Entry #2 in the "A Year in the Life" series. When an obnoxious organizer drops dead at a science fiction convention, the CSIs find themselves faced with an unusual array of suspects and a genetic mystery. On the home front, Lindsey is on a weekend field trip, and Brass and Catherine take advantage of their unexpected freedom. You know the drill -- CSI belongs to Anthony Zuiker and CBS, and what I do with the gang isn't canon.
by Alice Day
The man in the undersized Battlestar Galactica t-shirt studied the rows of used books neatly lined up on the folding table. He picked up one wrapped in a plastic baggie, and his eyes narrowed with desire. "Pratchett -- sweet. How much?" he asked.
The dealer pursed his lips. "That's a first edition from Gollancz, my friend. Couldn't take less than $90."
"Oh, come on, dude," the man whined. "I mean, it's not like he's Neil Gaiman or anything."
The dealer gave him a look that clearly said You asshole. "That's a first British edition of MORT, in fine condition," he said out loud. "I sell that to you for $60, I'm cutting my own throat. If you can't afford it, I've got a Gollancz paperback edition in the bookcase at the end of the table."
"Crap. Okay." The man hauled out a well-worn wallet and pried five twenties from its sweaty recesses. Someone bumped into him from behind and he lurched, dropping the cash on the table.
Annoyed, he turned around. "Hey, dude, watch it--"
At first, he assumed the guy was in a hall costume -- grey waxy skin, bloodshot eyes, shadowed bags under them. Not the best zombie makeup he'd seen at the con, but it was just Friday night -- the good costumes wouldn't come out until tomorrow night at the masquerade.
It wasn't until the guy fell to the floor and didn't move again that he realized it wasn't makeup.
Dr. Ray Langston looked at the corpse, then at the crowd of SF fans hovering at the entrance to the dealer's room, and finally at Captain James Brass. With a straight face, the former pathologist said, "He's dead, Jim."
Brass gave him a long-suffering look. "You've been waiting to use that line since we got the 419, haven't you?"
Ray's mouth quirked. "I'm sorry. I was something of a Trekkie back in college."
"Yeah, well, you must be in your element right now," the Homicide captain said, gazing sourly around the room. "This looks like geek heaven."
The large hotel conference room was full of folding tables arranged in a rough U shape, with two tables in the middle running parallel to the arms of the U. Some tables, such as the one next to their DB, were loaded down with a variety of science fiction and fantasy novels and magazines. Other tables offered roleplaying dice, jewelry, tie-on animal ears, DVDs, corsets, and somewhat scary-looking anime dolls. A table against the far wall featured the sign "Lazy Dragon Armory" and boasted an impressive collection of swords, knives and other bladed weapons.
Brass nodded at the armory table. "Please tell me we don't have to go through all that."
Nick Stokes walked up, evidence case in hand. "God, I hope not. It would be a stone bitch to luminol that much hardware," he said.
The assistant coroner glanced up and peered at the table. "Oooh, katanas -- cool." He realized the CSIs and Brass were now staring at him, and ducked his head. "Uh, no obvious wounds on the body and no blood pools, so I'm assuming he wasn't stabbed or shot," he said quickly. "Could be a heart attack."
Ray knelt next to David, studying the DB's pallor. "It does look like some sort of cardiac incident. Seems awfully young for a heart attack, though."
David fished a wallet out of the corpse's pants. "Andy Watkins, age 28. Local."
"Yeah, and the guy doing the pee-pee dance over there at the door is Michael Szilow," Brass said, reading from his notebook. The four of them looked over at a short, husky man wearing quasi-cowboy gear and a long brown coat. With his hands shoved deep in the coat's pockets, he kept flapping the coat back and forth like a large, ungainly bat. "Apparently Mr. Watkins was in charge of this shindig, officially known as VivaConVegas, and Mr. Szilow is his second-in-command. Szilow said that Watkins slipped out of con ops, whatever the hell that is, about a half hour ago to 'take a break.' Next thing he knows, some guy in here is screaming like a little girl and Szilow's glorious leader is dead on the floor."
Ray gently pulled up the corpse's right sleeve, peering underneath. "David," he murmured. "Remember what you said about no blood loss?"
"You might want to rethink that statement."
He rolled the sleeve up, exposing the DB's inner elbow. A small adhesive bandage held a piece of gauze on the skin.
Ray looked up at Brass. "We might need that luminol, after all."
"I already told you what happened," Michael Szilow said, hunching his shoulders. "Once I heard the screaming from the dealer's room, I ran over there and found Andy on the floor."
"Yeah, so you said," Brass replied, leaning back in the conference chair. While Nick was photographing the body and processing evidence, the Homicide captain and Langston had escorted Szilow back to the small meeting room the convention used as its base of operations. "It just seems a little weird that a 28-year-old guy would drop dead like that, you know?"
