, biting night air felt glorious after hours in that stuffy, filth-encrusted pit of despair. "You couldn't wait to get out of there could you?" Grissom commented with a wry smile.
"Can you blame me?!" I laughed.
"He liked you; Lloyd."
"Yeah, I really know how to attract them don't I?" I said with a tinge of bitterness, fumbling for my keys as I headed towards my car.
"Well you can't say he doesn't have good taste," he commented softly.
I dropped my keys at that, stooping down to pick them up so he wouldn't be able to see my flushed face, but he was already there, kneeling to retrieve them for me. We sat there for a moment, crouched in the parking lot, the neon dancer droning behind us as the cold turned our breath to ghosts. "Thanks," I whispered, taking the keys.
He nodded, standing and offering me a hand. "Can you give me a ride? I came here with the one of the officers."
I took his offered hand and pulled myself up, both of us holding on a moment longer than was necessary. "Of course."
I unlocked the doors and we climbed in, neither of us speaking on the way back to the lab, and both of us knowing why.
Grissom and I had been more than friends once, when he came to teach in San Francisco. We'd both agreed it was a one time thing, but when he called me here to Vegas I hoped he had changed his mind about that decision the way I had; hoped that he'd realized how stupid of an idea it was. Apparently not. I knew why, not that I necessarily agreed with his reasons. Recently though, through some miracle, it seemed to me that he had been rethinking things, maybe coming to the same conclusions I had, albeit nearly a decade later: that it was worth the risk.
I shook the thoughts from my head, knowing it was pointless to hope; knowing I was a pathetic human being for not having moved on a long, long time ago. But I couldn't shake him. I didn't want to. The truth of the matter is, I don't like people, and I find it excruciatingly hard to find ones that I can even get along with, never mind love, so the chances of finding something to move on to were so slim that it probably explained a lot about why I hadn't. Anyway.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Catherine's voice interrupted my schoolgirl-esque obsessing, causing me to start and nearly slosh my hot chocolate all over my shirt. "Whoa, easy girl!" She laughed, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners characteristically. "Must've been some daydream you were having," she commented, leaning against the break room counter with her arms crossed.
"You could say that," I answered.
Nick and Greg walked in, the latter wearing a Santa hat askew on his head, saving me from Catherine's prying eyes. It's not that I didn't want to talk to her about it; it's just that…I didn't want to talk to her about it. "Merry Christmas ladies," Nick greeted, "how's your case going Sara?" he asked, stealing my mug of hot chocolate from my hands and taking a sip. "Mm, needs peppermint," he smiled, handing it back.
"I hate peppermint," I returned with a smile. "And my case is waiting for me in the layout room, so if you'll excuse me."
"Hey Sara are you coming to the Christmas party? I'm hosting this year," Greg called as I walked away.
I turned walking backwards, "Christmas Party? I hadn't heard about a Christmas party."
"Yeah it's tomorrow night, BYOB and SH," he answered.
"Santa hat," Catherine answered for him, obviously having already discussed this before.
"Ah, of course," I answered, rounding the corner and spinning back around towards the layout room. Grissom was already there, going over the crime scene photos. He didn't look happy. He looked up as I entered, his face brightening a little. I offered him my mug of hot chocolate as I came to stand beside him, looking at the gory display before me. Unexpectedly, he accepted the mug, taking a long sip before giving it back.
"Needs peppermint," he said absently.
"What is wrong with you people," I smirked, taking a sip.
He sighed, "These photos aren't giving up anything."
"What about the necklace, did we get anything off of that?" I asked, picking up a photo for closer inspection.
"I noticed some blood on it, it's been sent to DNA."
"You've been busy," I smiled, holding the photo closer to my face. It was a close-up of the necklace; a small section of it showing dried blood caught in the links.
"I try," he replied. "While we're waiting for the necklace to be processed I suggest we go accompany Brass in an interrogation. He and some other officers canvassed the area, he says they found someone who was in the area at the time of the murder, he might have seen something."
"Might?" I asked, eyebrows raised.
