Chapter I

Late Day Early Night

Slim shafts of sunlight filtered into the room. The only movement in the room was that of the near-invisible dust-motes that danced in and out of the light. The living room was a maze of half-empty cardboard boxes and didn't appear to live up to it's name. It was the least lived in room of the apartment. The boxes, much like the woman whose possessions they held, had fallen into a sort of limbo. Six months had seen some unpacking, the necessities had made it to their proper places, but most of the boxes were untouched. The assorted books, knick-knacks, odds and ends would eventually find homes on shelves and walls. If one could ignore the boxes, which was nearly impossible, the rest of the apartment was neat as a pin. It was, however, the sort of tidiness that came from benign neglect and not a dedication to cleaning.

The apartment's resident hadn't taken the time to make the collection of rooms into a home yet. The walls were still a generic eggshell white the carpeting was a lackluster beige. There was no decoration or personal touches, the apartment could have belonged to anyone or no one. There was one glass in the sink and a twist-tied bread bag with two slices of bread on the counter. It was a spartan style of living that fitted many of the lifestyles and people that Las Vegas attracted. The empty bottle of tequila and two shot glasses on the coffee table were the only evidence that the living room had ever been inhabited.

The bedroom, in contrast, was the most lived in room of the apartment. Blackout curtains kept the room dim and dark and the building's air conditioning system kept it cool. This room held a little personality to it. The dresser and closet had clothes in them and a chair had a single outfit laid across it. An alarm clock, desk lamp and a thick hard-back book sat on one of the bedside tables. The other table held a chattering police scanner and two cell phones, both of them plugged into their respective chargers. While the dresser had several picture frames on it, the bedside table held only one. If the coca-skinned man in the picture knew about the honor he'd been given by the woman his arm was around, his wide smile and twinkling green eyes did not reveal it. The picture had been taken several years earlier when life hadn't been so complicated.

The bed was the centerpiece of the room, it was large and covered with sky blue sheets and a slate gray comforter. A woman, the apartment's sole occupant, was sprawled across the approximate middle of the bed. She lay flat on her back and was, from all appearances, dead to the world. Her arm, stretched out across the unused pillows, twitched and she mumbled incoherently. Though her sleep was deep, it was not pleasant. She was the woman from the picture on the bedside table, a few years older and far sadder. Her sleep, and the dark images that came with it, would come to an end soon. It always did, but Sara Sidle had long ago trained her body and mind to function on little to no sleep. Still, habit and training aside, three to four hours of sleep out of the last forty-eight was pushing it. She had overdone it, again, and needed more then a quick cat-nap to recover.

The distress code, practically screamed over the police band, did not wake her up. She didn't even twitch. A scant twenty minutes after the harried voices died down, one of the cellphones began to ring. It was her personal phone and the ring tone was the theme to the Ghostbusters. It hadn't been her personal choice, but Greg did enjoy playing with other people's phones. The song played through three times and then fell silent again. A minute passed, then two, before her department-issued cellphone rang. It's ring tone was shrill and basic, and it had the same effect on Sara as being doused with a bucket of water. Her eyes snapped open and her arm shot out the table. Her hand found the phone without groping and grasping around and she answered it in the middle of the second ring.

"Yeah?"

Her voice was rough, like she'd gargled with gravel, and she could already feel the jagged edges of a killer headache forming behind her eyes. She peeled her tongue off of the roof of her mouth and listened to what she was being told with every ounce of concentration she could muster.

"Uh huh."

Sara sat up and the sheet slid away to reveal bare skin. She ran her free hand through her dark hair and grimaced at the movement. She hadn't planned to drink quite so much and now regretted it. There were few times that alcohol and she tangled that she didn't regret. At the moment, though, she was especially regretting her decision. Captain Jim Brass was on the other end of the conversation, calling her in. She looked at the clock, it was a little after two pm. She had gone to bed somewhere around eleven in the am. Gone to bed, passed out, it had been something like that. She had to stop drinking tequila and running around with high-spirited blondes.

Had her friend gotten home okay? Sara smirked at her own foolishness. She was a grown woman and she had taken a cab. Of course she had arrived home safe, sound, and hopefully just as embarrassed and hung-over as Sara felt.

She slid around and put her feet on the floor. She leaned the phone against her shoulder and stood up. Her knees didn't wobble and she didn't fall down, that was good. She was only hung-over, not drunk anymore. The drowsy and slightly nauseated brunette walked out of the bedroom and into the hall, avoiding boxes as she moved. There was, as always, paper and a pen on the kitchen counter by the refrigerator and she scrawled down the necessary address between her grocery and to-do lists. Captain Brass ended the call with an apology, which she waved away casually. It wasn't Jim's fault she hadn't slept. Just as it wasn't her fault that both Days and Swing were overloaded and already maxed out on overtime. It wasn't their fault that someone had started their day off with a bloody murder, but it was their responsibility to investigate it.

