MAGIC BULLET : A Different Caliber
If a stranger offers you the chance to get away with murder...
would you take it?
During her time away, Sara Sidle had received exactly sixteen e-mails and four phone calls that could be summed up rather easily in three words. "Please come back." A few had been obviously grudgingly from Catherine Willows and Conrad Ecklie, trying to persuade her to return so they wouldn't have to go through the lengthy interviewing process to find a suitable replacement. A couple had been from Greg, Nick and Warrick, all full of jokes and fond memories about working together, a bit more subtle and far more effective at tugging at Sara's heartstrings than Ecklie's or Willows's clinical letters suggesting she "keep her options at the Crime Lab open." The one that had almost gotten her was from Jim Brass.
However, during all that time, the one letter or phone call Sara had hoped for never came, the one message that might have drawn her back to the desert city. She often checked her e-mails, absentmindedly clicking the refresh button in a desperate hope that maybe, just maybe, he might write to her and ask her to return. After a while, Sara had realized what a fool's game it was. Grissom wasn't the sentimental sort of person to write love sonnets begging her to come back to him, nor to come crawling after her. She'd been an idiot to wait so long for him, and, after a while, Sara found herself checking her e-mail less and less frequently.
The one call she had never expected was the phone call she received from Conrad Ecklie a few days ago. He had spoken in solemn, uneasy tones, asking how she was and how her new employment treated her with a genuine interest. The strange, piqued inquiry of Ecklie's came right out of the blue and startled Sara, putting her on edge. Ecklie hadn't ever cared before. Coupled with the odd, almost pained way Ecklie tripped over his own words, as though he were ungracefully dancing about a giant pink elephant in the room, left Sara with an unsure feeling. She finally outright asked what had happened, only to hear of what had happened to her friend, to Warrick. A part of Sara broke down and cried, sobbing on the inside, while the calm, rational part of Sara held together with a cool composure to take down the necessary information regarding the plans for funeral services and make appropriate travel arrangements. She had listened, planned, and packed with an odd detachment, the same distance to Grissom that had once bothered her to no end.
Sara sighed to herself as she drove in the funeral procession to the cemetery. The others might not have seen it, but Grissom was hurting on the inside, and badly. Sara had known him long enough and intimately enough to see through his multifaceted facades of stoic grace and professionalism. She had known it the moment she saw him stumble through his unusual eulogy, only to confirm it when Sara followed him from the church for their awkward conversation.
Grissom had never been one to share much with anyone, let alone Sara. During their relationship, she often felt like he was a puzzle, a mystery not too unlike a crime scene. While it was true that Gilbert Grissom could be a tender, compassionate as well as passionate man to those very few people he allowed close to him, it was equally true that Grissom concealed much about himself even from those lucky few, especially his annoyances and sorrows. In those rare moments of sadness, Grissom often forced even Sara to rely on scant little scraps of evidence and ultra-subtle mannerisms to truly get an accurate picture of what was going on in his head. It had been a game, and one Sara excelled at.
At least, she had always thought that up until she had her jolted conversation with him. Grissom had been uncomfortable, clearly. He had been sweating through the eulogy, but only subtly so and not worn upon his brow. Sara had noticed how he fidgeted oh-so slightly with his hands during the speech. And, then, there had been the almost callous way he so quickly and easily dismissed her offer for support and to just talk. Grissom had seemed so near to telling her something when they were so rudely interrupted by McKeen, closing anything between them. There had been an odd, disdainful look to Grissom's eyes when McKeen brushed past them on his phone, such a faint little glare that Sara herself might not have caught it were she not looking so studiously upon him. She felt like Grissom had been giving her so many clues as to the current nature of his psyche, but Sara just stared wistfully at them, hoping to make some desperate sense of them to understand how to deal with Grissom hear and now after everything that had happened between them.
As such, when the funeral party moved to the cemetery for the burial, Sara kept a closer eye on Grissom when she could afford to dart glances in his direction without arousing any suspicion from the other attendants or her former lover. Easier said than done. Sara had slipped into the service with little notice before taking her seat at Catherine's side. The other CSIs had been too focused on the eulogy and on Grissom. Yet, now that they knew Sara had come back, she kept finding their gaze upon her, their eyes curious and pondering. That, coupled with the natural distance Grissom kept from the man portion of the party, made it harder for Sara to really get anything from him that whole time.
Worse. When Sara finally felt she had a moment to really look to Grissom with any sort of honest inquiry, while the others were consumed with the closing prayers, the woman turned to see him stalk off on his lonesome. Sara furrowed her brow but slipped away from the others to follow, trailing a hundred or so few behind him through the rows of tombstones. In retrospect, Sara couldn't explain why she followed Grissom; she just did, following along an intrinsic pull. Sara would come to be utterly thankful for that.