Grissom shrugged, "That's what he said." He led the way to interrogation room one, Brass standing outside with another officer, cell phone to his ear. Brass turned as we approached, flipping the phone shut, "There you are, I was just about to call you. We're ready to do this, you guys watching or coming in?"
"We're coming in," Grissom answered. I looked over his shoulder, through the window at the "witness", and Brass must've caught the expression on my face. "Something the matter, Sara?"
"Brass, this guy is clearly high as a freaking kite, what makes you think we're going to get anything out of him?"
"Maybe we won't, but there's only one way to find out," he said with a wink. He turned and opened the door, walking into the room with Grissom and I in tow. I sat down with a sigh and waited for the show, Grissom sitting next to me with a notepad.
"Can you please tell us your name, sir?" asked Brass, leaning on the table in front of the witness; or, if you asked me, suspect.
"It's Walter," he answered. Walter was white, in his mid-thirties, medium build, and the single hairiest man I had ever seen, with the exception of the "wolfman" whose death I had investigated a few years earlier. He had a wild, wiry brown beard that grew to his chest, matching the thick, shaggy mane that snarled past his shoulders. His arms were covered by a filthy flannel shirt, but I felt certain that beneath the cloth his arms were just as untamed as the rest of him. His eyes were the most striking part of him though, a clear, intense sky blue that stood out magnificently against his dark features. You could see intelligence in them, but that intelligence was obscured by the drugs. Heroin was my guess.
His eyes flicked from side to side, lips moving soundlessly. It looked as though he'd lost control of his facial muscles, squeezing his eyes shut and twitching his cheek at random intervals. "Walter," I asked, speaking slowly so as not to alarm him. "Do you know a man named Dwayne Matthews?"
He looked straight at me then, and it startled me, to have all that intensity directed at me alone. "Not anymore," he muttered.
"But you used to?" Grissom asked softly.
"Shhhh," Walter hushed, closing his eyes. Grissom and I looked at each other uncertainly.
"Walter, you were near the Dancer's Inn last tonight weren't you? You told one of my guys you heard a shot around nine," Brass prompted gently.
"My nine or your nine?" Walter asked, blinking several times in succession.
"Yes. Nine. I heard it at nine," he answered in a moment of clarity.
"Did you see anyone running from the scene?" I asked.
"No. I wanted something in the dumpster. Heard the noise – noise, heard it around nine I'd say. Fat guy scared me, threw something on me in the dumpster, thought he was going to cap me too."
Grissom and I both tensed. Fat guy? "What did he look like, the fat guy?" Grissom asked.
"Like Lloyd, mostly," Walter answered.
Now we practically jumped out of our seats, "Walter," I breathed, "you say he looked like Lloyd, now what do you mean by that?"
"He was Lloyd. He threw something in the dumpster, hit me on the head. Sometimes Lily lets me stay in empty rooms if it's cold out. Lloyd, h-h-he kicks me out mostly. Says I smell. YOU smell Lloyd! Like lies and sweat. And whores."
Ignoring the last outburst, Grissom asked, "What did he throw at you Walter?"
"Couldn't eat it, that's all I know."
"What did it look like, could you see?" I asked hopefully. Brass had already sent an officer to check out the dumpster.
"See? Nobody can really see anything except me! You know," his head shook back and forth now, and I knew we'd lost him. "You know, I drunk dialed Jesus the other night, and….and when I finally got through to him, it's like I didn't even know what to say. And you know what?"
Despite my best judgments, I couldn't help myself. "What?"
I couldn't tell whether it was the intelligence or the delusion in his eyes I was seeing; as he whispered. "He didn't know what to say either."
We pulled up in front of the Dancer's Inn within the hour. Turns out the blood on the gold chain was Lloyd's, causing me to recall those attractive boils on the back of his neck I'd noticed, which weren't boils at all, but welts – from having the chain ripped from his neck. It also turns out that Dwayne was Lloyd's brother, and he was about to screw Lloyd over by turning him over to the police for a cash reward. Apparently Lloyd had been selling more than just rooms to rent at his little motel.
We found the murder weapon in the dumpster.
All in all it had been a very productive night.
