TITLE: An Un-Bearable Christmas
AUTHOR: TakingAChanceonJelly (That's JellyBeanChiChi (Jean) and MSCSIFANGSR (Chauncey) writing together again)
RATING: R, maybe a little M to be safe. (Nah! There's almost no cursing!)
SUMMARY: Two days before Christmas, Greg and Grissom are called to a bloody crime scene.
DISCLAIMER: Just playing with them. And we don't own the rights to the two songs mentioned in this story.
NOTES: This a Christmas present for Moonstarer. Merry Christmas, Jem! This is a special thank you for her fabulous story, "Prisoner 4929," which entertained us for months.
SPOILERS: Every show aired in the U.S. to date.
BETA: The incomparable ProWriter11
WORD COUNT: 10,121 words
A/N: This is a story specifically for Jem, so we wanted to cater to some of her likes. We knew we had to have both sarcastic Grissom and sad/hurt Grissom, a healthy dose of Brass, a mention of teddy bears and a good, old-fashioned bloodbath never hurts. Oh, and a Christmas theme, since Jem mentioned she would try to finish her Prisoner WIP by the holiday.
We hope you all enjoy it, especially you, you crazy Brit!
It wasn't snowing. There had been no sleet. The cold Nevada December air didn't whip around and chill a person to the bone, yet Greg Sanders felt raw and exposed.
But that's what happens when you're going to work a bloody crime scene two days before Christmas, he thought sadly.
Although it was three hours before the their shift, Greg and his supervisor, Gil Grissom, had been called to 4908 Paddock Club Place in Henderson. Sitting in the passenger seat of his boss's Denali, Greg remarked how even under the mask of a black sky, their destination looked like a normal, middle-class neighborhood. Grissom didn't bother to answer, because both knew looks could be deceiving. Grissom merely parked the SUV on the street in front of the house, sitting alone for a moment to collect his thoughts.
He'd been hesitant to answer the phone when it rang earlier, blaring six, seven times beside his bed before the answering machine picked up, and Jim Brass' voice cut through Grissom's lethargy.
"I know you're there and I know you're on call, so get your ass in gear and meet Greg at the lab for a 419 in Henderson," Brass said.
Grissom dressed slowly and fed Bruno, before making his way out of the mess that had been his formerly happy home.
Grissom and Greg passed under the crime scene tape and entered the residence. The heavy stench of copper hit the two investigators hard, and the sight on the floor was just as rough and graphically horrific. Pounds of human innards lay glistening and oozing on the hardwood floor, far too many intestines, internal organs and bloody remains for one human being.
"Well," Grissom said as he surveyed the carnage at their feet, "you know what the say, Greg. No guts, no glory."
"Yeah, but in this case, lots of guts, no body or bodies," Greg said. "Brass said the uniforms couldn't find any bodies in the house or on the property, disemboweled or otherwise."
As Greg snapped photo after photo of the heap, Grissom cocked his head towards a lump in the corner of the room. "Maybe they spoke too soon," Grissom said as he shined his light on the corner. "Looks like we have some bodies over here."
Greg to stopped digitally documenting the heap and moved toward Grissom. The two of them simply stared for a moment in disbelief.
"Grissom, I'm pretty sure these are teddy bear innards."
Piled in the corner were dozens of formerly stuffed bears in various states of dismemberment — heads torn off, limbs severed, button eyes gorged out.
"So we got a bunch of teddy bears without stuffing and a bunch of guts without human bodies," Grissom said. "I'll continue with the human remains and take the living room and kitchen, and you take the bathroom and bedroom."
"Sounds good," Greg said. "I'll start with the back of the house, too. Yell if you need me."
Grissom nodded and returned his attention to carnage in the living room.
Outside the residence, Brass was trying to find out something about the home's owner, 29-year-old Joshua Hampton. A white 1998 Ford Mustang was registered under Hampton's name, but both he and the car were MIA. He started with the next-door neighbor, 72-year-old Beatrice Lorenzo.
"So, Ms. Lorenzo, when was the last time you had contact with Mr. Hampton?"
Before answering, Beatrice sucked down the menthol of her newly lit Newport and then exhaled the smoke above her head. "I hadn't seen Josh for a couple of days. Usually I see him and that girl of his at least a couple times of day, you know, once in the morning and once at night."
"Is that why you stopped by his house this evening?" Brass asked. "What were you doing? Bringing over some Christmas goodies?"
Beatrice looked at Brass with a smirk, then pulled on her cigarette again.
"Well, it doesn't seem like the poor boy eats much, and God knows he needs the energy," Beatrice said. "He's so damn skinny — tall and good-looking — but skinny. It's not good to be that thin. Needs some meat on his bones, if you ask me. And that girlfriend of his, she's skinny as a rail, too. Course, it never sounds like they spend much time eating..."
Brass simply smiled and gestured for the woman to continue. Slowly checking to the left and right, Beatrice leaned her body into the detective, all save the hand protecting her Newport (she didn't want to burn the nice man). She spoke to him in a more hushed tone.
"Well, let's just say, from what I heard, and trust me, honey, I heard a lot, the girl probably did all her cooking in the bedroom… and the living room… and the patio… and the garage… and once I swear in backyard shed."
Brass let out a smile and soft snicker. "I think I understand Ms. Lorenzo. Suffice to say, you haven't heard from the couple in a while."
"Four days and 15 hours," she said, taking another long draw from her smoke. "There's certain things a woman remembers."
"Do you know the girlfriend's name?"
Mrs. Lorenzo laughed for almost a full 30 seconds before she answered, "As much as he screamed out her name? Of course, I do. Melissa. And I think she told me once her last name was Sinclair. She works in the medical field, I think. She's always wearing scrubs. Not for sure doing what though."
After asking more questions about Hampton's whereabouts and the possibility of suspicious activity in the last four days, which Ms. Lorenzo described as "none," Brass reentered the residence where he found his friend and colleague crouched, continuing his collection of evidence.
"How's it going in here?" Brass asked.
"Well, from what I can tell, I think we are dealing with more than one victim. I've counted at least two separate livers and four kidneys and yards and yards of intestinal tract," Grissom said. "What I cannot find is any blood anywhere in this room other than what's in this pile." Grissom rose slowly. "I don't think the victims were killed here, Jim. I've looked for any kind of blood trace and found nothing anywhere. But I did find this beside the remains."