When he reached the string of vehicles, headed by the now empty hearse flanked by a few groundskeepers looking utterly bored with the proceedings, Sara hung back, watching curiously. Grissom unlocked his SUV, burrowed from the Lab, climbed into the driver's seat, slammed the door behind him, and paused. Sara's heart melted when she saw him cry. Gilbert Grissom rarely cried. In fact, the woman would be hard pressed to remember the last time she thought her former lover came anywhere near close to crying. She frowned as he roughly scrubbed his face.
Sara stepped from her surveillance spot to approach the SUV and perhaps offer some small comfort to him when something strange happened. Grissom collectef himself, adjusted the rear view mirror, and stiffened. Sara froze. Her eyes went wide as she just stared, a mild shiver running down her spine as Grissom remained as solid and composed as ever despite the clear tension in his body. Grissom's eyes flicked to the side, and, for a moment, she thought his gaze met hers, even as she saw the shadow of another person in the SUV, someone who had laid in wait for Gil.
"Come on, Gil," Sara whispered to herself. "Just get out of the car and walk away."
But Grissom did neither.
"What do you want?" Grissom demanded as he stared into the rear view mirror at the skulking man in the back seat of his SUV.
The rather dangerous looking Graves gave a small shrug of his shoulders and a fickle wave of his pistol. "Why don't we just go for a little drive?" He flashed a toothy, wolfish grin. "We can figure the rest out from there."
Grissom slowly nodded in concession, his mind already wandering, already considering the rather dire possibility that this man in the back seat in his black suit and tie, had facilitated in Warrick's murder. After all, it was Graves who had provided Grissom with the murder weapon and the "irrefutable evidence" regarding McKeen's guilt. His grip tightened involuntarily on the steering wheel at the thought. At first, Grissom had contemplated just driving off and maybe heading right for the nearest police department, go rushing inside and draw Graves out into a crowd, but, then, motion by the trees caught his attention. Sara. She was just standing there, out in the open, away from the safety and comfort of numbers and the solace of the burial services. Her eyes were upon him, confused and wide. Grissom tensed as he recalled Graves's none too subtle threat.
"Where do you want to go?" Grissom inquired flatly, forcing his jaw to work.
Graves gave a fickle shrug of his shoulders. "Just drive. I'll tell you where to go."
Sara swore when Grissom eased the SUV out of the row of cars and onto the long, lonely cemetery drive. She waited until the vehicle had reached a safe distance before bolting from her hiding place and towards her own car. She leapt into the tiny, champagne colored Cavalier she had rented upon arriving in Vegas and tore down the gravel drive, cursing the fact that she hadn't taken the snooty little rat-faced woman at the rental place up on the offer for insurance.
She made it to the edge of the drive and glanced about madly. Which way had they gone? Sara glanced to her right and spied the dark beige SUV that had to be Grissom's merging into traffic at the other end of the cemetery before peeling off after him.
"Make a left here."
Grissom did as he was told, albeit with a scowl upon his face. Graves, however, in the back seat, didn't seem to notice or to care. Not that he would. Grissom had seen Graves's type before on a few rare cases. Graves was a true professional. He would not be phased if his captive was a little pissed. If anything, Graves probably savored every moment of it. When he glanced in the rear view mirror, he noted not only the stranger's serene expression, but also the light, creme colored vehicle that seemed to be approaching.
"Turn right here."
Grissom obeyed, noting that the offending, almost golden vehicle did as well; he sighed heavily. "We're being followed."
"I know," Graves replied cryptically. "It's of no concern."
Grissom shot the car behind them another quick glance, but it wasn't enough to catch any of the details of the driver that stalked them. "Friends of yours."
"More than likely friends of yours." There was a definite venom to Graves's words.
"Not likely," the entomologist piped up.
Graves smirked. "I'm betting a lovely, fetching woman with dark hair and eyes. Goes by the name of Sara Sidle?" The supposed agent chuckled to himself when he saw the muscles in Gil's neck go taut. "Make a left here. And, don't worry. I know you haven't told her anything. Otherwise, she wouldn't be following us, now would she?"
"She's a determined woman."
Graves nodded in concession as the Cavalier followed. "So she is." He leaned forward, closer to Grissom. "But, so long as you make sure she doesn't find out anything about our arrangement, she will be safe."
"We don't have an arrangement," Grissom forced himself to assert, tasting bile at the back of his throat.