Grissom and I hopped out of the car simultaneously, the excitement of bringing Lloyd in running through our veins. It's the high of putting away the bad guys that makes the job worthwhile. Brass and his guys were already at the front door, pounding through the entrance with Grissom and I hot on their heels. Lily gaped as the policeman barged in, asking where Lloyd was. She pointed down the hall, and managed to choke, "Room 8."
Brass in the lead, the entourage grouped around room eight, two officers breaking away to wait at the other exits in case he tried to make a run for it. Brass banged on the door, "Lloyd Butcherson! This is the LVPD, we have a warrant for your arrest! Open the door slowly."
I backed up against the wall, waiting for the action with bated breath, when suddenly there was a lot less wall behind me than I remembered. I fell backwards into a pair of clammy, chubby arms, that were surprisingly strong. It seemed as though Lily had gotten the room number wrong. I watched as all the officers, including Grissom, turned in horror to see me standing in front of room seven, thoroughly engulfed in Lloyd's flabby chest. I wasn't scared, really, more surprised than anything.
"I want safe passage," I heard Lloyd demand.
"To where?!" I scoffed, "there's cops surrounding the place, you're never going to get anywhere."
"Shut up, bitch!" was the not wholly unexpected reply.
"Sara, please…" Grissom was clearly taking this more seriously than I. It was then I felt the steak knife being pressed against the delicate skin of my throat, still sticky with whatever he'd been eating for dinner. I knew Ingrid Bergman would never have to put up with this.
"Look Lloyd, we can work this out," Brass reasoned, his gun trained just above my head. "We can work a deal."
"What kind of a deal?" he asked suspiciously. I could practically hear the cogs turning in his little brain.
"Put the knife down and you'll find out," Brass offered. He kept looking at something behind me, and I wondered if there was something I was supposed to be getting. I looked to Grissom, who was white as a ghost. I smiled at him a little, trying to show him I was going to be alright, and he looked even more pained than before.
"Nice try, copper! I'm not going to fall for that one," Lloyd snickered. It was then I heard the sound of breaking glass and realized the cops were coming through the window for him. Evidently, they still had to work on their stealth factor, but the moment of surprise was all they needed for Brass to reach forward and rip the knife out of Lloyd's hand. I got knocked over, smashing my head tremendously against the doorframe and passing out into precious, dark, quiet.
"Oh, I love you! I love you, don't you see?" Ingrid Bergman's wild confessions underlined the charged atmosphere; Hitchcock's Notorious playing in the background as Grissom and I enjoyed some red wine while decorating my new Christmas tree. The last few ornaments in place, we sat down on the couch facing each other, the glow of the twinkle lights reflecting warmly on our skin.
"Thanks for helping me decorate," I smiled.
"I couldn't very well let you do it all on your own, you're practically an invalid." He lifted the corner of my velvet Santa hat, purchased for Greg's party, revealing a small bandage where I'd cracked my head.
"Far from it," I smiled, putting my hat back in place. The rather dull knife Lloyd had tried to use had made a not-so-attractive three inch cut on my chest in all the chaos, but I still couldn't resist wearing my burgundy black scoop-neck top. It made it look like I had some semblance of cleavage.
"Are you sure you're up for Greg's party tonight?" he confirmed.
"I think I deserve a little playtime," I answered, "after nearly being sliced and diced."
Grissom frowned. "Let's not talk about that tonight, Sara. It makes me feel…unwell."
"I'm sorry," I frowned.
He reached out and brushed his thumb across my cheek. "No, I am." I knew by the way he said it he was apologizing for more than just my brush with death. My body filled with heat at his touch, and I leaned my face into his hand, closing my eyes. He leaned in and kissed me chastely, resting his forehead on mine. "I really am."
I tried to think of that great line of Ingrid's, knowing it fit the occasion perfectly, but it completely escaped my mind. Having a good knock to the head will do that to you. Leaning in for another kiss, the Hitchcock film still glowing in front of us, I decided to go for something a little more my style.
"Shut up, Grissom."
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXT Thanks for reading! This was hap-hazardly written in between finals for a friend's birthday, as part of a challenge. Hope you liked it, leave a comment if you please! Also, if any of you are wondering what's happening with the next chapter of my WIP…it's coming!!!