Grissom held up a clear, evidence bag with a ripped portion of a black, plastic trash bag.
"So, the remains were dumped here." Brass said, echoing Grissom's theory.
"Greg found evidence of a picked lock in the back of the house. Someone might have broken in and brought in the remains to be discovered here."
"And according to the neighbor, there's been no sight or sound of Hampton in four days," Brass said. He looked at Grissom's grim expression and continued, "OK, I don't suppose you've found the murder weapon, yet."
"For these victims? No. But…" Grissom said and he went to the kitchen gesturing Brass to follow. "I do think I found a murder weapon."
Grissom pointed to a kitchen knife that seemed to have small, polyester strands stuck in its handle. "It's possible this was used in the Teddy Bear Massacre in the corner."
"Great," Brass said. "The sheriff will be bear-y glad to hear about that progress."
Grissom showed Brass an exaggerated grimace before Greg walked into the room.
"Hey Grissom, you might want to come and see this."
Grissom and Brass followed Greg into the bathroom.
"Whatever you do, don't use the head," Greg said as he lifted the lid to the standard white toilet.
Inside was the severed, partially decomposed head of a man, whose died with a look of horror on his face.
"Have you documented this yet, Greg?" Grissom asked.
"Completely," the younger man said.
"I don't suppose the rest of him is in there?" Brass said as Grissom bent down for a closer look.
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Jim," the senior CSI said as he curiously watched a maggot exit from a place on the severed neck that wasn't submerged. "Greg, did you check the bedroom yet?"
"No, not yet."
"Let's get in there," he said. "There may be more there than meets the eye."
And there was, of course.
Greg did the photography while Grissom and Brass studied a bloody, severed penis covered with a red condom. The drawer in which he'd found the dismembered member contained sex toys of a dubious nature. It appeared to Grissom that the latex-covered penis was covered with something that appeared viscous. He wondered if he was burning out on his job because the unusual nature of the find didn't phase him.
He put a marker by the penis and continued examining the room. Most everything appeared to be coated in the same substance as the penis. As he knelt down, he donned a new set of gloves and ran a finger through the substance. He touched the glove to his tongue. It tasted a lot like orange juice. Fresh squeezed orange juice like Sara used to make, before she left.
Stop. You can't think about her right now.
Brass watched Grissom from the doorway as the man went about collecting evidence. He cleared his throat to announce his presence. "What did you find?"
"A penis in a red condom in the sex drawer." Grissom looked up at the police detective, a slight blush covering the exposed skin on his face.
"Was the condom new or used?"
"Does it matter?"
"Does to the dick."
Grissom laughed at the exchange. "Yeah, well, there may be epithelials on it. DNA can determine that."
"I'm heading back to the PD. Do you need anything else?" Brass was turning toward the sound of one of the uniforms.
"No, Greg and I will be done here before too long. I'll see you later." Grissom returned his attention back to collection of evidence while Greg finished the photography documentation.
They found a pair of dismembered female hands hidden in a pair of Isotoner gloves underneath the bed. The hands' long fingernails were painted a deep shade of red.
"Complementary prophylactic accessorizing," Greg had said of the "polish of choice" as took photos of the hands. "Now that's a woman with a plan."
When Greg inspected the closet and found a right and a left foot, cut off at the ankles, hidden inside a pair of work boots. The body parts were piling up, but so far, no evidence of torsos.
Super Dave came and collected the body parts and was taking them back to town. Grissom and Greg had completed their investigation. Satisfied with their work, the men climbed into Grissom's Denali and headed back to the lab.
"Pretty gruesome case tonight, huh Grissom?"
"Yeah," was the only thing Grissom said. Greg turned on the radio to curb the somber mood. Harry Connick Jr.'s, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," filled the truck. Greg looked at his mentor, and Grissom only shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "I'll listen because I don't have any other choice."
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.
The song played until the SUV was parked and Grissom killed the ignition.
Greg took the evidence to Trace, DNA, and filled out the appropriate forms to complete the chain of custody on the evidence. Grissom went to his office and uneagerly began shuffling the many forms and files across his desk. It wasn't long before he abandoned paperwork to process evidence with Greg. The two worked in a comfortable silence, except when Greg would spontaneously begin humming Christmas songs.
He expected a protest from Grissom, but Grissom acted like he didn't hear a thing. Greg thought he could see the hint of a smile intruding on the man's otherwise stoic expression, especially when Greg quietly sang the lyrics to Burl Ives' "The Ugly Bug Ball."
Once a lonely caterpillar sat and cried,
To a sympathetic beetle by his side.
"I've got nobody to hug,
I'm such an ugly bug."
Then a spider and a dragonfly replied,
"If you're serious and want to win a bride,
Come along with us,
To the glorious
Annual ugly bug ball."
With the processing complete, Greg went to search Melissa Sinclair's apartment while Grissom went to his office to attack the experiment he'd started for another case.
Several hours later, David Hodges practically bounced into Grissom's office. "The sticky substance was orange juice. But not just any orange juice."
"Excuse me?" That caught Grissom's attention.
"The composition of the juice contained oranges, of course," Hodges said with an eye roll. "But also contained traces of ginseng, high levels of amino acids and proteins and pomegranate."
Hodges handed Grissom an analysis and continued. "I did some research and found that a local processor, GAF, produces a pure orange juice with added health boost benefits. Their address is in East Las Vegas, close to Henderson."
"Interesting," Grissom said.
"GAF, by the way, stands for Grade A Florida. The plant processes oranges shipped in from the Sunshine State."
Hodges thought he might get one more "interesting" out of Grissom, but instead the supervisor just looked at Hodges nonplussed. So Hodges offered some more tidbits.
"I'm still working on the fibers from the bears and stray hairs you found in the ... goo... as it were. Very nice job finding those by the way. Very impressive..."
"Actually, that was Greg who found the short hairs," Grissom said, effectively cutting off Hodges. But 'tis the season, so Grissom offered a compliment. "But good work, David."
That was enough to get Hodges out of the office. Only seconds later, the door swung open again. Grissom looked up to admonish Hodges for not knocking when Brass walked in and unceremoniously sat in one of the vacant seats before the messy desk.
"Greg and I processed the remains and are awaiting results from DNA on the victims. But Trace confirmed the presence of a specially-formulated orange juice that could have been processed in Henderson by a company called GAF."
