Chapter 1 - Crown her with flowers and make her all your joy
Summer was in full swing, the heat and humidity bearing down on the city like a thick, heavy blanket even at this time of day. For a moment, as she stepped out of the courthouse, Detective Stella Bonasera wished it wasn't considered unprofessional to wear something short and sleeveless while on the witness stand. Not that it would be any more appropriate to wear to a crime scene - at least the short part; sleeveless she could get away with - but it would be much cooler than her suit.
Brushing past the small crowd that had congregated on the courthouse steps, she headed straight to her SUV, where she cranked the air conditioning as high as it could go and peeled off her jacket. It was stifling hot inside, but even the lukewarm air coming from the vents was an improvement over outside. And, she reminded herself, the sooner she returned to the lab the sooner she'd be out of the heat and could grab something to eat since she'd skipped breakfast. Never had she more looked forward to paperwork. Her entire morning was free since her testimony hadn't taken nearly as long as anticipated.
The shrill ring of her cell phone filled the Avalanche just as she was about to pull out into traffic, not even five minutes after she'd turned it back on while leaving the courtroom. With a sigh, knowing she wouldn't be returning to the lab anytime soon, she fished it out of her pocket.
"It's Mac. Meet us at Central Park. Flack has a body for us in the Ramble."
Flack reached the end of the path just as Mac and Monroe were unloading their kits from their Avalanche. Another SUV - it looked like Stella was driving - pulled up behind it as they made their way over. Flack waited for her to join them before filling them in on the case, in part to be polite, but also to catch his breath - mentally vowing to increase his trips to the gym. Of course someone ihad/i to leave a body in the Ramble of all places. The walk to where they'd been told to park may have only been a quarter mile, but he'd walked it more times in this heat than he wanted to count so far. He felt a little sorry for Sid's assistants when it came time for them to remove the body; the path was long and anything but smooth. Brushing sweat from his forehead and very thankful he'd left his jacket in his car, he gave them what he knew so far while he led them to the scene.
"What have we got?" Mac asked as they followed him.
"Oh, you're going to love this. Apparently," he began, gesturing to the path in front of them, "someone threw a party in the Ramble, with Oberon and Titania on the guest list. Only Titania didn't make it back to Fairyland."
"Wow, Flack. Shakespeare. Do you always pull that out to impress people?" Monroe teased him.
"C'mon Monroe. Didn't everyone have to read A Midsummer Night's Dream for class at some point?"
"Oh, so you didn't read it on your own?" She grinned at him as she continued, "I'm crushed."
He shook his head with a smirk of his own. Monroe knew full well that he'd only just reread the play last fall. She'd spotted it while he was in the break room waiting for some results on a case. It had turned into a surprisingly long discussion about the play. Reading was something he'd picked up again after the bombing, a necessity upon realizing that even he could only watch so much Sports Center. And no one was ever going to know about his brief addiction to Daytime TV.
He glanced back over his shoulder to where Mac and Stella were following. They were deep in discussion about something - most likely her court case this morning. He was actually rather surprised to see her; from what she'd said yesterday, it had sounded like she would be in court all day. He wondered if her getting out earlier than planned was a good thing or a bad thing.
"So, why the hike?"
"Hm?" He turned back to Monroe.
"Why the hike to the scene? With other cases here we've been able to drive right up."
"It seems that the conservancy put in new sod. Thanks to the heat and lack of rain, they're worried about it getting ruined if anyone drives over it."
"Their grass is more important than a murder?" He glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow at the incredulous look on her face. "Right. The Chief doesn't want to annoy the Conservancy who'll go to the Mayor's office who'll say something to the Commissioner who'll take it back to the Chief. Politics."
"Got it in one. Which means we get our exercise," he said as they reached the urban forest that made up the Ramble.
A swarm of uniformed officers moved in and out of the trees, securing the crime scene. He nodded at Jenkins and Russ, who were at the trailhead, as he led the CSIs further down the path. There, in a small clearing deep within the Ramble, trees were covered with tiny, bright fairy lights. Garlands of sheer pastel fabrics were draped on the trees and a decorated flower arbor found at the far end. A picnic table, liberated from another area of the park, most likely, was set with the remains of a rather remarkable feast: several platters of hors d'oeuvres, some small finger sandwiches, fruit trays, and, of all things, a chocolate fondue fountain - still running - that had attracted the attention of some of the local wildlife. Another table was set nearby covered with liquor, beer, wine, and champagne bottles.
But the main attraction was off to the side, by the gaudily and grotesquely decorated garden arbor. Flack wrinkled his nose as he glanced at it before looking to the ground, where the body of a young woman lay sprawled in the grass. She was wearing what had to be a costume - a dark pink medieval-style dress with, of all things, matching translucent wings on her back. A circlet of roses lay nearby, ribbons attached to it matching those in her blond hair. A fairy princess even in death.
"Is that a dead fairy?" Stella asked, staring at the body.
Flack nodded. "So, one of the Park Services guys came out this morning and got all curious about why there were extension cords running here into the woods. Some of those big, orange heavy duty cords that aren't hard to miss and definitely hadn't been here yesterday." He pointed at the cords in question as he continued. "So he follows them here and boom. Dead fairy. Called 911 and here we are. He's over there, talking with Officer Wilson."
Mac, kneeling near the body to get a better look, glanced over at Flack. "Boom? You really have been around Danny too much. Any ID?"
"Nope. Titania is officially a Jane Doe. Guy who found her said she looks familiar, but he doesn't know who she is."