It was far too early and she was way too hung over to be so damn philosophical. It was probably one of the nasty little habits she had picked up from her brief and disastrous relationship with Gil Grissom.

Ugh, now that was something she really wanted to dwell on. Disgusted with herself and feet dragging across the ugly carpet, Sara headed towards the shower. She bit back a curse when she stubbed her bare toe against a box. It was going to be a long day.

Her shower, scalding hot then ice cold, shocked Sara into full consciousness. Her headache also eased a little, though she would pop a couple of Extra Strength Tylenol to finish the job. She dressed quickly in jeans and a black tank top and once again thanked her lucky stars that the lab's dress code was practically non-existent. She finger-combed anti-frizz serum through her once again shoulder length hair and pulled it into a pony-tail. A quick check in the mirror told her that she looked decent, and that was all she could hope for. Early roll outs didn't make for high fashion. Sara dodged half a dozen boxes,, and once again swore to finish unpacking soon. She collected her keys and other necessities, headed out the door and promised herself Starbucks on the way.

Her Honda, a car that had served her well since she'd bought it over a decade ago in San Francisco, was in the shop. The transmission, the original factory build, had died a long, drawn out and expensive death. So while the boys of Sin City Transmission worked their magic, she had signed out a Tahoe for take-home. It was a gas hog, handled like a barge and she couldn't get the radio to play anything but Nick's Country music, but it did have a cup holder and air-conditioning so it wasn't all bad.

The address was north of the interstate and east of the strip, which put it squarely in the worst part of town. North East Vegas was rough territory: ask any native and they would tell you to avoid the area like the plague. Thugs and bangers called it's narrow streets and twisting alleys home. Drug dealers and strung out hookers haunted it's corners and only the most foolish tourists ended up there. It was a high crime, low income, nest of criminals and those too poor or disillusioned to escape it. Sara had spent far too many hours working the North East Vegas beat. Today's 419 was just another drop in an overflowing bucket.

Only forty-three minutes after Brass's call had jerked her awake Sara saw the blue lights and yellow tape that told her that she had arrived at the scene. CSIs, even those who rushed to the scene like she had, were never the first to arrive. She was used to seeing a couple of patrol cars waiting on her. Sara's hand clenched around the steering wheel and the coffee she'd enjoyed soured on her stomach. An army's worth of patrol cars, at least one from each precinct and county and highway patrol, were parked on the block. There were far too many cops present for it to be another run-of-the-mill gang shooting.

Her heart jumped in her throat at the implications and despite the pleasant temperature in the vehicle her skin broke out in goosebumps.

Not again.

A cold sweat broke out on her back and she swallowed bile. Jim hadn't said that it had been an Officer Involved Shooting or that an Officer was down or God forbid another fallen in the line of duty. There had been far too many officers fall in the line of duty over the past year.

Sara parked the Tahoe and mentally prepared herself for what was about to come. Her long day had just gotten longer, but it didn't matter. She wouldn't stop until this crime was solved, period. She cut the engine and opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk. The first thing to hit her was, like always, the heat. A sluggish breeze stirred the air and while it did nothing to help with the heat it brought the scents of the crime scene with it. Sara smelled bubbling asphalt tar, the exhaust fumes from a dozen police vehicles, the sickening rot of overflowing garbage cans and the coppery tang of fresh blood. She walked around the Tahoe and pulled her kit out of the trunk. She knew that it was fully stocked and had a feeling that she would need everything in it. When you could smell a scene before you could see it, it wasn't going to be pretty.

Fluorescent yellow crime scene tape roped off the area and at least twenty cops, both on duty and off, stood on both sides of the perimeter. She looked around and spotted several unmarked sedans, some of them belonged to officers and others would belong to the press. It never surprised her when reporters beat her to a crime. Reporters were a sly, well connected and ruthless group that, in her experience, stopped at nothing to get the story they wanted. She knew the officers, loyal to a fault, held them at bay far away and gave them absolutely nothing. Corruption was a problem in Vegas, but when it came to one of their own the blue line would hold. One of the uniforms, she knew him by face but not name, lifted up the tape for her to pass under it. She offered him a small smile but was met with only a stern and stoic face. That's all Sara needed to see to confirm the seriousness of the situation.

The house, crime scene, was unassuming. Despite the heavy police presence it actually looked peaceful from the outside. It was neither in better or worse shape then the others of the neighborhood. It was a small ranch-styled house that looked like it had been built in the sixties and had only been given the absolute minimum amount of care. The paint was dull, faded and peeling in several places. The roof of the garage sagged and the short driveway was pitted, cracked and oil-stained. The only visible sign that someone lived there was the brand new cherry red corvette corvette that was parked in front of the garage. The car was definitely worth at least twice what the house was. That was an odd piece of information she tucked away for later consideration.

Captain Brass and Dr Robbins were waiting at the open front door. She pushed her sunglasses from her face and propped them on the top of her head and met Jim's gaze.

"How bad?"

Author's Note: Yeah, I'm still alive.