AUTHOR: Elizabeth E. Carter
TITLE: Snuff Rerun
PAIRING: Sara / Catherine
SPOILERS: Snuff (and the commentary that went with the episode)
Written for the Femslash Advent Calendar 2006: The Dog Days of Summer
Date in Calendar: 14 June 2006
It’s been said New York is the city that never sleeps, but it could be said for the City of Sin as well. Las Vegas never sleeps. From dawn to dusk and back again to dawn the city glitters in gaudy neon lights sparkling like costume jewelry, snatching the brilliance of the stars. Las Vegas pulses and throbs with life. The Mirage’s large billboard marquee proclaiming Siegfried and Roy, Camelot, Caesar’s Palace, the Luxor with its cartoonish sphinx, the Stratosphere and mock Eiffel tower litter the skyline in its eyesore grandeur.
Modern architecture defeating and sometimes defiling nature, beating back the wasteland of a desert. The glittering lights can make the wide eyed tourist and compulsive gambler almost forget about the 104 temperatures. Excitement for the tourist ends on the Strip, off Strip life is not as glittery. The urban sprawl where people live, work, go to school, die is nearly none existent to the visitors.
For CSI it’s a whole other story, not just a new story but a whole set of unabridged sagas the tourist never reads. The Teacher’s edition of Vegas life is something they don’t want to know exists. Stories about the people who are forgotten, the ones who get pushed aside and used are not tales the tourist trade wants known.
Urban legends like a scuba diver in a tree are not uncommon for the Graveyard shift of CSI. It was this sort of story that started the working day or rather working night for Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows. They had answered Dispatch’s call of a 404 - unknown trouble - at a film developer’s business past the north end of the Strip.
It was difficult to say what the film processors had uncovered it could be anything from a UFO sighting near Nellist Air Force Base, some sort of theft to homicide. The portly black woman a film processor named Niecy Nash had keyed up the film the two ranking CSI’s were now watching. So far nothing either CSI could see ranked as anything worse than badly acted and directed porn.
They were watching a slightly graining man rise from his hard ride on the woman, who was still ‘writhing’ on the bed, when Niecy spoke. “Okay, this is where it got weird.”
On the screen they witnessed the man yank the woman off of the bed by the wrist. He holds her up close, his back to the camera. He pulls a knife. The woman struggles to get out of his grip. This doesn’t seem to be a part of the script, the woman is clearly panicking when the blade is put to her neck. She screams out, struggling against her capture.
“Don't ...” Jane Doe wails.
Blade-man pulls the knife across Jane Doe’s neck, blood spatters everywhere, in such a fashion that Quentin Tarantino would have liked. Jane Doe is clearly struggling to breathe, then falls to the floor and out of camera frame. Catherine gave no hint to being affected by the film. Grissom gave more of a facial expression to his disgust but you had to know him to actually see it.
Niecy reacted to the non-reaction to the investigators. “I've processed hundreds of bogus snuff films. But this, this one just felt different,” she said feeling the need to justify her call.
For a moment Catherine closed her eyes, the poker face slipping just a little. She knew the truth of what she had just seen. “Yeah, it should. Arterial spray was real.” Her voice betrayed her disgust.
Grim faced, Grissom watched as the blood dribbled slowly downward on camera lens. His voice just as grim as his expression: “It's not fake blood. It's human. That was a murder ... on sixteen millimeter.” He drew in a deep breath as he moved to his kit taking out a pair of latex gloves so he could handle the film. “Has this pornographer sent you film to be developed in the past?”
The Film Processor nodded her head with almost a slight shrug to indicate her confusion. Hadn’t she just said she had processed hundreds of snuff films? “I'm sure he has. We get raw film from hundreds of adult film companies. No names, just those private boxes. You can film porn, develop it, sell it, buy it but you can't send it through the U.S. Mail.”
Catherine had moved from Grissom’s side to a countertop her own hands covered in latex gloves as she rooted through stacks of paperwork. “I've got several envelopes here from various private shipping companies.”
”We'll be taking those with us as well.” Grissom stated in a no-nonsense-voice.
”Whatever,” came his answer from the processor watching as the investigators started their task of harvesting evidence and placing their found treasures into evidence bindles. She wanted nothing more to do with murder; she had done her civic duty and called the police.
She watched the graying supervisor for a moment longer as he reached for his ringing phone. Catherine had paused in her own work waiting to see what was going on. She had a feeling that Grissom was about to trade up on cases.
Even from where she was standing she could hear Brass announce himself. Grissom had the receiver on high and Catherine knew it had to do with his fading hearing. The hearing loss suffered by her long time friend and boss was a growing concern of hers something to bring up on another time. Whenever that time came she would be there for him, just as he was there during her separation and divorce from Eddie.
”I got a D.B. Out on Henderson Road.” Catherine heard Brass say.
“I'm already on a case.” Grissom looked to the blonde now standing at his side as if he was contemplating on sending her out to the dour detective.
“Yeah, well, reconsider. I mean, these ants came flying out of the body. They're taking chunks out of the coroner. The CSI day guy says he's not going near the body again!”
“They're fire ants, Brass. Keep everyone away from the colony. They're evidence.” Grissom was clearly becoming excited as he was nervous. Fire ant bites in great quantities could kill a person. The poisons were enough to send even the healthiest person into convulsions, and stir them into desperate actions.
Catherine could just see Brass and whoever else was with them desperately trying to get the ants off themselves. Bugs being involved meant she wouldn’t be yanked from the case, Grissom would take it on himself.
“Reconsider. Bring bug spray.” Brass sounded grumpy either it was because Day CSI dropped the case or he was being eaten alive.
“No bug spray!” Grissom almost screeched. He turned to Catherine and gave a shrug as if to give an apology. “I’ve gotta take this.”
“Go. But give me someone.”
“I’ll see who is free; Warrick was doing some lab-work…”
“What about Sara, I want her.” She knew Sara would be far less sophomoric when it came to handling a case of a murdered porn star. That and Sara had a sharp mind, Catherine loved to arouse.
“She’s yours.” Grissom packed up his kit leaving the evidence in Catherine’s capable care.
A few moments later Catherine followed her supervisor out of the processing studio. There was little more she could do there without more leads. Tracking the shipping companies and tying the snuff film to the man in the film and its director was what lay before her now.
Sara came out of the Evidence locker carrying only a file to be placed on Grissom’s desk. It was a copy of the original documents that had been given to the DA.
“Finished the Arson case?” Catherine said coming from the other direction.
“Vic wasn’t so much of a vic as an accomplice. His Supplier started the fire with a Molotov cocktail using an old wine bottle and jet-fuel. My guy thought he could help his business from sinking in the mud if he helped the fire along a little using the lighter fluid in his ‘family heirloom’ lighter. It’s a slam dunk.”