"Is that right?" Brass flipped through the small, black tablet he kept in the breast pocket of his blazer. "I think the neighbor, Ms. Lorenzo, mentioned Hampton worked at an OJ plant. We can check that out. You know, speaking of neighbors, uniforms interviewed the neighbor on the other side of Hampton's house. A Valerie Martin. She would only talk to the officers outside the house. She said something about having sick pets inside the house. She said she knew Hampton but denied knowing the existence of Sinclair. Martin is quoted as saying, "How could anyone deal with the OJ all day?"
Grissom gave a skeptical look. "Hmm, sounds like she does know something. We might have to make a social call to re-question her." Grissom grabbed his ever-present jacket and made to leave the room when Brass stopped him.
"So, you got any plans for Christmas?"
"Work," Grissom answered quickly.
"You going anywhere to see anyone?"
"No. Nothing planned." Grissom removed his glasses to look at Brass.
"Jesus, Gil. Why the hell don't you have plans?"
Grissom shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't think about it. Why is it so important to you where I go?"
"Well, if you went someplace, I could come visit you and then we wouldn't be two pathetic old guys not going anywhere for Christmas."
Grissom smiled. "I'm sorry I let you down, Jim."
"You better be sorry, asshole," Brass replied, "But you already know that don't you?"
"Let's just go ask Valerie Martin a few questions. She probably knows more than she thinks."
They ran into an enthusiastic Greg in the corridor
"Grissom! We've got DNA back from the Christmas Carnage. Body parts matched DNA extracted from Joshua Hampton's toothbrush and the hairbrush we got from Melissa Sinclair's apartment."
Grissom took the file from Greg and looked up with... that look. But it was Brass who spoke what was on both his and Grissom's mind. "Christmas Carnage, Greg?"
Greg put his hands in his pockets and shifted nervously. "Sorry. It's officially Christmas Eve. It's on my mind. But... hey... did Hampton or Sinclair have a cat? Because it was confirmed that stray feline hairs were among some of the remains."
"I don't remember seeing cat food or a litter box or any other signs of a pet at Hampton's house," Grissom said.
"Same when I went to Sinclair's apartment," Greg said. "Oh, and there's also something about the bears. I found partial tags in a couple of the bears from a Build-a-Buddy workshop. There's a local one not far from Hampton's residence. Maybe Hampton shopped there."
"Nice work," Grissom said. Before he could continue the thought they heard Brass's pager sound off.
"We might have to wait a while to talk to Valerie, Gil," Brass said. "Officers have found Hampton's abandoned car locked and sealed tight in a remote area of Sloan Canyon. Maybe you two should head there, while I go to the OJ plant."
"Greg, I'll take my own car so I can meet Jim at Valerie Martin's later," Grissom said. "Take Riley with you. We might need help."
As the early morning sun rose along the eastern horizon of Sloan Canyon, Greg was surprised as he and Riley pulled up to the scene to see Grissom peeking into the abandoned car with his gloves on and kit ready.
"Didn't we leave before him?" Riley asked, clearly egging on Greg. "Looks like you need some driving lessons there, grandma."
"Remember, newbie, arrive alive," Greg joked as he got out of the car. But he still couldn't believe Grissom beat him. "Hey Gris, how did you get here before us?"
Grissom looked up from the car. "You know what they say Greg — age before beauty."
Greg scoffed. "Yeah right. When do you ever think about beauty?" Greg said softly.
"When I think of Sara," Grissom said equally as soft.
Greg looked as if he'd been caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
Their comments were luckily lost on Riley, who had donned her gloves while peeking into the car. "Tint is preventing us from seeing anything from out here. I'll get the slim jim."
Before she moved to the car, Grissom made his own slim jim magically appear and opened the right side door. He extended the slim jim to Riley, who used it to open one of the other two-driver side doors. Greg came back from his SUV wearing gloves and carrying both his and Riley's kits. Riley and Grissom opened the back doors simultaneously. Once again, the CSIs were met with a horrific stench and the graphic remains of a blood bath.
But no bodies.
And that kind of frustrated Greg. "I'd give my arm and leg, for an arm or a leg."
As Riley and Greg searched the backseat, Grissom opened driver's side door to pop the trunk. As he shined his light on the latch, a glimmer caught the corner of Grissom's eye. He crouched down to duck under driver's seat and was gingerly searching under the seat and in the small space between it and the center console. "Greg? A little help here?"
Greg went to the driver's side and saw his boss in an awkward position. "Grissom? What are you hunting for?"
Grissom sat up and held a large, bloodied hunting knife by the end of the hard plastic handle, blade pointed downward.
"You know. If we took the seat out, it would have been easier to retrieve." Greg took photos of the weapon and gave Grissom an evidence bag.
Grissom looked once more at the knife and frowned a bit. "Good point." He bagged the evidence, handed it to Greg, stood up and brushed some loose dirt off his dark slacks. "Why don't you and Riley call PD and have this car towed back to process at the lab. I'm going to meet Brass."
Greg nodded. "OK, but you're denying our new person a day in the sun."
"I'll live," Riley piped up.
Although Brass was headed to Valerie Martin's residence, he parked his Dodge behind Grissom's SUV, which was parked in Hampton's driveway. He assumed Grissom had gone back inside the crime scene to scout out some more evidence.
Brass entered the Hampton residence and called out for Grissom, finally locating him in the two-car garage. "Hey, what's up? We going next door or what?"
Grissom was in the back corner of the garage moving boxes away from a portion of the wall.
This particular corner caught Grissom's attention because while the rest of the wall was lined with two rows of milk crates two boxes high, the corner had one row of crates three high that made what seemed like make a hollowed, cylinder tower. Grissom found a ladder in the garage and climbed it to peek in the hollowed center of the improvised tower. That was where he spied a green recycle container with seven empty gallons of orange juice.
Grissom held up one of the containers to show Brass. "I want Trace to compare what's left in this container with the juice we found at our scene." Brass noticed despite Grissom's find, his friend's demeanor lacked an enthusiasm he usually had when he found a piece of a puzzle.
"Turns out that concoction Hodges found is something Hampton handles at the plant," Brass relayed. "He's on staff at the plant and was a specialty juice taste tester. The staff call him 'The Juicer,' because apparently he prefers drinking his food rather than eating. So, what did you find at the scene? You think maybe someone killed him for the juice's secret formula?"