"I guess," Szilow said, looking green. "That was the first time I ever saw a real dead body. They look different from the ones on TV."
Brass smirked. "Yeah -- the TV ones tend to breathe at the wrong time."
Ray pursed his lips to mask a smile. "Did Andy have any sort of medical issues -- heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes?" he asked.
The other man shrugged. "I dunno. Although from the way the sonofabitch screamed at everyone, I guess he could've stroked out or something."
Brass's eyebrows went up. "Oh?"
This time, Szilow went pale. "Look, Andy was an asshole, ask anyone," he stammered. "He ran VivaConVegas like it was his own personal fiefdom -- he'd hand out the cool jobs to people who sucked up to him, and stick everyone else with the crap stuff. We've already gone through three different programming heads this year because he kept rearranging schedules to 'keep things hopping.'"
"What the hell are you doing? You can't put the Twilight panel opposite the masquerade!" Andy yelled at a plump woman with short brown hair and glasses. "Stick it in the B room on Friday at 5."
"I can't," she protested, waving a spreadsheet heavily marked in red ink. "Pat Elrod and Rachel Caine won't be here until 7:00 PM on Friday, and the slot opposite the masquerade is the only time I can get the rest of the vampire authors in one place at the same time."
Andy snorted. "Screw them -- they'll stick to our schedule and they'll like it, or they can walk. Most of them are locals anyway -- they should be grateful I'm not making them buy a membership to be here."
The programming head gave him a filthy look as he stalked off. "I hope Pat cuts out your liver and serves it with fava beans and a nice Chianti," she muttered.
"I heard that!"
"Sounds like a difficult guy to work with," Brass said.
"He was a dick," Szilow said. "But he had tons of publishing contacts, plus he pumped a lot of his own cash into the con, so we had to suck it up and keep him around. You have no idea how expensive it is to run a con these days -- you can't just rent some meeting rooms, throw together a couple of panels and put out sandwiches in the con suite anymore. You've got to pay for the GOH's airfare, room and board, then you have an Anime room, plus a kids' track, and if you're holding a masquerade you've got to pay the hotel to use their sound system. God forbid you get a media guest -- that's a couple of grand right there. And don't get me started on corkage fees."
"My heart bleeds," Brass said dryly. "So you're saying Andy wasn't about to win VivaConVegas's Mr. Congeniality award."
Szilow gave him a resigned look. "You don't know local fandom very well, do you? Look, even Andy's own sister can't stand him, and he's the only family she has left," He bit his lip. "Had left. Their parents died a couple of years ago in a car accident. Andy got everything in the will -- I guess they figured he'd split it with Agatha, but he never did. That's how he funds the con. And believe me, Agatha was seriously pissed about that."
"Really? I don't suppose she was at the con today?"
"Agatha?" Szilow snorted. "Not gorram likely. We're too geeky for her tastes these days."
Brass's brow furrowed. "'Gorram'?"
Ray had a sudden vision of Szilow describing the television show FIREFLY to the Homicide captain, and winced. "I'll explain it later," he murmured to Brass. "Mr. Szilow, are there any other places where Mr. Watkins might have gone between leaving here and showing up in the dealer's room?"
The concom member frowned. "He said he needed a pick-me-up -- I figured he was going to the Green Room to get something to eat."
"Not the Con suite?"
Brass flicked a glance at the CSI that said Okay, buddy boy -- later on you WILL tell me how you know all this stuff.
Szilow shook his head. "Andy wouldn't be seen dead in the Con suite -- he called it the cattle pen. Besides, he liked hanging out with the guests."
"So, where would we find the Green Room?"
"Over by main programming. Just, please, don't scare any of the guests, okay?"
Brass rolled his eyes. "He's worried about us scaring them?"
Nick strolled past a Wookie and a slightly over-the-hill Princess Leia holding hands. Archie should be here -- he'd seriously love this. David and the DB were on their way to Doc Robbins, Brass and Ray were off talking to that weird guy in the long brown coat, and things seemed to be getting back to business in the dealer's room.
There'd been no evidence of foul play on the body, apart from the fact that it was a body and had a fresh needle mark in its arm. He'd dusted the bandage surface for prints, but nothing came up. Surface lifts of the man's shirt and pants turned out to be equally clean. Whatever happened to the vic, it had to be connected to the injection mark on his arm.
A nearby women's room door opened and two teenage girls, dressed in strategically positioned strips of white vinyl, gogo boots, and white furred cat ears dashed out. "Omigod, I can't believe they're showing Bleach -- that's, like, my favorite anime," one of them squealed, almost bumping into Nick. Two sets of huge teenage eyes turned up to him, and pooled with admiration.