“Good because you’re mine tonight.” Catherine informed the brunette. Blue eyes watched as a fragment of a smile slipped onto the younger woman’s face.
“Got plans for me?” She deliberately left an open door for the redheaded blonde to enter.
“Maybe later. I’ve got to meet with Homicide for a moment, see if you can’t lift prints off of this, and find any other details.” Catherine handed Sara some film, “Warrick is on it too, he’s going over the details with Archie they’ve already digitizing the film into the computer but I need your eyes on here too.”
Curious Sara looked at the silver round film container as if it might explode. “What is it, murder on sixteen millimeter?”
It didn’t surprise Catherine, Sara had repeated Grissom’s dry comment. She was after all a former student of Grissom, hand picked by the man to come to Vegas for the job left vacant by Holly Gibbs murder. Sara seemed to be a Grissom-in-the-making, both similarly obsessed with work, and obscure information. And Sara was as tactless with people as her mentor. Give her details, don’t give her people. Sara was a brilliant scientist but a novice with politics and bureaucracy.
“Snuff film, a porn-starlet been murdered. See what you can’t find I’ll be back to help you after I go meet up with homicide.”
Sara with film container in hand navigated through the glass warren of labs to one she knew would be free. For a moment she allowed herself the brief indulgence that Catherine had been flirting with her. Sidle shook her head, ‘no she’s like that with the guys too…’ a frown ‘...but never with me….she was flirting with me…. No I’m reading to much into it….’ Sara closed her dark eyes once then once more a smile fell on the lips as the proverbial flower had its last petal plucked, ‘she’s never been like that with any other female co-workers, she was flirting with me wanting to see if I’d pick up the trace clues she’s left behind.’
‘Focus Sidle there’s work to be done, flirt later.’
Willows met up with Detective Sulik who normally worked with the dayshift but he was on a rotation since Lockwood and O’Riley were out on Leave for another couple of days. The rotund balding blonde man might have been Brass ten –fifteen years ago, save for a few quirks.
Detective Dale Sulik had the personality of cold oatmeal but he was a good detective, detail orientated and by the book. “I followed up on the private mail depot for our snuff movie. The place has got over a thousand boxes no records of renters and they deal in cash only.”
“Dead trail.” Catherine said.
“I got Archie to digitize that film blow up a head shot of our victim.” Catherine handed the detective a photograph of the porno actress.
There wasn’t much of a facial expression from the man as he tried to digest the details in the photo. “I find any missing persons that match her description, I'll beep you.” His voice was as dry as the oatmeal his personality took after.
“Thanks, Sulik.” She watched him disappear before heading to the lab that contained Sara. Of course it would be in the back in the ‘drying-room’ Sara’s preferred lab. Catherine stopped at the threshold for a moment watching the tall brunette. She had always thought Sara had a quiet beauty, her mind was gorgeous and her silken voice something she would enjoy hearing purr in her ear. Deliberately shoving the idea of a relationship aside, Catherine decided to make her presence known.
Sara was standing near the table holding in one gloved hand a ream of film the other a magnifying glass, her concentration pouring into what she was doing so much so she didn’t seem to notice Catherine was there until the blonde spoke.
“Find any fingerprints?”
Sara paused and met Catherine’s eyes but only just, “I should be able to. Imaging components on a filmstrip are held together by gelatin. Same stuff that makes jell-o jiggle, but they're smudged. I can tell you that the film was manufactured in 2002 by a big company. Homicide's contacting them now to get a buyer's list.”
Catherine considered the younger woman’s comment it was a good start, but not in this case. She shook her curled locks of golden-red hair as she slipped on a pair of gloves “Won't help. Pornos buy ‘short ends’ from legitimate clearing houses. Saves money and they're impossible to trace.”
Sara was clearly impressed with the trivia knowledge. It wasn’t something she would have thought of. “Really?”
“I pulled a porno ring using teenage girls a couple years ago. Learned all you want to know about the adult entertainment industry.” Catherine explained as she picked up a film negative strip and looked at it through another magnifying glass. Frame by frame she saw the death flash by her as if on macabre flip cards found in Mad Comic magazine. “Hell of a way to go.”
For a moment Sara said nothing at all. She watched Catherine study the film stock before she spoke. “I always thought that snuff films were an urban myth. I mean, outside of urban Bangkok.”
Catherine was a little shocked by the Californian’s naiveté; she would never have guessed Sara had such a sheltered adult life. Putting down the film she spoke warmly, in a voice of a teacher not a smug co-worker because she knew more than the Harvard graduate.
“FBI's official position on snuff films in the U.S.A.? …. No such thing.”
“What's their unofficial position?” Sara’s voice lowered slightly in a conspiratorial tone.
“Single film goes for hundred grand ... original negative.” Catherine gathered the negative in her hand once more and continued to study each frame.
Sara’s voice was bordering on anger and bewilderment “And this snuff filmmaker decided to send his film out to get processed.”
“Greedy doesn't mean smart.”
The fact the government denied such horrific crimes told Sara they had no priority over porn becoming films of rape and murder. In her mind it seemed that the government wouldn’t do much more than what they already were until it was a man to be slaughtered in a snuff film.
Several hundred Ben Franklins meant more than some nameless girl in a cheap production porn-film. It was of the same philosophy as if she dressed skimpy she deserved it, she was begging for it or you can’t rape the willing, but they never mention coercion and ultimatums with the victim in the same breath. This girl, probably hard up for cash, agreed to be in a porno but the producer had preyed upon her desperation and snuffed out her life. She was dead and he was out free presumably making more porn, feeling smug he had gotten away with murder.
Audio-visual analysis was Warrick Browns forensic specialty. Catherine had been taken him in as a part of the case specifically for that reason. Even as Sara and Catherine were poring over the film stock by hand Warrick alongside Archie the resident lab-rat whose expertise laid in digital and audio analysis dissected the film footage via computer digitalization. This was done so that elements in the film could be enhanced and isolated for greater detail.
“Okay, all right, let's run this back again from the beginning. This time without the sound,” Warrick said not wanting to hear the grunting of the rutting male in the film or the moans of the girl that was soon going to die. More to the point Warrick needed to zero in on the visual rather than the audio elements of what he was seeing.
The young Asian’s hand zoomed the mouse, clicked on a few commands and the film rewound and the sound muted.
“All right.” Warrick said commanding Archie to stop at a certain frame.
Once more they reached the beginning of the film where Jane Doe was on the bed and Rutting-boy strutted into the room wearing a bathrobe. He shrugged off his garments….
“Stop.” Warrick nearly barked
Archie deftly punched a key on the computer’s keyboard and the film froze.