"We didn't find the bodies, just a bloodbath and the possible murder weapon. I don't know Jim, there was a lot of rage and passion in the killing," Grissom said. "If someone wanted the formula why kill him in Sloan Canyon and then come back here, deposit some body parts and then pour juice all over it and hide the empty bottles? Why not take the juice with them to analyze? And why tear up all those bears?"
"Collateral damage?" Brass said. "You're right. That doesn't make sense. Someone must have seen something. Let's take a crack at the neighbor."
Before Grissom made his way out of the box maze he constructed, he looked down again and found another piece of the puzzle.
Under a box was a pair of used latex gloves. They weren't bloody, but even through his own gloves, they felt sticky.
Valerie Martin opened her front door to a short, balding man and a taller, bearded man. While the bearded one held no interest to the 30-something woman, the police detective with a gold shield staring at her did. He reminded her of someone. It was someone she liked. She knew that. For the life of her, she couldn't remember who.
She ushered the two men into her home on the assumption the bald man would protect her after he asked her the innocuous question, "Valerie Martin? May we come inside and speak to you about the apparent death of your neighbor, Joshua Hampton?"
Grissom noted the home was clean, however he could still detect the telltale odor that predicted the presence of cats in the household.
"I didn't know Josh very well, but he was a good neighbor." Grissom listened half-heartedly. A fat, gray, tabby cat padded into the room and rubbed along the calf of his trousers for several seconds, then jumped onto a table, and from there onto his shoulder, which placed him immediately on the defensive. He reached up to lift the cat off.
"Oh, don't mind, Jorge. He's just checking you out." Valerie sat down and picked up a dark, almost black cat that curled up in her lap. As she tried to placate Grissom, Jorge clawed Grissom, bringing a stream of blood to his forearm. Grissom looked shocked as Valerie continued, "Oh, he doesn't like you at all. He didn't like Josh either."
Jorge seemed to have some remorse as he licked the wound on Grissom's arm. The action didn't please the CSI, who nudged the cat to disappear. He then studied the slim, brunette speaking with Brass.
"Did you know Josh's girlfriend?" Brass asked.
"I didn't know he had a girlfriend," Valerie answered quickly.
"Do you know Mrs. Lorenzo on the other side of Josh's house?"
"Do you ever talk to her?"
"Yes, we're friends. She tells me everything that goes on in the neighborhood. Miss Bea is very gossipy."
Grissom's voice cut through their conversation, "Which of your animals was sick last night the police questioned you?"
Valerie's look could have killed him. His blood ran a bit cold at the vehemence that blazed in the woman's eyes. Then she completely ignored his question and turned her attention back to Brass.
She looked at him so innocently, but Brass had seen the look she'd given Grissom.
"Umm, Valerie, last night when the policemen asked you about Josh, you said that your cat was sick, which one?"
"Jorge was sick."
Grissom was a bit peeved that the woman wasn't speaking to him; the cat scratch was annoying him further. There was always the chance of catching cat-scratch fever. And while it sounded like something funny, it wasn't. Now there was a new danger. More cats had joined the party. There were now seven in the room.
Grissom cleared his throat. "Do you mind if I use your restroom for a moment?"
When the woman ignored him again, Brass asked Valerie for him and she conceded. Along the way to the half-bath, Grissom stopped at the kitchen door and saw a picture of Josh Hampton embellished with loopy red hearts.
When Grissom returned, Valerie was saying, "… he'd borrow things sometimes. I'd loan him some money when he was short between paychecks. But honestly, I didn't know him very well at all."
As if on cue, the gray, tabby cat brushed against his pant leg again. Brass nodded and thanked Valerie for her time.
As they returned to their vehicles, Brass looked at Grissom, "How's the arm?"
"Probably need an antibiotic, but I'd like to swab it first. Who knows what that cat might have. And I think the witness was lying."
"Yeah, I think that's a little obvious, Sherlock."
"I saw a photo of our victim on her refrigerator that someone had decorated with hearts."
"Is that right? Hmmm, and I thought you were hired for you looks," Brass said with a smile as got into his car. "Although you know," he added, just before slamming the door it could have been Jorge."
After the interview with Valerie Martin, Grissom headed back to the lab to drop off the orange juice containers and gloves found in Hampton's garage and had Hodges swab his forearm. Grissom found Greg handling the dismantling of Hampton's car. "Don't worry, Grissom. I'll let you know if we find anything."
Grissom nodded and went to leave but Greg came from behind him and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Wait a second! Let me see your legs."
"What?" Grissom said incredulously.
"There's some kind of hair on your pants. Did you come into contact with some cats?"
Grissom looked at his dark slacks and noticed the stray hairs left from Valerie Martin's cat. "Valerie Martin had a very unfriendly cat that kept rubbing against my legs during an interview and eventually scratched me." He showed the new level 3 CSI his injury. "I had Hodges swab it just to see if anything comes up."
"Let me take a sample of the hair to see if it matches the short hairs found in the 'Christmas'... I mean the remains," Greg said as he took tweezers to Grissom's pants and lifted several samples of the hairs.
"Good catch, Greg."
"I'll let you know what I find, Grissom."
Brass and Grissom met at the Build-a-Buddy workshop in Henderson, after the two had pursued other leads for a while. They hoped they would catch the staff closing up for the night. Neither wanted to be caught up in a last-minute Christmas Eve rush. But because it was Christmas Eve, store hours had been extended.
As a result, Grissom and Brass entered a crowded store full of desperate parents, despondent boyfriends and other wandering, confused souls in need of last-minute gifts. Four huge machines filled with fluff gathered a horde of people in front of each. Those not in front of the machines gawked at the variety of outfits for boy bears and girl bears that lined the walls. Professional outfits -- from judges to prisoners, glamour girls to truck drivers. Baby outfits. Uniforms for every sport imaginable. Grissom shook his head when he saw some of the outfits. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, even horse riding... he could understand. But curling, uniball and synchronized swimming?
And there weren't just bears for customers to choose. There were monkeys, bumble bees, mice, cats, dogs, elephants and the holiday special -- snow people.
"How do you tell if it's a snowman or a snowwoman?" Grissom and Brass heard a customer ask.