"May I remind you that you are currently in possession of a highly illegal and blatantly unregistered firearm with no serial number?" Graves pointed out knowingly and coldly. "I would believe that my silence leaves you indebted to me." The sharp man gave his firearm another little wave. "And vice versa, of course."
Grissom didn't say a word at first, knowing that he had already admitted that small, scathing truth to himself long ago. They were mutually entwined now in these lies and glancing fibs, concealing whatever grand game Graves played at, toying with Grissom so.
"Pull onto the highway. It'll give us time to talk like civilized adults."
Grissom gave a quick nod and obeyed, merging into traffic and skimming along the lanes. It was just after the lunchtime rush and well before nighttime traffic. The cars about him cruised along, some whipping past at lightning speed, but Grissom hardly paid them any attention aside from cursory glances here and there and mirror checks to be safe. He kept looking in the rear view mirror to Graves in the back seat and what had to be Sara following him.
Finally, Grissom asked the question that had been nagging at the back of his mind for some time. "How did you get your 'irrefutable evidence?'"
"You're a crime scene investigator, Dr. Grissom. What does the evidence tell you?"
Grissom sighed bitterly. "That you were there."
"Very good, Dr. Grissom." Behind them, Sara changed lanes to the left, putting herself on a slight diagonal to the SUV, as though trying to see just who was with her former lover; Graves shook his head and muttered, "If you would please lose your lady friend."
"Easier said that done."
Graves chuckled to himself. "I trust you'll find the means."
Sara swore. Just when she had been inching up alongside Grissom's vehicle, just when she could almost see through the tinted windows whoever had been waiting for Gil, he managed to swing off to the right and onto an exit ramp for Las Vegas Boulevard at the last possible minute, towards the glittering lights and garish casinos of the Strip. She slammed her fist on the dashboard before taking the next exit and cutting towards the casinos, glancing in between the buildings to spy the beige truck.
"Very good, Dr. Pull over here, if you will."
Grissom obeyed once more, pulling into the nearest parking spot in front of the Stratosphere as a sea of tourists milled past, all looking rather eager to ascend to the top observation decks. He reached his hand to the key and glanced back to Graves, who nodded. The entomologist cut the ignition but left the keys dangling there, sitting back in his chair and letting out a long, controlling breath.
"Why were you there?" Grissom finally demanded.
Graves had always seemed so cocky and brash, waltzing about with that smug little smirk of his. When that subtle curve of his lips melted away and any sense of satisfaction slipped from his eyes, Grissom found himself confused. The agent looked... disappointed somehow. He rubbed his chin, almost dolefully.
Graves shook his head and stared out the window, obviously scanning both the crowds and the traffic for Sara Sidle. "I hadn't originally intended to pick you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Graves shrugged, chortling oddly. "It means you should feel like the proverbial 'chopped liver.'" When Grissom failed to give any sort of a reaction to the insult, the agent shook his head. "I had originally intended to bring Warrick Brown on board. After all, he had more than enough motivation to take out our mutual friend, McKeen after the Gedda murder." Graves smiled distantly. "He reminded me of a protege of mine."
"And you let him die," Grissom snarled.
"I went to give him the same opportunity I gave you, but the undersherriff got to him first. Had I shown my face, it would have put my associates in jeopardy." Graves's lips pursed into a deep frown. "I couldn't do anything for Brown."
Grissom didn't say a word. He didn't need to. There was nothing else he could say to the stranger in the back seat that seemed to enjoy nothing more than holding him at gunpoint and toying with him so sadistically. Anything else Grissom could possibly say would just be fueling Graves's games, giving in to the agent's whims and feeding him. It was like working with a dog or a toddler; never encourage bad behavior by acknowledging it more than necessary.
"But you can do something for him." Grissom glanced in the rear view mirror, to the cocked eye of Graves. "You can make his death mean something."
"His death already means something."
Graves shrugged. "The decision is yours. I just wanted to know why you hadn't gone through with it yet. Just remember, the longer McKeen lives, the more damage he can do, the more people he can- and will- hurt."
Gil looked down, stung by the memory of Warrick. "I am not a murderer."
"I never said you were."
Grissom's eyes darted up just in time to see a familiar creme Cavalier parking on the other side of the street. "Company."
"I am well aware." Graves shifted behind him to slide to the side of the SUV facing the Stratosphere, opening the door and slowly unfolding his tall frame. "I just wanted to check on progress of the mission."
Grissom blinked at the curious wording, but Graves had already slammed the door and disappeared into the sea of tourists.
Author's Notes: Sorry it took so long. Other muses were calling as plot bunnies were piling over my desk.