“Can you zoom in on his back?”
Archie nodded. He used the mouse command, boxed and enlarged a mark on the back of the man’s neck. The green box digitized the selected area and they saw a black dot on the neck.
“What is that? A mole?”
Archie nodded “Non-cancerous.”
Warrick cocked his head to his co-worker “You think?” he snorted “Too bad, the bastard” Archie took a cue from the tilt of Warrick’s head and the film resumed. “This room is like a dime a dozen it could be anywhere in Vegas. Between the drapes can you get any other detail outside of that window?”
Once more the young technician’s hand scrolled over the mouse commands, “Uh ... I'll reverse the polarization see if we can get any more information from this frame.”
Frame by frame clicked by and the pixels reformed themselves into a close up of a shape outside the window
“That looks like a blob outside of the window. It's spherical.” Warrick pointed to the screen. His aqua eyes squinted trying to make a shape out of the blob he was seeing.
Archie looked down at the keyboard, his fingers clicking away at the commands of the program, “Blow it up. Times ten.”
The shape formed into a clearer detail, Warrick gave a half-lopsided grin. “The Stratosphere Tower.” The smile contorted into a slight grimace “South face maybe?” he turned his attention back to Archie he said, “Using that Stratosphere Tower as a point of reference could you triangulate and pinpoint the street that this was filmed on?”
Archie’s own bronzed face contorted into a smile of satisfaction. Nodding, “I can.” He started to work on a different program using the still taken from the film he did just was Warrick wanted. At first it seemed to be a satellite capture of the city then as if a helicopter was flying over head the city street map flipped over and over targeting the locations likely to match the distance and height the building was from the Stratosphere.
It had taken four hours but Archie finally came up with an address that most likely fit the perimeters of the search. It was creeping past dawn already heading for seven in the morning.
Lanky limbed Warrick Brown behind the wheel of the LVPD Tahoe dodged in and out of traffic beating the rush by navigating side streets that took them past the Stratosphere Tower to the Mandolin Tower Hotel. His serious expression matched his co-workers, his dry humor that sometimes slipped through seemed all but evaporated at the moment. He was tightly wired, just as the women were, but in a good way.
Sara was even more intense than her two co-workers, her brown hair laying about her shoulders like a dark halo made her a striking figure to behold. Warrick’s mind was fully on the task of finding the Snuff-film killer but he couldn’t help but notice that his two female coworkers were almost chemically responding to each other. He didn’t know if it was because of the victimized woman in the film and they were both empathetic to her, or something more on a personal level. Whatever it was it had made them respond to each other in a far more positive light than they had had in the past. So whatever this bonding was, Warrick saw it only as a good thing.
He pulled the SUV up behind the LVPH cruiser already waiting for them at the hotel. As soon as the investigators piled out the blonde balding Detective Sulik joined up with them. His notebook open as if to read directly from a prompt.
“Hotel's in receivership. The security guy says the elevator still works.” Sulik informed the others walking alongside him up the driveway. His vanilla personality was strikingly out of place in the shadow of the building that had once been a jewel in the Vegas setting.
“We're going to need to talk to him.” Warrick said straight away, his azure-gold-green eyes taking in the setting unfolding before him.
“Soon as he gets off the phone with the owner,” Sulik answered tonelessly.
This was a hotel that had its heyday and had said a long goodbye to it ages ago. The days of the Rat-Pack grandeur had long ago passed it by leaving the hotel destitute and defunct. It was perfect place for seedy filming of pornography and apparently snuff films.
Like the leader of some military operation, Catherine led her team into the lobby of the aging hotel. The blonde paused and looked around, her mind mentally filing the details away into a cabinet for ready recall. She stopped and stared at a lamp in the lobby. Warrick took notice of Catherine’s stillness and stopped to stand next to her, curious as to what her sharp eyes already discovered.
The blonde-redhead was still studying the horrible lamp “Oh, nothing. Only difference between Kitsch and beautiful is time.” She stared at the lamp a moment longer as if it had flipped her off.
“Trajectory of the Stratosphere marks the view from the ninth floor,” Catherine said doing the mental math. “Let’s go find our view.”
Giving the elevator a dubious look, Catherine decided to chance it and boarded waiting for her younger counterparts. Fortunately the creaking contraption decided to have a good day and not falter. It ground to a stop on the ninth floor. As soon as the doors opened, Catherine led the team down the halls. She stopped at the first room and pointed inside.
“Well ... Sara, you take that one.”
Without argument Sara did as she was told and entered the room. Warrick followed Catherine to the next room, “Warrick, you go there,” she took two steps to the threshold of the third room; “I’ll go up here.” Just as she had done with the lobby the first thing she did was assess the fullness of the room and what was and was not in it.
Warrick in his assigned room filled with lamps and commodes held up a transparency with a copy of the stratosphere tower from the film. It had been his idea to match up a still from the film to the image in the window and align it. Looking at the negative and the view he could clearly see that there was no match.
Catherine did the same thing in the hotel room filled with all the accoutrements one typically finds in a hotel room, she held her copy of the photographic transparency only to pull it down again: no match.
Sara held up the same image, her lips curled into smile. At first it seemed like a double exposure, overlapping images, shifting her hand she could see the transparency darken as the image outside lined up perfectly.
“Hey, guys?” Sara bellowed out a smile on her face that she had found the scene of the crime. Seconds later Catherine and Warrick entered into room 918. “We got it.” She turned to her companions glad they had a crime scene to link the victim to.
“Somebody moved out all the furniture,” Warrick commented looking around his boots echoing dully in the vacant room.
“And painted the wall.” The blonde commented pointing with her chin as she set her silver evidence kit down on to the wooden floor.
“If they can't see it, we can't, huh?” said Warrick.
Warrick placed his own kit down on the floor opened it up and deftly selected his ALS. The amber shield would reveal what the do-it-yourselfer wanted to hide under the paint. Under the black-light the obvious blood splatter revealed itself like some exotic dancer on a cat walk.
”Arterial spray” Catherine identified the blue tinted stain under the paint. Her mind recreated the picture of what had happened, taking from the stock footage she had seen the day before. A knife flashing, striking Jane’s neck, she gasped as her blood sprayed on the wall, like Jackson Pollock throwing paint on a canvas.
It was Sara’s voice that pulled her out of her mental recreation. Pointing to a spot in the spray pattern Sara said, “There's a void. Could be a face?”
”Yeah, maybe.” Catherine agreed it was at the right level for a head to have gotten in the way of the splatter zone. And the way Killer was holding Jane Doe it was a logical conclusion.
“How does somebody cross the line where killing a woman is a turn-on?” Sara’s voice was filled with regret and a desperate need to understand the monster that is humanity.