"I guess it depends where you put the corn cob pipe," Brass whispered to Grissom with a smile. Grissom looked perplexed at Brass. He didn't understood the innuendo and was glad he didn't.
"This place is weird," Grissom said simply.
"Said the man who inspected a severed penis in a used, red condom," Brass added.
"I can't argue with that," Grissom said. The two men made their way to the front counter, where they found two surprisingly calm young employees.
"Hey guys. You here for the 'Committed Couples' special?" said the young woman.
"Ah, no, dear," Brass said, extracting his shield. "I'm Detective Jim Brass of the Las Vegas Police Department and this is Gil Grissom from the Crime Lab. We wanted to ask some questions about a customer."
The young man stood up. "I'll talk to them Marie. You hold down the fort."
"No prob, Jack."
Jack came from around the counter. "Come on to the back office. No reason to shout over the masses."
Grissom and Brass followed him to a back work area and then into Jack's neat cubicle. He brought over a couple of folding chairs for the officers, and plopped down in his own chair. "I'm Jack Freeman. I'm the assistant manager here. What's up?"
Grissom took a couple of photos from a folder and showed Jack a photo of Joshua Hampton. "Has this man ever shopped here?"
"You know, dude, maybe you should have asked Marie. I don't look at guys too closely."
Grissom smiled. "How about her?"
Jack sat up and smiled himself. "Now that chick. Yeah, definitely I remember her. She was smoking hot. Legs go on for freakin' ever. And have you seen the ass on that chick?"
"No, actually, I haven't," Grissom said, deadpan. "When did she come in?"
"About a week ago. And you know what? Let me see that dude's photo again." Jack took the photo of Hampton from Grissom's hand. "Yeah, that's the lucky son of a bitch who was with her. Man she was wild."
"Oh yeah?" Brass said. "Why do you say that?"
"She wanted an adult version of a couple of bears. I specialize in racy bears for select clients," Jack said with a laugh. "And by select clients I mean smoking hot women with an extra C note per bear. And I gave her the star treatment. Leather outfit for the boy bear and silky lingerie for the girl bear."
Jack laughed before he continued. "I even gave them adult accessories. Converted a Chapstick container for a dildo, and then I took some latex gloves, colored them with a red Sharpie, cut off the fingers and rolled them so they looked like little bear condoms."
Red bear condoms, Grissom thought, Greg will love that.
"OK, OK, Roman Polanski, that's fascinating. Did they buy anything else?" Brass asked.
While Jack told Brass what he could recall, Grissom's attention drifted to a photo pinned to Jack's cubicle wall. It was of a young woman surrounded by about two dozen bears.
"Excuse me Mr. Freeman," Grissom said. "Who is that in the photo behind you?"
Jack turned around and grabbed the photo Grissom noticed. "Oh, that's Valerie. She's posing with the 20 bears she's made at the shop."
It was indeed Valerie Martin. "That's quite a collection," Grissom said. "Must have cost her a fortune."
"Oh," Jack said as he shuffled his feet, "I give her a discount."
Brass came into the conversation. "Oh, she your smoking hot girlfriend?"
"No," Jack said flustered. "No. No. We were in a foster home together. She's my foster sister."
"She really likes bears, huh?" Grissom said.
Jack shook his head, "Dude, you have no idea. She loves teddy bears. A little obsessed. Has been since we were kids."
The young man's expression became somewhat sober for the first time since Brass and Grissom met him.
"Valerie and I were in the same home with three other kids and Valerie always carried around this one bear. And then a couple of years later, this other girl came to live with us. Fucking freak. She must have been 10 or 11 or something, and Valerie, she was only seven years old. The new girl would push Valerie around and taunt her. But one day that stupid little bitch took Valerie's bear and said she wanted to play washing machine. She threw Val's bear in the bucket while she stood up high on the counter and soaked it in orange juice. She poured a whole gallon of it on top of it. And she jumped down and just kept dunking the bear over and over and ripping it right in front of Valerie, yelling, 'Washing machine! Washing machine!' One of my foster brothers and I heard Valerie crying and tackled that stupid bitch Natalie."
Brass and Grissom looked at one another at the mention of the name.
"Our foster mother tried to save the bear, but basically it was ruined," Jack continued. "My foster brother and I got in trouble for tackling Natalie, but it was worth it to get rid of that freak."
It was quiet for a second. Just a coincidence, Brass thought, until Jack continued again.
"She turned out to be that serial killer from last year," Jack said with a bitter laugh. "I remember Valerie and me saw her on television being hauled away. I told Val, 'Big surprise how she turned out.'"
Grissom sat there stunned and was noticeably pale. He suddenly didn't want to be there anymore. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I... I need to get a some air and make a phone call."
"Oh, yeah, sure dude. Hey, why don't you go out through the back door," Jack said.
Jack and Brass sat across each. "He OK?" Jack asked.
"I don't know. He's been up working for a while. We work nights," Brass said in a pleasant, non-committed voice.
Jack nodded, satisfied with the answer.
"Listen, when was the last time you saw or talked to Valerie?" Brass asked.
"I guess about a week ago. She came in because she was down. She was having problems with some guy," Jack said. "She always falls for the losers, guys who treat her like shit. She did everything for this neighbor of hers, and all he ended up doing was using her. I think he even ended up taking some of her bears to give to some whore girlfriend of his."
"Did the neighbor have a name?" Brass asked.
"I think she said Josh?" Jack replied.
Brass finished questioning Jack and exited the same back door as Grissom. He found him sitting on the ground with his back against the wall. "You make your phone call, Gil?"
Grissom stood up. "No."
"Feel a little better?"
"No," Grissom said. "No, I don't."
"Come on. We'll go to breakfast," Brass said. "You decide if it's a liquid breakfast or not."
Grissom opted for a rain check on the liquid meal, choosing healthier fare, instead. As the two finished the last of their omelets and third cups of coffee, Grissom received a call from Greg.
"Any chance you might come back here? I have results and theories," Greg said.
Grissom rubbed his tired face. "Greg, could it wait till the next shift?"
"Gris. Tomorrow's Christmas. I kind of wanted to start the holiday..."
Grissom silently kicked himself. "Sorry, Greg. Of course. I'll be there in 10."
"See what happens when you don't make plans for Christmas," Brass said, as he continued to sip his coffee. "You forget it's Christmas."