"He's right," Stella said, looking at the vic's face. "She does seem familiar. I don't know where, but I've seen her around before."
Mac nodded, filing away that information. "Lindsay, you get pictures," he said. "Stella if you don't mind starting with the table, I'll take the body."
"Fine, but you owe me one," Stella said as she opened the kit they'd brought for her. She may have been hungry earlier, but the sight off all that food, sitting out all night and covered with bugs, just made her stomach churn.
"And I'll go talk with our witness, Mr. Scott. See if he has anything else for us," Flack said, pulling out and flipping through his notebook. "Though as far as information goes, he doesn't have much. He 'just found the body'." He made air quotes with his fingers as he repeated what the witness told him.
After he left, a uniformed officer with mocha skin and curly hair pulled back in a bun joined them to help keep an eye on the scene. This was hardly an ideal location for keeping the crime scene secure, Stella thought to herself. Anyone familiar with the urban forest or with a good sense of direction could make their way in through the trees. Add in the fact that it was an election year, and the mayor had been touting how Central Park had been cleaned up, it wasn't that surprising there were officers all over the place. Or that Flack had sent Wilson to watch their backs.
A nod from Lindsay, and Stella started processing the tables while the other CSI started taking pictures of the body and surrounding area for Mac. There were napkins, cups, and plates everywhere - whoever had had the foresight to bring the picnic table hadn't thought to grab a trashcan as well - making her job both easier and harder. There had been a lot of people at this party from the looks of it, and there was a lot of evidence to examine, but there would be plenty of DNA and fingerprints to sift through as well. And Stella always preferred more to less.
"Huh," she said lifting one of the cocktail plates the partiers had been using. It looked like china - she even recognized the pattern from her last trip through Barneys - but it was plastic, like the high-end stuff used at outdoor weddings. Holding it up for Lindsay and Mac to see, she rapped her knuckles against the plate.
"Plastic?" Lindsay asked with a frown, recognizing the pattern as well. "Who goes to the trouble of getting such realistic plastic plates just for a picnic?"
"Someone with money to spare," Wilson muttered under her breath. She then looked embarrassed, a blush crossing her dark cheeks, when all three of the CSIs turned to look at her. "Sorry, detectives, I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Whoever threw this party," Mac said, bagging a piece of evidence near the body, "did a lot of planning. And someone had access to drugs." He held up the bag, showing a small square of paper.
"A drug party? Why go to the extremes with the decorations?" Stella asked. "And these aren't cheap plastic plates; they're based on a Dibbern pattern - we're talking real bone china with gold leaf, and while these may be plastic, they had to have come with a designer price as well. Same with the champagne flutes - they're identical to a set I've seen before."
"One of the Kim Seybert's collections," Lindsay provided. "They were on display with the plates at Barney's last month. Absolutely beautiful together, but just one full place setting cost more than my first car." Catching Mac's look, she continued, "They went on my million dollar list."
Wilson opened her mouth as if to say something, then promptly shut it again. Glancing at the decorations around the clearing, she looked back to see all three CSIs watching her.
"Go on," Mac said, studying her intently as Flack rejoined them.
"I don't know about the plates or flowers or the rest of it, but that fabric isn't cheap." She pointed at the garland decorating the clearing. "My mom's a seamstress, custom gowns and the like. And that, that stuff over there," she pointed as she spoke, "that's silk organza, taffeta, and possibly, I didn't get a good look, some tulle over there."
"Silk organza can easily set you back at least $15 a yard," Lindsay said.
"From what I've seen of some of it, this is the good stuff, which can easily run double or triple that price. Figure in the amount of fabric and there could easily be several hundred dollars' worth of fabrics up there." She shrugged, uncertain of herself, then continued. "Another thing- I may be wrong, but I think that dress might be custom made."
"You think so?" Mac asked, not looking up from his observation of the body.
"I think..." She paused, nervously plucking at her uniform sleeve. "That fabric is too high quality, and the fit is too good for it to be off the rack, you know? It just reminds me of something my mother would make for one of her clients."
"Good observation. Some of these seams look hand-stitched. With a costume as unique as this, we may be able to ID our Jane Doe through her tailor."
Wilson nodded, eyes wide, before heading back in the direction Flack had returned from.
"You certainly made her day," he said as he joined them in the clearing.
"She did possibly save us valuable time," Mac carefully pointed out as he placed bags over the victim's hands. "Now we have information that we may not have determined until we started examining the evidence in the lab."
Monroe had finished with her pictures and was helping Stella process the table, Flack noticed. "You know she's taking night classes, finishing her bachelors in chemistry or something else science-y."
Mac looked up, eyebrow raised. "No, I didn't know, and I'm impressed you did."
"Hey, I like to know who I'm working with." He shrugged as he said that, ignoring Lindsay's snort behind him. He never should have congratulated her on getting her paper published. Otherwise she wouldn't have known he'd read every single one of the HR newsletters available while he was laid up. Or that he continued to read them each month when they came out.
"So." He changed the subject back to the task at hand. "What's the verdict? How'd Titania die?"
"There aren't any obvious wounds, though the dirt and grass on the dress, as well as the matted grass around her, suggest she may have been in a scuffle."
"Someone wrestled her to death? In that outfit?"
"No signs of strangulation or petechial hemorrhaging," Mac pointed out. "We'll have to wait for Sid to examine the body."
"Great." Stella sat back on her heels, looking over at them. "So how do you kill a fairy?"
"Iron," Mac said. "But that's not what killed her."