”Oh, I don't think snuff makers cross a line Sara; I think they start on the other side of it.” Her voice held no condescending edge to it simply the sad facts of the issue.
“Biology determining pathology,” Sara stated simply.
“Yeah, some people were just born bad,” Warrick was more cynical. He loathed the idea anyone of his gender could be so monumentally vile, but then if they weren’t he wouldn’t have a job.
“Where's that security guard?” Catherine demanded as if the air about them could produce the subject of her comment.
Back down the lift, it was Warrick and Catherine who gestured for Sulik to corner the security guy, so they could question him. Sara had been left to process the room, since Catherine had first assigned it to her. And it only took one to harvest a blood sample even if paint contaminated it.
“How long you been a day guard here?” Sulik demanded as much as his bland cardboard personality would allow him.
The guard swallowed hard watching both of the CSIs circle him like sharks. “Four months. But I don't know anything about this murder you're talking about.” He shifted from foot to foot not wanting lose sight of the tall African-American or the cute red-head.
”Do you anything about who painted Room 918?” Warrick demanded, set to be determined not to believe a word of what the rent-a-cop was spewing.
“No idea.” Rent-a-cop swallowed hard once more almost flinching when Catherine came near to him. He wanted to recoil and flee when he saw her blue eyes studying the white flecks on his shoulder.
“You should try a scalp conditioner.” Catherine commented matter-of-factly. Her comment shocked the man who was clearly expecting her to say something else.
“Your dandruff.” She took a closer look and grinned, her voice filled with sarcasm, “Oh, my bad ... primer. Alkaloid-based. Never comes out in the wash but you already know that.” She walked around the guard in a predatory manner, her blue eyes widening at her unexpected discovery. Her alarmed voice called out. “Warrick?”
Warrick moved quickly to Catherine’s side and saw what caused her shock. There on the back of the guard’s neck just above his pressed shirt collar was a large mole. “You were in that snuff film.” Warrick growled accusingly.
“You stabbed that girl.” Catherine’s voice dripped with rage.
The guard wasn’t defensive he was down right panicked in his denial. “I let them use the room to make a movie, that's all.”
“Yeah?” Scorn filled Warrick’s words, his rage barely contained. “We saw you in the movie. You and your nice mole.”
Rent-a-cop shook his head defiantly “The guy threw in another two hundred if I had sex with the girl. She was hot, so I figured why not? Did her and left. She was breathing fine.”
Warrick looked to Catherine; his expression seemed to say ‘are we expected to believe this crap?’ “So when you came back in the room and you saw the blood on the wall did you think to call the police?”
“I didn't want to lose my job.” The man’s defiance was replaced with pleading, surely they would understand the need to keep things hush-hush to keep a hard to get job in a cut-throat town like Vegas.
“Oh, touching.” Catherine sneered. She turned to Sulik, cold burning hate for the security guard plain to see. “Arrest him.”
“Turn around.” Sulik forced the man to turn and none-too-gently slammed the cuffs on the guard’s wrists and pushed him out of the lobby.
Back at headquarters, all three investigators huddled over the computer hub in the Audio/Visual lab, it was time for Warrick to play with his expertise on the computer. He took screen captures of the man in the film at two different points of the film. One screen cap is of the man before he has intercourse with the woman. The other screen cap is of the man after the deed was done, just before he kills her and when he puts his robe back on.
Warrick pulled both screen caps side by side on the monitor and does a height estimation of the two men. The computer runs a comparative scale and comes to the conclusion that the man on the left is 5'10.00" tall; and the man on the right is 5'11.75" tall.
”Damn, Security Guard was telling the truth. There is another guy there. He's almost one and three-quarter inches taller than the security guard.” Warrick’s face screwed up into one of frustration. Damn he really wanted the little weasel to be guilty of more than bad pornographic sex.
“Our minds must've filled in the negative space.” Sara reasoned.
“Look, the Security Guard just left the room.” Catherine dismissed both of her collogues statements but not the validity of them for one of her own “You see the door shadow right there... at the foot of the bed.”
“The camera stopped moving.” Sara pointed out.
It was Warrick who answered her “That's because he's not behind it, he's in front of it.”
“Well, then, that's our guy.” Catherine spoke “There’s got to be some way to I.D. him.”
Warrick shook his head, “I have enlarged and re-enlarged every frame. There's no tats, there's no birthmarks, nothing.” His voice taking on a keener note of his disappointment and frustration.
“What about the rest of the room?” Catherine questioned.
“The film picks up everything there is to see, Catherine! We've seen everything.” Warrick’s voice was edging back to the manic rage.
“Maybe there's a short end.” Sara regurgitated the information Catherine had shared with her the other day.
“What?” Warrick’s question caused a wash of relief to come over the brunette; she didn’t feel so uninformed about such matters if another on the Graveyard shift didn’t know what ‘short-end’ meant.
”Pornos use short ends of film which means they never know when the film is going to run out.” Sara explained as easily as Catherine had to her.
The blonde beamed slightly before she took the explanation a step further. “Roll out. Camera slows down, the last frame stutters gets hit with more light.”
In their minds, the scientific theory played a reel of its own informative stock footage of film. The investigators imagined the front view of a film camera. The camera turns to the side to show the view screen on the bottom. As the reel runs out of film, the picture on the view screen stutters and gets brighter as more light goes through. Camera zooms in on the view screen and shows the bed with blood spatter on the camera lens. The screen stutters and gets even brighter.
Having seen a mental picture of hit Warrick spoke “So there's more visual information on the negative.”
“Right. Good editors always cut the roll out.” Catherine nodded. “Sara you’re with me, we’re going back to the processing studio.” Catherine knew Warrick needed to cool down his rage would cloud his judgment. And right now it was Sara who had the cooler mind of the two. Besides it would give her a moment alone with the taller woman, a moment to ponder what it was she had been feeling for this enigmatic young woman.
“Cath,” Sara interrupted the woman’s zeal. “We’re already four hours into overtime, I don’t mind, I doubt Warrick will complain but… ah… I think maybe we need to pull back for today. And we don’t have a little one.”
Lindsey. It had been ages to the mother since she had seen her little girl. Catherine glanced at Sara studying the dark eyes. It struck her how ironic it really was. Typically it was everyone telling Sara to chill and not push herself too hard or she was on the fast track to burn out. But when an obsessive workaholic tells you, you need to easy off then listing to their words is the best thing.
“You’re right, we’re chasing rabbits right now. Beginning of shift tonight then, you and I will hit the processor’s place, Sara” Catherine said.