Grissom picked up the check. "I'll see you later. Oh, and Jim... Ho, ho, ho."
"Who you calling a 'ho?"
Grissom found Greg deep in thought in the layout room. Photos of the crime scene were on display on the wall, pieces of evidence laid out neatly and arranged in a meticulous order on the table. Grissom had to admit; the young man did a wonderful job.
"This is nice work, Greg. What do you have to share?"
"Let's start with the primary scene — Hampton's residence. The hands match DNA for Melissa Sinclair and the head and feet belong to Hampton."
"OK, that was something already established," Grissom added.
"Well, those hands seemed to have done some handiwork. You remember that knife you found at the house with polyester strands?" Greg saw his boss nod in the affirmative. "Well, it looks like Melissa Sinclair left a healthy set of prints on that knife."
Grissom seemed intrigued. "So one of our victims perpetrated the Teddy Bear Massacre?"
"Looks like it," Greg said.
"Valerie Martin made about 20 bears at that Build-a-Buddy workshop," Grissom said. "And by the way, remind me to tell you what I learned about making teddy bear condoms. What are the chances the bears came from Valerie's collection?"
"Better than you might think. We found cat hairs on the bears that matched those from your pants," Greg said. "AND… there was urine present on the inside of the bears. Thanks to that war wound of yours, we were able to match the cat's DNA in the urine on the bears. Which means after they were sliced up, possibly at the Hampton residence, they must have ended up back at Valerie Martin's house."
Greg seemed pleased with himself, but then his mind refocused. "Teddy bear condoms?"
"Yes. Teddy bear condoms. Red ones," Grissom said, not taking his eyes off the evidence. "I thought of you when I heard about them."
"That is the most disturbing thing you've ever said to me, Grissom."
"Really? I thought you would appreciate it."
"Anyway," Greg said shaking his head, "we found several of the victims' prints all over the car — windows, doors — along with semen and vaginal contributions in various locations of the car. We were able to get a partial off the hunting knife, but not enough for a viable search. But we did match the prints we extracted from inside the rubber gloves you found in Hampton's garage. And that was a match to Valerie Martin."
"She was in the system?" Grissom asked.
"Apparently she volunteers with the American Girls Club, and since she volunteers with youths, she had to be printed."
"Does the partial have commonalities to the full print off the knife?" Grissom asked.
"Yes," Greg said. "I think Valerie followed Hampton and Sinclair out to Sloan Canyon. I assume it was no secret in the neighborhood that they frequented there, since the old neighbor knew about their love spot. At the location, we found tire treads behind Hampton's car that are consistent with the make of the tires on a Ford Escort. According to the DMV, Valerie Martin has a blue 2004 blue Ford Escort registered in her name. And there was a blood trail from a passenger door of Hampton's car to an area at the base of the mysterious tire treads."
"So, if we follow the evidence," Grissom said, beginning the reconstruction, "Valerie Martin followed Joshua Hampton and Melissa Sinclair to Sloan Canyon..."
"Where they would have a romantic rendezvous..." Greg added.
--- FLASHBACK ---
Joshua and Melissa were engaged in a romantic tryst in the back seat of the Mustang. Both were naked, or nearly naked as their passions neared completion. Little did the couple know that Joshua's spurned lover and neighbor was watching and waiting for her chance.
She seized the moment and surprised the couple.
At first Valerie's mind and body raced with uncontrollable adrenaline, making her jumpy. But her body movements became fluid as she sliced the two people over and over. With each cut, each tear, each slice, she felt renewed and powerful. It was a feeling she never experienced before.
She continued to slice and rip through their flesh, even though she was well aware their lives had slipped away long ago. She should have been repulsed by the carnage of their guts splashed and exposed. But she reveled in it. She painfully shredded them, just as Josh had painfully shredded her heart and Melissa had painfully shredded her soul.
And then she stopped. The word "enough" floated in her head.
At that moment she went to her car, started it and backed it up to Josh's bumper. She popped her truck and found she still had household supplies that she purchased at Wal-Mart earlier. She took the items out of the trunk — her Windex, Barkeepers Friend, vacuum bags, even the kitchen gloves she opened and put on before she picked up the hunting knife she bought at the flea market.
But her focus quickly returned to the task at hand. She wanted to make room in the trunk, so she put the items in her back seat, except the black, trash bags and some of her gardening tools.
She needed those shears. Something told her using them would feel right.
And the black bags? Well, she needed those too. She didn't want the trunk to get too dirty.
--- END FLASHBACK ---
"So after she kills the couple, Valerie, either at the scene or at another location, severed Hampton's head and feet and Sinclair's hands and then transported them to Hampton's house," Grissom said, processing a theory.
Greg looked through the photographs, until he found a photo of the interior of the car — a close up of one of the head visors. "Take a look at this. When Riley and I searched the car, we never found a garage door opener, but the visor had an indention like a remote was there."
"Hampton did have an automatic garage door opener," Grissom confirmed.
"So, if Valerie took the remote, she could just park her own car with the bodies and remains in Hampton's garage," Greg said.
"But she didn't have a key to the house," Grissom continued, "so she probably had to climb the fence and then break open the lock on the back door. Then she could go to the garage, remove what she wanted, clean up and go."
"It's a valid theory," Greg said.
"We need to get into her house and search for evidence and get a look at her car," Grissom said.
"I still don't understand why she would do this. I mean these were some brutal killings," Greg said. "And what about the OJ?"
"Well, whatever her reason, it must have taken everything she had to be around the orange juice," Grissom reasoned. "I suspect that is why she was so haphazard about the gloves she used when she dumped the orange juice. We never found any bloody gloves or bloody clothes or excess body parts, probably because she had no problem taking them with her. But she probably couldn't stand the gloves with the orange juice residue or the empty juice containers. That's why she hid the containers and immediately just dumped the gloves almost right beside them."
"But why did she do it in the first place? Revenge for bears? Unrequited love," Greg said.
"At this point, what's important is that with the fingerprint evidence and tire treads, we have enough to get a warrant and search her premises," Grissom said. "But, I don't think you have to worry about that, Greg. Your shift was over several hours ago, and I believe you're off for Christmas."
"But what about the warrant?"
"Brass and I will handle it," Grissom said. "Go on. Merry Christmas."
