A/N: Do not own characters or CSI-just having fun. Here's a story that will move from Paris suburbs to the Las Vegas strip. Updates will be 5 to 7 days apart. Its murder, mystery, and of course, FLUFF!
Murder Without Guilt Chapter 1
Outside of Paris, a modest house, old but recently remodeled, near one of the small villages that managed to retain its old world appeal primarily because it was not located near a major highway or train station, lost its resident-owner, quietly, almost unnoticed, as the last breath slipped from the mouth of the home's occupant.
The first to notice the bright smear of blood was the housemaid—right above the keyhole on the front door. The color was as bright as poppies along the roadside in early spring, but today, it was too early for flowers and the color seemed richer, filled with dark crimson and violet—and it dripped. The maid, arriving at her usual time, pushed the door open and saw the second vivid red blotch on the cream colored carpet. She followed the trail from the door until she found the body. Except when she spoke on the phone, she referred to the body by name, saying the lady had fallen and needed assistance—a private ambulance, please.
The motorcycle policeman arrived next—faster because the local health service, the véhicules de premiers secours, was staffed by volunteers. By the time he checked the body, and he was well equipped to do so with equipment that included condensed versions of the latest life saving devices, he knew emergency responders would not be needed and placed a call to cancel their trip to the house on the outskirts of the village.
The maid, who had worked for this lady for a number of years, offered tea and information as needed; the family—a son and daughter-in-law—were expected to arrive from Paris in the late afternoon. She made the sign of the cross as the policeman covered the older woman and said:
"Demain, c'est jour de son anniversaire," quietly and sorrowful adding an age of seventy-three.
The uniformed man noticed the shoes that had fallen away from the feet, high heels, not really appropriate foot wear for a woman in her seventies, especially with the cobblestone walk to the front door. He was the first to find the splotchy scarlet splatter on the walkway; he even noticed the mark made on the stone where it looked as if a heel had slipped. He called the local investigator for crime scenes; she was involved with another case and after trading questions and answers, the two decided an accidental death was probable unless something turned up to suggest otherwise. He covered the blooded cobblestones with a handmade tent, called an off-duty friend to bring a collection box to the scene, and placed another for a body pick-up vehicle.
He agreed with the housemaid; this was a sad situation, especially before the old lady's birthday, but not one that was unusual. Falls were often and in the old, tragic, especially when one wore shoes designed for young women. He drank the offered tea, ate sweet cakes the maid had brought in as she attempted to contact the traveling family. As there was rarely a hurry for a dead body, his friend arrived with the collection box and helped to pry up the stones, which they bagged and labeled, adding the shoes to another bag; the two men had completed their collection by the time a dark van arrived for the body.
Just as the first responder thought everything was going well, a new car pulled into the gravel driveway—one of those American-sized, expensive rentals, he thought. And he knew the son had arrived.
…Several months later in Las Vegas…
The elevator operated without a sound, silent doors sliding open revealing an expensively furnished foyer of an exclusive penthouse suite. Sara Sidle Grissom and Greg Sanders lifted their cases from the thick carpet, glanced at each other, and stepped out.
"It's bad," Nick Stokes said as he met the two arriving investigators. These three loved working together regardless of the blood, guts, gore, splatter, "no one has ever done this before" crime scenes; they worked as a fine tuned machine with the ability to know what needed to be done. Nick and Sara had been friends from the day she arrived in Vegas. He could flirt; she would tease, and he loved her as a sister—better than a sister he realized one day after his sister had visited. He would take Sara's company over any person he knew and the day she returned to work had been cause for him to sing all shift! As for Greg, Nick had to give the boy his rightful place on the team; a boy no longer, Greg had grown into a full-fledged investigator and sometime Nick had to shake himself to realize he was not listening to Grissom when Greg went on and on about some trivial topic he knew too much about and relished in sharing it with everyone at the table.
"Wife returned from dinner to find him like this…" Nick stepped aside so the two could see the crime scene.
What was left of a very large man was bound and tied to an expensive chair in the center of the palatial room, top floor of one of the most expensive resorts in Vegas. Only those willing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars stayed here. This one would probably be empty for a while based on the amount of gore clinging to the windows, drapes, furniture, and slopped around on the carpet surrounding the body.
Somewhere, in another part of the suite, Sara could hear the quiet moaning cries of a woman—the wife she guessed. They circled the blood pool, taking in the numerous cuts inflicted on the body, some so shallow to be no more than a cat scratch, others deep through layers of fat and muscle exposing organs and bone; a few were gouges where pieces of tissue had been cut away and flicked toward a window—almost mocking the victim that all those people along the Strip could not help him. The man's face had been cut beyond recognition—his bottom lip had been sliced and pulled below his chin, his nose had been split from its bulbous tip to between his eyes—or the sockets where his eyes should have been.
"Here's an eye," Greg said, stooping to place a marker beside the slick ball at his feet. "Looks like it might have hit the window first."
Sara was swallowing and trying to hold a tight grin across her face. The smell wasn't so bad—the room was cold—but the sight of pooled and coagulated blood was almost making her nauseous, or the sight of this man cut to ribbons, held to a chair by gray duct tape and long plastic snap ties that had cut deep into his flesh at wrists and elbows. She dug into her vest for a wafer—a small salty cracker that had helped her several days before. She did not want to throw up, not here, not with Nick and Greg standing over her shoulder. She moved farther away from the body and found an air vent blowing cool air. She lifted her face and took a deep breath.