Looking at her watch for a moment before blue eyes settled on the grim and mournful expressions of her colleagues. This case was getting to them. Sure as people in forensics they were accustomed to death in all of its horrendous forms. But this case was hitting them hard, no less hard than the young man with Downs Syndrome that had been killed, a case Nick and Grissom were working.
Taking off made Catherine feel guilty somehow. They didn’t seem to get anything accomplished other than find the scene of the murder, and a likely suspect. But Jane Doe didn’t have a name yet and there was still no body to lay to rest. Jane was still out there waiting for justice.
Pushing herself away from the computer lab Catherine rose, stretched not realizing the kinks that had grown and spread across her spine. Taking a look at the rage seething under the normally cool facade of Warrick she knew the young man needed to step back for a few hours.
“Go to the gym” she said to him in a mother’s tone, “Work it out, we’re good at what we do, we’ll find the bastard.”
“Right.” Warrick pushed himself up and without looking over his shoulder he left Catherine and Sara alone in the lab. “See you ladies tonight.”
“Can I wager you haven’t eaten since start of shift yesterday?” Catherine looked at Sara.
“You haven’t either.”
“Lindsey’s already in school, the nanny would have seen her off, so how about it a late breakfast?”
The place they had chosen was a quieter restaurant on the Strip within the Rampart. It had been a place where the Graveyard shift of CSI met more than a few times to discuss a case over food.
In this case it was omelets and coffee.
The two sat simply enjoying the luxury of food that wasn’t congealed in grease before they bit into it.
“Sara, you know I think you should put in for that promotion for Lead CSI.” Catherine’s comment nearly made the younger woman choke on her coffee. Catherine smirked, “I mean it, you’re sharp, dedicated and you’ve got what it takes.”
Sara beamed in the very rare praise given to her by Catherine. “That means a lot coming from you.” She fiddled with the edges of her asparagus and egg-plant omelet. “I didn’t mean… that as negatively as it sounded.”
“I know.” Catherine brushed away any would-be misunderstanding from Sara’s comment. “I don’t often praise your accomplishments, I don’t need to. You’re extremely competent in what you do, you don’t need me to validate your work like the guys sometimes do.”
“Strange the men need validation when it’s ‘their world’ and we have to do twice as much work and push twice as hard just to be seen as equal to them.” Sara said slowly. “And if we out shine them its because we slept our way there.”
“I know it sucks.” Catherine agreed. “Is that what you think will happen if you go in for the promotion?”
“The lab-rats already think I’m Grissom’s bed-buddy.”
Catherine didn’t say anything to that she had wondered about the truth of that once or twice herself. “There is no denying you two are close, but a real investigator never takes things for what they might appear to be. Come on you went to Harvard, what on scholarship?”
Sara nodded, “Bachelors of Science: theoretical physics. I took my Masters at Berkley. It has an equally prestigious Science Department. I was going for something else, but then I got into the work-study program at the San Francisco coroner department.”
“And you got enthralled with forensic science?” Catherine concluded.
“Yeah. I mean I got into theoretical physics because I wanted to understand the unseen world, how things worked how things related the universe and our little third rock from the sun, but when I helped process my first body, I decided I wanted to know the physics of murder of crime, solve the unseen there and make it known. My discoveries would help put the bad guys away.”
“You were CSI-2 in Frisco right?”
“Yeah pretty quickly too, but that’s a workaholic for you.”
“It was just as quick here for you to gain CSI-3, faster than Nick’s or even Warrick’s record.” Catherine observed.
Sara shrugged, “I’ve got a few more arrests to my credit than they have but we’re pretty equal.” Sara wasn’t about to mention during the last two evaluations she had five more outstandings than Nick received, or fewer disciplinary marks, than either men even with all of that supporting her claim to the promotion Sara knew in her gut Nick would be considered first by Grissom because the connection between the two men was far less complicated.
Catherine had made a case-study out of the young woman sitting across from her in the booth. The young neo-feminist worked harder than any save for herself to prove she belonged in the man’s world of forensic science and the police force. Sara, a loner by nature, whose hobbies are all work-related shows everyone a very steely exterior but Catherine was truly beginning to see the inner vulnerability of a sensitive idealist. It was Sara’s empathy toward female victims that made Catherine want her only female co-worker on the case with her.
“How about you?” Sara sliced into her egg, “You could be supervisor material. You almost had it.”
“I don’t plan on being Grissom’s right hand for long, but I’m taking the job on my own merits not because he’s politically tone deaf. And really I want days.”
Sara’s face scrunched up a little “Ecklie’s gaggle of geeks.”
“Nope, they’d be Catherine’s collection of CSIs.”
They both shared a laugh, grateful for the small moment of levity given the gravity of the case they were pouring their minds and hearts into.
“Dayshift would give you more time with Lindsey.” Sara concluded. “Graveyard gives you some, and Swing would actually give you less time with her, she comes home from school and you’re on your way out to work.”
“Only a malicious prat would give me Swing.”
“Then we better hope Ecklie doesn’t fail his way to the top.” Sara said, her voice edging back into the gloom where it had been only two hours ago.
Catherine inhaled sharply not liking where their conversation was emotionally taking them. She had wanted to eat with Sara to know her a bit better, to know for sure she wanted to pursue a relationship with Sara. Her libido was already screaming yes… yes… yes… but there was a bit more at stake here. The fiasco with Paul Newsome had reinstalled the lesson she had learned with Eddie Willows, a good fast tumble in the bed was not the answer to fill in the missing hole in the adult need for companionship.
Being bi-sexual gave Catherine more opportunities than someone strictly straight or gay. For her sake and for Sara’s Catherine hoped her hunch was right and that Sara if not gay was bi. Of course there was a time and place for everything and trying to start up a relationship with a coworker over a grizzly case wasn’t one of them. But it was worth seeing if that particular pond was worth fishing for a later date.
“So tell me… what’s going on between you and this…” Catherine leaned closer in. “Hank.”
“He’s NOT my boyfriend.” Sara said quickly. Too quickly judging by Catherine’s shocked expression. “Its just he’s a nice enough guy, kinda like a golden retriever.”
Catherine giggled slightly at the thought and yes she could see the comparison.
“Besides, I….well if he had two X chromosomes I might be more interested in something deeper, but no… though I’ve been tempted to step over to Boy’s town. It’s kinda bleak on this side of the tracks.” Only then did Sara wince thinking she said more than she should have.
Catherine touched her shoulder letting Sara know she wasn’t going to go high and to the right because Sara had just outed herself. “No competition then.” She said smoothly as she rose to her feet leaving Sara agog. “See you in the locker room tonight.”
Sara was still sitting there ten minutes later after Catherine had departed.
To save time, both Catherine and Sara headed for the lockerroom to change into coveralls. If they were going to go digging in unprocessed film it was going to be a dirty job. Contaminating one’s clothes was something both ladies wanted to avoid.