Greg's fact lit up. "If you insist, boss. I hope she won't ruin your Christmas."
No worse than I might already have, Grissom thought. "Bye, Greg."
"See ya," Greg said as he went out the door.
Grissom kept his eye on the evidence and was about to make another phone call when Greg bounded in again. "Yes, Greg?"
"Umm... maybe after the holidays, I'll ask you about that bear condom thing..." And before Grissom could respond, Greg was out the door again.
Brass knocked lightly on Grissom's doorframe before entering without a word. He stood in front of Grissom's desk and placed a photo in front of him.
Grissom looked at Brass as he picked up the photo. "What's this?... Is this you?"
Brass sighed. "It does look like me, doesn't it?"
"Who's the little girl?"
Brass sat down. "That is five-year-old Valerie Martin after her parents were arrested."
"You were at the scene?"
"No. That is Detective John Fletcher, formerly of Las Vegas, now retired in New Orleans."
"Amazing resemblance, Jim."
"So, my curiosity got the best of me, and I found information about what happened to put Valerie into foster care," Brass said. "Her parents were drug dealers, and one particular deal went very, very wrong. I found this old file, and I called the retired detective. He remembered the night. Apparently Valerie wouldn't come out of hall closet. Guess what the detective used to lure her out?"
"A teddy bear," Grissom said. "You must remind Valerie of Detective Fletcher."
"I guess so."
Grissom looked at the photo again. The little girl's face was filled with fear and horror. Five years old. She was only five years old. And she clung to both the detective and the bear with all her might. Grissom sighed. She wasn't five years old anymore. "I think we have enough for a warrant."
He described the evidence and theory to Brass, who simply nodded and listened. "I'll get on it now, before everyone leaves for the holiday."
As dusk was quickly turning into night, Valerie stooped down to pick up her gardening tools she just used to trim and cut branches from her gardenia plant. While the Hampton residence had a privacy fence that bordered one side of Martin's property, the other side where she was working had no fencing.
She barely lifted the bottom of her weathered sweatshirt to expose her gardening belt. With care, she fastened her hand tools to the belt. The sounds of revved engines and sirens startled her. Then she heard several cars pull up at her house. As she stood in the patch of grass between her house and her neighbor's, she saw two familiar faces. One welcome. One not.
"Valerie Martin, we have a warrant to search your premises," said the man she regarded as the "nice one."
"A warrant? But why? Where are those people going?" Martin's expression was one of fear and concern. While her dark black cat purred at her feet, she reached down to hold her gray, tabby. "Please, don't scare the other cats! Could I please go in there?"
Brass approached Valerie. "Is there anyone in the house, Ms. Martin?"
"Where is your car?"
"I don't... it's in the shop."
Brass looked at Grissom. "You need to stay outside, Ms. Martin. An officer will be at your door. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Valerie said, as she held Jorge tighter, and kept checking the side of her house. "Fine."
Brass watched as Valerie paced in the side yard. Officers gave the all clear, so Grissom followed Brass inside the residence. "If we can't inspect a car right away, I think some officers should go in the backyard to see if there is any recent soil disturbances," Grissom suggested.
The house was quiet, minus a few soft meows from cats retreating to familiar hiding spots. It was also chilly, since many of the windows were open. An eerie aura encapsulated the interior of Valerie's home.
"I'll check out the kitchen," Brass said.
"I think I'll check the bedroom," Grissom said, as he retreated to the right hand side of the house, with his Surefire M4 flashlight in hand.
Inside a wooden box on the bedside table, Grissom discovered a note apparently written by Melissa Sinclair to Valerie. He read it by the light of his flashlight:
Josh doesn't like you anymore. He is with me and me only. The bears are only a warning; because if you continue with your harassment of the two of us, let's just say, your precious cats could end up looking like your little bears. Stay away from us.
The drapes of the window moved slightly as a soft breeze gently swept inside, but there was nothing of interest along the walls of either side of the 3-foot by 3-foot window. Instead, Grissom's attention focused along the opposite wall where a long dresser stood. Upon it were a dozen bears, including two or three that looked stitched up.
As he inspected a bear, Grissom heard a noise behind him. He flashed his light around the room, and the familiar gray, tabby cat, Jorge, jumped on the dresser in front of Grissom. The cat startled him for a second causing Grissom to drop his flashlight. As he bent over to pick it up, Jorge took the opportunity to take a healthy scratch along Grissom's face close to his eye. He swiped at the cat with the back of his hand.
Valerie came through the window almost without a sound. Running toward him at full speed, she wielded a tool from her gardening belt — a hand-held cultivator with three prongs sharpened to points. The attack caught Grissom by surprise. He had no time to react as she plunged the implement into his left shoulder. He felt time slow down as the cultivator ripped his flesh. The pain stole his breath, and he fell back, landing hard on the floor with Valerie standing over him, ready to attack again. Her eyes burned with intense anger borne of pure insanity.
Valerie fell to her knees on Grissom's chest, driving the air from his lungs. He managed to connect a fist with her face, but it didn't stop her. She began the attack again. Grissom raised his hands and arms in defense, so his arms took the brunt of the assault but not all of it. He felt a searing pain along his left cheek where a prong sliced through his skin repeatedly.
Unlike her attack on Josh and Melissa, Valerie didn't utter a word. The fact that Grissom's punch didn't faze her proved she could take a beating. And after killing Josh and Melissa, she knew she could deliver a brutal beating, too.
She continued to stab Grissom, totally focused on raining blows on him and where she drew blood: his shoulder, arms, hands, chest, not even aware who the man was bleeding by her hand. She saw him begin to weaken, his arms falling away. She raised the pronged cultivator high in the air. Its target was his neck. She brought it home and raised it to strike again.
Until her concentration was broken.
"Valerie, freeze!" Brass commanded as he held a gun on her.
Valerie stopped but still brandished the gardening tool in front of Grissom, who was losing a great deal of blood and in obvious, serious pain. His arms, which were barely raised above his body, shook with spasms, and he appeared to be losing consciousness.
"He was touching my bears." Valerie screamed at Brass.
Brass swallowed and steadied himself, hoping to calm the tone of his voice. "Valerie, that's his job."
Valerie turned to Brass, her expression softened and marred with some confusion. She took a step away from Grissom but still held the fork in a threatening manner. "You... you look... familiar. I think... you... look so... familiar." She was looking at Grissom but speaking to Brass.