"Oooh!" one girl cooed. "You're kawaii!"
Nick blinked. "Uh, thank you?" he said.
"And genki naisu bodi!" the other girl squealed. "Are you here for the con?"
"Ooh, I like your costume!" the first one said. "Are you cosplaying?"
He wasn't quite sure what language they were speaking -- it sounded like English. "I'm here on police business, ladies," he said with a polite smile. "So if you'll excuse me--"
Two more catgirls bounced out of the bathroom, spotted their friends flanking Nick, and pounced. "Oooh, moshi moshi!" they caroled, linking arms around him.
"Isn't he kawaii?"
The Texan stared at his pubescent captors. "Uh--"
"Wait -- can we get a picture with you?" the first catgirl pleaded.
"Onegai onegai onegai?"
Okay, I know they were speaking English before. "I'm sorry?"
"Please?" they chorused.
Nick closed his eyes and sighed. Sometimes, the easiest way out was straight on through. "Yeah, sure, why not."
A passerby in a Rock-Scissors-Paper-Lizard-Spock t-shirt was snagged, a digital camera produced and its functions explained. The giggly teenagers gathered around Nick, two on each side. He smiled and tried to look kawaii, whatever that was.
"On three!" the catgirl leader said. "One, two, three!"
On cue, two girls grabbed a pec each, and the other two dropped to their knees and clutched his thighs, a little too close to the Stokes family jewels for comfort. Nick let out a strangled urk as the fan snapped the picture.
"Domo arigato gozaimasu!" the leader squealed, retrieving the camera and jumping up to kiss him on the cheek, before scampering away with her fellow felines. A bit breathless, Nick turned to see Szilow, Brass and Ray watching him.
He could feel his ears burn. "I can explain."
Brass held up a hand. "I just want a copy. For the lab."
"Man, don't even go there," Nick muttered, imagining Catherine's reaction to the catgirls. Or Archie's. Or, even worse, Greg's. "The vic's en route to the morgue -- I got a whole lot of nothing for evidence. What do y'all have?"
"We're retracing Watkin's path from con ops to the dealer's room," Ray explained as the group continued through the hotel, passing a series of meeting rooms and one large ballroom where it looked like some sort of SF-themed bellydancing rehearsal was going on. Nick stalled a bit, enjoying the view before Ray cleared his throat and nodded meaningfully at the other men.
Grinning, the Texan followed. "Sci-fi geeks have seriously changed since I was in high school," he murmured to the other CSI. "I remember this one kid in my class who was into Star Wars -- he couldn't have gotten a date if he paid for it."
"Fandom's grown up," Ray said. "It's not just for nerds anymore."
Just past the ballroom, Szilow stopped in front of a nondescript door. "This is the Green Room," he said. "Bev's usually on duty, so--"
A crackling noise came from his pocket, and he fumbled out a two-way radio. "Mike, you there?" the CSIs heard.
Glancing nervously at Brass, Szilow pressed the TALK button. "Not a good time, Lee."
"Screw that. Our illustrious GOH apparently finished the bottle of scotch in his room and is wandering around the lobby hitting on anything with a hole and a pulse," the crackly voice said. "If we don't pull him in, someone's gonna call the cops."
Szilow groaned. "Dong ma. I'm on my way." He turned pleading eyes on the CSIs. "Look, I've got to stop our guest of honor from getting arrested -- can I go?"
"Go," Brass sighed. The husky man turned and ran off, coat flapping in his wake. "Doc, you seem to be the local expert -- wanna do the honors?"
Ray nodded and opened the Green Room door. A plump older blonde woman in a purple salwar kameez looked up as they came in. "I'm sorry -- this area is for guests only," she said pleasantly.
Brass tapped his badge. "I'm a VIP, and this is my entourage. Are you Bev Helman?"
"Yes. Oh, dear." She touched her fingers to her mouth. "Is this about Andy?"
"I'm afraid so," Ray said. "Did he come in here earlier for something to eat or drink?"
The woman frowned. "Well, he came in, but I think it was more for privacy than anything else."
"Yes. He had Agatha -- his sister -- with him. They were arguing about money again."
"Oh, really?" Brass said. "We were told she didn't like coming to this sort of thing."
"Well, not anymore, after her weight loss surgery," Bev sniffed. "Now she thinks she's too good for fandom. Anyway, she followed Andy in, and they started yelling at each other. There weren't any guests here at the time, so I took off." She shook her head. "I've heard those two screeching at each other about their parents' estate for the last two years -- I didn't need to hear it again."
"Uh-huh." The Homicide captain pulled out his cell phone and punched a button. "Yeah, this is Brass," he said after a moment. "Look up the address of an Agatha Watkins, then send a couple of uniforms over there to pick her up. We need to have a chat about her dear departed brother."