And once more Sara was wondering why it was Catherine had chosen her instead of Warrick to go with her. Not because of what had happened yesterday, but because it was what she had first planned.
For her part Sara retreated into all professionalism with none of the awkwardness Catherine might have suspected from their sharing a meal together. It was as if a silent agreement had passed between them not to bring the private into the workplace.
Still Catherine couldn’t help but think Sara was deliciously cute in the coveralls, and ball cap, her hair pulled back into a pony tail just like Catherine’s own. Sara was smiling a bit more though none would see it in the labs. The case before them was too mournful too dark for light to sparkle through. The whole idea of snuff films sickened the minds of those of good heart. You didn’t have to be a woman to be appalled by it.
By time the ladies of Graveyard shift arrived at the processing house, sheets of rain fell hard on the desert city. It was as if the sky opened up and was weeping the loss of the girl’s life in the film, the loss of humanity that allowed for Snuff films to be conceived of and for someone to practice in the enjoyment of it.
Catherine had already phoned ahead telling the Nash woman they needed to look at editor’s footage without going into the full details as to why they needed it and Niecy wasn’t exactly eager to find out why. Nash was waiting for them outside watching a taller woman walk besides the ex-dancer.
“What you want is out back.” Niecy Nash said instead of hello. Her tired eyes told them she couldn’t be bothered and didn’t care about their opinions about her working in a studio that processed porn and bogus snuff films.
A single line of cardboard collection barrels pressed flush against the brick wall of the buildings loading dock.
“So all your editors' cuttings are in there?” Catherine asked looking at the eave of the enclosed stairwell thinking how darkly fitting it was.
Niecy nodded vigorously “ Yep. Negatives and unused dailies. Collection guy comes by once a week. Silver on the film makes it environmentally unsafe for landfill, so ...” her voice became overlapped by the younger of the two investigators.
”Be nice if people were as concerned about the women in these films ...”
Niecy held up left hand and wagged, in a manner that suggested Sara should talk to the hand, ”I am the one who called y'all, remember?” Her voice claimed the snarkieness of one losing their patience with authoritative figures. “Knock yourselves out, ladies.”
Niecy still feeling the brunt of Sara’s accusation walked to the middle of them waving them aside like some female Moses parting the Red Sea. Her body language defiantly screaming that she was a bit jilted and agitated. It wasn’t her fault sick bastards got off by porn or bogus and in this case real snuff films. And she wasn’t going to allow some young thing try to make her feel guilty for doing her job.
“Thank you.” Catherine said while Sara simply watched the woman retreat back into the dry studio.
With Niecy gone the investigators looked back to the containers pressed up against the wall barely managing not to get soaked in the rare Vegas down-pour.
“Bins of sin.” Catherine remarked taking in just how many bins there were and how long it might take them to find the scrap of film necessary to ID the perp.
Each woman sighed, and set their kits down on the damp tar. Sara peered into the nearest bin, “Well, looks like mostly thirty-five millimeter. Our sixteen should've settled... at the bottom.” She flashed a full gapped tooth grin.
The small levity was enough to make Catherine smirk. Still laughing she pointed to the bin of sin, “Just dump it out.” The older woman ordered. They both reached for the barrel but it was Sara who lifted it up all the way effortless-ly allowing Catherine to enjoy the slight show of strength. And she didn’t know if Sara had done it deliberately or was subconsciously maneuvering in the dance Catherine had started in the restaurant.
The negative strips came tumbling out on to the ground in a mass of dark shiny strands. Probably not the keenest thing to do but Catherine had suggested they could just look here instead of dragging it all back to the lab. It was a long shot the bit of film they were looking for was even there.
Rain continued to pour outside the small enclosure, sheets of water poured down from the sloping roof gutters, making a kitschy water fall. The scent of wet asphalt, refuse, unprocessed film hit the nostrils with a pungent odor that was unique to the back alleys of Vegas.
Catherine sat upon Sara’s taller kit as her own was a bit too close to the ground for prolonged use as a stool. Sara sat on an overturned five gallon bucket to go through the film strips one by one, chucking the negative finds back into the bin so as not to be confused with the un-checked mass.
Strip after strip after strip after a dozen others all showing the same sort of filth. Men and women in all sorts of positions all were trying to show as much skin of the woman without showing the Full Monty of the guy involved.
Minutes dragged into hours.
“You notice all the guys in these movies are wearing condoms?” Sara said chucking a bit of film back into the bin.
”Yeah, industry policy.” Catherine nodded, “Ever since '98. Even have a quarantine list: Who's positive, who's not. And that security guy wore one, too. Pretty surprising for unregulated porn.”
Holding up yet another negative for investigation Sara said, “Maybe she made him wear one.” She smiles brightly, the excitement filling her expression, “I got it!”
“You did?” Catherine gasped disbelieving. They had been sitting in the alley for the past two hours scrounging through so many bits of film; the blonde had felt a headache come on.
“I got it, I found it!” Sara held up her trophy with a grin of pure triumph.
“Thank god.” Catherine gasped wearily her shoulders sagging a little in the relief they didn’t have to dig further.
Sara reached over and handed her discovery to the blonde who in turn held it up to her mag-light. “Hot frame, all right.” She shook her head disconcerted, “I still can't see who it is.” All that time looking for this scrap of film and still they came up empty.
“You can see a little more of the room, though. There's a small table and a lamp in the left corner.” Sara reported from memory.
Catherine saw what Sara had described her lips forming a smile and it brightens as she recognizes the lamp in the table. “Good eye, Sara.” Her praise was genuine and filled with pride for her co-worker. “Yeah, that Kitsch lamp. Somebody moved it out to the lobby. I'll have Warrick go back to the hotel and grab it.”
Sara tucked the short-end into an evidence bindle watching as Catherine had her cell-phone open and was giving orders to Warrick to go collect the Kitsch-lamp.
Together both of them piled the remaining reams of film back into the bin before heading back to the Tahoe. It was on the way there that Catherine tripped on some washed up debris in a mud puddle by the curb of the parking lot causing Sara to reach for her. Sara pulled Catherine to her least she end up ass over teakettle in the muck.
“I thought you were a dancer.” Sara smirked righting Catherine on the solid ground.
“What makes you think I couldn’t have danced my way out of that?” She leaned close to Sara, “Or danced my way into that position just so you had to catch me?”
“Because you don’t do typical and tired clichés,” Sara answered. “And I’m not in shining armor or leather but in a tired old pair of coveralls and those types of scenes are never written that way in fem-butch stories.” The lanky Californian smiled broadly “But if it will preserve your graceful reputation for being an ex-exotic dancer we can pretend you staged the slip just so I had to be gallant and catch you before your ass got covered in muddy water.”