"Valerie, do you remember the night you were taken away from your house on Marquette Drive? Do you remember that night?"
Valerie looked down, but then caught Brass's eyes again as she nodded in the affirmative.
"Do you remember the officer who talked to you while you were in the closet?"
"You gave me the bear," Valerie said, her eyes misted. "You gave me my bear."
It was Brass' turn to nod in the affirmative. It was a lie. But it was a lie to save a friend.
"I loved that bear. His name was Gary."
"That's a nice name, Valerie. I'm sorry someone hurt your bear."
"She killed Gary. She killed my bear." Anger and rage laced Valerie's voice, and she gripped the tool furiously and turned back toward Grissom.
"VALERIE! I'm sorry Natalie did that to you!"
Hearing that name stopped Valerie in her place. "How did you know?"
"Jack told us," Brass continued. "Natalie had no right to do that to you. She should never have hurt you; she shouldn't have ever hurt anyone."
"You know her?"
"Yes, Valerie, I do. She hurt a friend of mine. And she hurt him," Brass said, pointing his gun toward Grissom. "Natalie hurt him. She took away someone he loved."
For the first time, Valerie loosened her grip on the tool and dangled it to her side. But she still took a step toward Grissom.
"She hurt you?"
Grissom had tried to focus as best he could, barely registering the conversation while his face contorted with pain. He was able to meet Valerie's eyes and heard her repeat her question.
"Natalie hurt you?"
He could have said many different things about Natalie, about Sara, about his faults, his failures, but the question was simple and so was Grissom's response. A simple response was all he was physically and emotionally capable of offering.
Valerie stared at him and fiddled with the implement in her hand. Brass watched intently and took two tentative steps toward her. "Give me the weapon, Valerie."
He stared at her wondering if she was going to stab Grissom again. His bleeding didn't look like it was letting up at all. Brass had his Glock in his hand and hoped he wouldn't have to shoot the woman. Officers behind Brass awaited a decision, and Brass held the officer standing outside the bedroom window at bay. If they were to storm the room, Valerie could slam the weapon into Grissom and kill him.
"Call the paramedics," he said in a low voice to the closest officer, never taking his eyes away from Valerie.
"Already did," the officer replied. "They're on the way."
For another minute, Brass felt like he was in a stereotypical Mexican stand-off with Valerie poised over Grissom's body like a mad woman. Then, Jorge meowed and entered the room. The animal started to walk toward Grissom, where a pool of his blood expanded across the floor.
"Jorge," Valerie said timidly. "Don't walk around there. You'll make a mess."
Jorge looked up at his master and gave another meow. "Go on," Valerie said softly, with a hint of a sad smile. "Shoo."
Once the cat was outside the bedroom, Valerie took a deep breath and turned the handle of the tool toward Brass's waiting hand.
Uniformed officers came into the room to cuff Valerie and arrest her. Brass knelt down next to Grissom, who looked like he was going into shock. The blood loss was a serious concern; he'd lost too much in a short period of time. All Brass could do was tell his friend to hang on and assure him help was on the way. As if to emphasize the point, they heard the wailing sound of sirens.
It was not long before paramedics loaded Grissom onto a gurney and transported him to Desert Palm Hospital.
Grissom's ears filled with the jumbled sounds of the ambulance siren and the paramedics barking information to the hospital. But soon everything turned into a buzz. I'm bleeding... a lot, Grissom thought. I should have made plans for Christmas. Why the hell didn't I try with Sara? He could feel the pain from his wounds clouding his brain, until his eyes rolled back, and he felt nothing.
As Brass made his way through the halls of the hospital, he passed by a few dry erase boards decorated for the season. Some had tinsel along its frames, others just had giant, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" messages. But one in particular reminded him of the person he was visiting. On it someone wrote Christmas trivia questions, including "In what country and what century did the mistletoe tradition originate?" He shook his head and smiled, as an intern and two nurses passed by him. There were still five hours of Christmas left; maybe he should have worn a Santa hat, too.
He only slowed his gait when he approached room 508. He didn't bother knocking since the door was open. Inside he saw Grissom awake. His forearms and palms were heavily bandaged. Brass could just make out the bandage covering the wounds on Grissom's left shoulder and neck, where he suffered deep stab wounds that required 56 stitches. The large slash wound on the left side of Grissom's face had required 20 stitches. The wounds to his chest another 41.
The detective was not one to be a loss for words, but it's never easy to see a friend hurting. So, he relied on what always worked for him: humor. "So, you going to live?"
"Yes, I think so. I feel woozy."
"I bet," Brass said. He found his hand was shaking as he went to gently grab his friend's bandaged forearm. In a flash, Brass recalled seeing Grissom fighting to stay conscious as he lay in a pool of his own blood. Brass took a quick breath before speaking again. "So it that your new friend?" Brass motioned toward Grissom's morphine pump.
"I think I'll call it Trixie," Grissom said, with a slurred voice and a ghost of a smile.
Brass laughed. "Good for you."
"Because it really does the trick... get it?" Grissom chuckled.
"That's good, Gil," Brass said. "But be careful you don't offend Trixie or any of the nurses. Today you showed your knack for really pissing off a woman."
"Just today's experience?" Grissom said as his smile dissipated into a wince. Brass could tell his buddy was in more than physical pain, and he almost moved to leave, until Grissom spoke up again. "But that's going to change. And soon."
Both men stayed silent, with Brass expecting Grissom to fall asleep. But instead the man in the hospital bed piped up again. "At least I've given you something you wanted for Christmas."
"What are you talking about?" Brass said, taking his hand away.
"You wanted to come and visit me someplace on Christmas," Grissom said, as he pushed the his pain pump. "And here you are."
"I wasn't thinking about the hospital, asshole."
"Be more specific next year," Grissom chuckled lightly at his joke. But his eyes grew heavy. With his eyes closed he said, "Merry Christmas, Jim."
Brass took a deep breath as he watched his friend drift to sleep. He brought a chair close to the bed, sat down and placed his hand back on Grissom's forearm.
"Merry Christmas, Gil. I hope you get the happiness you deserve."
Reviews are appreciated...:)
'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas' written by Meredith Wilson, 1951.
'Ugly Bug Ball' written by Robert and Richard Sherman, 1963.