Below the metal vent was a glob of bloody pink, triangle in shape; she nearly retched as she realized it was human flesh. She managed to speak, "Here—looks like tissue." She placed another cracker in her mouth and brought her camera to her face. She was fifteen feet from the body.
Greg's next question of "Who is this guy?" brought Jim Brass into their circle—even Brass wore protective booties on his shoes.
A whale, he said. Rich, very rich, owner of hotels in New York City, Chicago, Miami, Denver, San Francisco, and part owner of hotels around the world—family money traced back to his grandfather. Las Vegas casinos knew the guy; the shops knew his wife. They had been in Vegas for two days with the dead guy at one of the exclusive blackjack tables until six hours ago.
"I've got surveillance tapes coming—only in the elevators in this part of the place." Brass nodded toward the closed door. "The wife is in there—had dinner with her friends. Came back to this." He circled the body. "Somebody didn't like this guy, but how do you get twenty floors high to do this kind of job and then disappear?"
Everyone looked at the carnage as they tried to make sense of what met their eyes. Obviously the man had been tortured for some time; his clothes were shredded by cuts and clotted with blood. In the pool of blood near the chair were two knives and a box cutter. Farther away were shoes, a pair of boots, a pair of loafers—Greg made a guess that neither pair belonged to the dead man.
"So whoever killed him left their shoes?" Sara questioned even though she knew the answer. The boots and loafers were cheap shoes. She turned a complete circle. "Is there any other way out of here? Where's the stairs—fire escape?"
Nick had remained in one place, knuckles tucked on his hips, feet apart. "Okay, who wants in and who wants out? Balcony, staircase or in here."
Quickly, Sara volunteered. "Stairs, balcony, please."
Nick nodded and the three went to work gathering evidence. Dead was dead regardless of money or fame or family or place, Sara thought as she opened a large sliding door to a spacious balcony. Her instinct told her the murderers had escaped by staircase—the shoes pointed to at least two people—so the balcony search would be quick and easy, and provide a breath of fresh air she desperately needed.
Spring time in Vegas lasted a few days at best and the heat closed in as she stepped outside. Lights illuminated the balcony area as a stage in a theater; chairs, tables and sofas appeared as props on the set. Sara walked, shining the intense beam of her flashlight on cushions, edges of tables, looking for anything that might have come from inside the lavish suite. Her eyes almost missed the area on a banister post—a small scraping of a painted edge. She looked down to see balconies on every floor cascading below her. She turned back to the brightly lighted rooms to see David Phillips and two other men in coveralls working on the body. As she watched, one hand of the dead man twisted in an odd turn. She blinked twice as she realized the hand was almost disarticulated at the wrist. Nick and Greg caught her eye and she waved for them to join her.
"Look at this," she said as she pointed to the exposed half-inch area of concrete on the post, the only one missing any paint.
Nick did as she had done and peered over the balcony railing. "You thinking they went over the side?" He whistled. "Man, that's a long way down."
"Not to another balcony," Sara said. "Just high."
The hotel manager was reluctant to open its rooms but had no choice when electronic key cards and camera tapes showed no one exiting the murder suite—only the wife left and returned. There was no signal sent from the fire doors which opened to the staircase. Nick, Greg, and Sara continued documenting and collecting while Brass left to work with the hotel staff to check rooms. The wife, surrounded by hotel staff and at least two policewomen, moved to another floor.
Nick tweezed a blood soaked fiber from a sofa. "This is more parts and pieces than I've ever seen from a body."
"Wood chipper guy." Sara replied. "He was in more pieces."
Nick chuckled. "That was a whole body—this is just pieces and we still have a body."
Hours later, exhausted, sweaty, with evidence bags filled with blood, bone, tissue, fibers, hair, and miscellaneous bits and pieces, the three crime scene investigators heard Brass as the elevator opened.
"You guys finished up here?" He walked into the middle of the room shaking his head. "No one below us looks to be capable of swinging from this balcony to another—at least no one who is in the rooms." He glanced at the stack of evidence. "Are you up to checking balconies?"
Greg grimaced, Nick wiped his face, and Sara let out a loud sigh.
"Can we eat first?" Greg asked.
They did eat. The hotel manager kept them out of sight by bringing sandwiches to an unused meeting room. He also brought names of guests, a blueprint of the building, and more tapes from elevators and hallways. Sara nibbled at an apple. She needed to eat but her stomach was not cooperating. No one noticed that she played with half of a sandwich, ate a few chips, and threw away most of the apple.
The sun came up in front of them as their search of balconies continued into the morning. They found nothing probative—nothing on railings, dozens of different fibers that probably came from hotel towels, no guest reported any suspicious activity.
"What if they parachuted off the building?" Greg asked as he rubbed fingers over his eyes.
Nick shrugged, "Good idea, but you can't parachute onto a balcony—I don't think you can, anyway. Besides, someone would have seen that kind of activity." He had knelt to examine a corner of a chaise lounge where paint was missing. "Have we found anything? Heard anything from Brass or Catherine?"
A/N: Leave a review so we know who reads this one-thanks!