“I’d appreciate it.” Catherine laughed. “Sounds better if it got out I slipped and you swooped in caught me in strong arms and saved me from the evil muck monster.”
“Well to make it steamy we’d have to say we stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, a hairs breath from kissing before we were interrupted by, “ and Sara held her fingers up in quote marks “real life… damn it all the hell. If it wasn’t for that inopportune moment they might have kissed.”
“So you like Clair over the Moon?”
“Nah more of a ‘Go Fish’ type of gal.”
“Art nouveau, I wouldn’t have guessed.” Catherine smiled, “Let me guess you like Lilith Fair and you’ve gone to several Diana Shore events.”
“Frisco Pride as well.” Sara answered as they climbed into the cab of the SUV.
“You know they have Pride…..”
“In Vegas? Yeah I know but Cat let me ask you what kind of slack do you get sometimes from our co-workers and I’m not talking our team here, I’m talking what law enforcement give you for being an ex stripper? No. I know the dangers a lesbian can have when you’re connected to a badge. Sometimes the Uniforms get caught in traffic know what I mean? In California sure, but in Vegas where anything goes except gay law enforcement I don’t think so. I’m not ashamed but I am cautious.” Sara looked deep into the blue eyes watching her. “But cautious doesn’t’ mean I’m off the market, it just mean’s I’m cautious.”
Catherine broke no argument. She fully understood Sara’s reasons and accepted them. “Better people think you’re into a man fifteen years your senior than a lesbian?”
“Maybe. Dating someone older isn’t a problem for me. Say if the right woman came around and she was say… oh… ten years my senior... I’d not shy away. Even if she came with baggage, I’m not exactly the mother type but I do like kids.”
Catherine smiled again, she would say nothing more on the drive back to HQ about the more private conversation. “As soon as we get back, we need to meet up with Warrick so we can process the short-end.”
“I’ll take care of the documentation and paperwork to get it out of our way,”
“Good idea.” Catherine agreed. “He and I will go over the film, see what his eyes pick out.”
Back with Warrick because of his expertise in audio and video she had him digitize the short end roll out Sara had discovered. She may not be a supervisor yet but she knew how important it was to play to team member strengths making each one feel not only important but they had done something integral for the case. And this particular case was sticking them hard.
Murder in passion, revenge, was something a cop could almost accept but never excuse. But blatant murder because it was a sexual turn on sickened them all. Warrick’s frustration would have worked itself out or at least the man would have gotten it back under control where it wouldn’t be an issue.
Instead of simple computerized stills which Warrick had done for preservation and documentation of evidence he had places the short-end into a slide projection so they could go through it frame by frame. While Catherine had control of the slide machine, Warrick held up white card stock to work as a screen.
“There's the lamp I got from the lobby. The bulb is red ... in the film and here.” Warrick said looking at the lamp in both the slide and on the table.
“Guy thinks he's Zalman King, playing with the lighting.”
“I guess he was going for a certain look.” Warrick said turning to look at the lamp. He settled himself a bit more on the table looking at the lamp a moment longer. His eyes brightened a little as something occurred to him. “You know, if I had screwed a hot light bulb I'd probably lick my fingers.” He pseudo demonstrated by sticking out his own tongue to mock the action of licking his gloved fingers.
Both of them envisioned their perp licking their fingers to handle the hot bulb. They could almost hear a slight hiss as the spittle came into contact with the hot red light bulb, as the Perp twisted the red bulb off.
“Guy replaced it with a red bulb. Got residual saliva on it. I'll process for DNA, run it through CODIS.” Catherine plucked the red light bulb from Warrick and left the room.
Unlike all those forensic shows on TV it took longer than thirty seconds for DNA to be run and processed. In the shows they never tell you it takes hours even days for DNA to be properly processed. In this case they were able to do it in five hours.
Catherine stretched in old form dancer stretches listening to bones pop where once upon a time they didn’t. She smiled sadly that was another thing they never showed on those cop shows, the few dull hours of waiting for evidence to be worked. Still she loved it, and wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world… well… save for Lindsey.
It had been near the end of shift before the DNA came from Greg’s lab, the results took far shorter amount of time, all Catherine had to do was enter the results into CODIS and wait for the data base to cross reference it against any knowns. The Data base kicked out six results one of which was identical.
Sampson Douglas. And he had a record of violence towards women. Murder is only one step away from rape and battery.
Two things had to be done, grab useless Rent-a-cop boy for a positive ID on Douglas and contacting Homicide that had a positive match for suspect in the room during the time of the murder. It would be hard to get an arrest warrant with no facial ID, but they could at least put the man at the location.
Catherine decided Warrick not Sara needed to see the end of this result.
It was strange to enter a suburban neighborhood. The sounds of children playing a small pack of them riding their bicycles down the street waving to the nice police man as they rode by. They would never know in that same pleasant street where dogs chased freebies, kids played basketball in the driveway or catch in the backyard, and ate barbeques that a pornographer lived next door. Nor did these bright shining faces of children know that they had a malicious killer living right next to them.
Detective Sulik reached the door and rang the doorbell while his other hand was procedurally stationed on the butt of his gun, should drawing a weapon become necessary.
“Douglas Sampson?” Sulik asked making sure that his badge shown so there could be no mistaking the police were at the door.
“Yeah.” He answered leaning his weight on the frame of the door, his arms folded over his stick like body.
“The same Douglas Sampson who did three years for sexual assault and battery?” Catherine didn’t bother hiding her contempt and scorn for the man who had made the snuff film and got off on killing women.
Douglas coughed “Did. Past tense.”
Sulik ignored the man’s feigning innocence that all that was behind him now. “We want to talk to you about a recent homicide at the Mandolin Tower Hotel, off Fremont.”
The man’s jaundice pale face paled even further. “I'm working.” He said too quickly. He would have retreated into his home but Suilk’s hand and most of his weight pressed against the door stopped Sampson from doing just that.
Both the detective and Catherine turned around allowing Warrick and Rent-a-cop boy to see the weaselly Sampson clearly.
Warrick saw the shaking man near him nodded his head, to Warrick he said, “Yeah that’s the man. He’s the one who made the movie and paid me to screw the girl. Can I leave now?”
Catherine and Sulik both turn back to Sampson.
“Take a break.” Catherine ordered.
Seeing he had little choice Sampson allowed both the investigator and the detective into the foyer of the house. Both pulled back a bit as they smelled first the musk of sex then heard the grunting of man and the exaggerated moans and gasps of a porn-queen.
“Take ten. Give it a rest, guys.” Douglas said to the couple still going at it despite the added company of the LVPD. The man almost didn’t stop his thrusting into the woman’s backside. He cut a glance to the badge Sulik held up and withdrew himself from his ‘acting’ partner and hurriedly scrambled to put his clothes on before dashing out of the sight of the police and CSI. The woman had been faster as she scurried into the back rooms of the house.
“I bet I could guess your exact height.” Catherine said eyeing the man from foot to crown. He wasn’t much to look at, pale clammy skin, a pocked-marked face only a mortician could love
Douglas Sampson was obviously expecting some other comment, presumably about what sort of work he was doing. “What?”
”That guy out front just confirmed you shot a snuff film with this girl at the Mandolin Tower Hotel.” Sulik held up a photo of Jane Doe
“I've stayed there over the years.” The ease of his dismissing Jane sickened Catherine to the point she wanted to cut the slime ball’s own throat. “I never saw her with that guy out front.” The lies oozed out his mouth like a tube worm through intestines
“We've got you on film, killing her.” Catherine snapped.
Sampson almost gloated as he spoke “If you had me from any angle I could be identified you would've arrested me already.”
“We've got ourselves a film student here,” Catherine’s baited sarcasm shot back.
Gloating turned to boasting “I’m one of the best in adult film and I'm going to be making the jump to mainstream, you watch.”
“Financed by a snuff film?” Catherine wasn’t impressed with the slime ball’s claim to fame.
“You have no right to be in my house.” Samson snipped back not wanting to hear more evidence. The guilty never do. “I'm not breaking any laws. I have a permit for adult film production. You leave now or I'm going to file a complaint.” His threat might have been more damaging had he not sniffled and wiped his bulbous nose at that moment.
“Getting a cold? Maybe you should raise the heat.” She gestured with her chin to the direction the retreating porn actors had taken. “I'm sure they wouldn't mind.”
A positive ID of an unreliable witness wasn’t going to get them the arrest warrant, but now they had a face to nail. Catherine wasn’t thwarted, not with something positive to go on, something further to look for and judging by Warrick’s hovering over an old Buick beater, he had something too.
“Hey, what do you got?” Catherine called out to him.
“This is Sampson's car, right?” Warrick seemed to need clarification; he got it with Suilk’s nodding head. “Some soil up in his wheel well. He washed the tire and forgot the well.” He pointed out the caked on mud on the car’s wheel well.
“Butterscotch?” Catherine sought a second opinion
“Yeah. Remember that body dump a couple years back?” Warrick said
“Down near the Colorado?” He clarified which case he was talking about.
Again Catherine’s red-blond head nodded she was with him, “Bidahochy Range. Butterscotch-colored soil.”
Sulik seemed to catch on as well, you could question the suspects all you wanted but it all came back to forensics. The bits of evidence people always forgot, and leave themselves wide open for capture. “I'll radio the sheriff up there. And the Park Rangers.”
“Great.” Catherine smiled. They might be able to lay their vic to rest. They were her last voice, and she was screaming for justice. Screaming for all the victims in all snuff films for justice the FBI had official said didn’t exist.
Warrick stopped mid step his hip vibrated at the same time it rang. Picking it up out if his holster he snapped it open “Brown.”
“I think we got your snuff film girl.” Sulik announced over the phone
“Where?” Warrick felt a wave of satisfaction slip into his heart.
“By the river.”
“Okay, I'll be right there.” He padded back the way he came into the lab where Sara and Catherine were going over the stills, film and evidence one more time, each locking in their minds how they would need to present it to a jury to get a conviction.
“Suilk’s located the body dump; I’ll go out there now to see if it’s our girl.”
Neither woman said they hoped it was, if for nothing else they wouldn’t discover another nameless victim who had been rendered voiceless.
“I don’t have to tell you to look for tire treads to match Sampson’s car.” Catherine reminded Warrick lest his enthusiasm for finding Jane Doe; porn star come snuff-film victim get ahead of him.
“I’ll get a soil sample too, not to worry.” He gave a smile to show the second in command of Graveyard he wasn’t offended by her reminder. “Like you said, Cath we’ll get this guy.”
The whole way out to the Colorado riverbed Warrick kept seeing Jane Doe ripped open by the pathetic excuse of the male species. He thought by now he would have grown so accustomed to the horrors of the human monster but there were cases that struck him hard. Nick voiced his own comment the other night when they had gone out for a beer.
Nick was troubled over his own case; some cowboy had killed a youth with Down Syndrome all because the kid had smiled. Poor kid. Warrick couldn’t help but replace his own cousin who had Downs, with the youth that was killed. Riley like several people struck with Downs was too trusting in a world that wasn’t trustworthy.
Pulling the Tahoe alongside the cruisers, Warrick saw the cluster of officers near the body dump. Edging down the clay-caked dry riverbed photograph of the girl in hand Warrick swallowed back revulsion at the sight of the decaying corpse. It was covered in debris, dirt and wet grasses from the previous night’s rain. A few bugs crawled in and out of the open mouth and blowfly maggots clung to the gummy gaping neck wound. Kneeling down careful not to disturb the footprints of what might be the perpetrator, Warrick studied the image. Jane was wrapped in an old moss green curtain the same sort of curtain he had recognized from the snuff film. It was Snuff-girl alright. Now if they could only nail the bastard that did this to her.
He rose from the crouched position and navigated back up the slope to Sulik. “Yeah it’s her.”
“I’ve already called the EM.” Sulik said before Warrick could reach for his cell phone. He might be wooden but Sulik was efficient and on top of things. “I was told David Phelps is already on his way here to release the body.”
“The rain would have washed away a lot of evidence but residual trace and epithelials might still be on that curtain, especially under the body. I saw shoe prints, any of the uniforms go down the ravine?”
“Only me, and you took the exact same route I had those tracks could be from the perp. Not much you can pull though.”
Warrick smirked the man was too used to working with Ecklie. It all comes down to shoe-prints. “It will be enough.” Warrick vowed. Taking his kit from the back of the Tahoe he proceeded to take soil samples near the tire treads left by the same make of tire that had been on Sampson’s car as well as soil samples near the body. The bugs he collected for Grissom to analyze, when David came he would collect the curtain and process it in the labs.
Catherine had pulled Warrick along with her to see the sleaze-ball Douglas Sampson, partly because Warrick needed to get out, and partly because she wanted to protect Sara from the man who so carelessly cut short a woman’s life. And partly to control Rent-a-cop boy. The security man was clearly intimidated by Warrick whether it was the stereotypical fear of Warrick being black or that he was several inches taller and brawnier than he was it didn’t matter, Catherine had used that fear as a tool against the wet-noodle of a male specimen
It would be Sara, Catherine took with her into the morgue. Not only because it was Sara’s turn but because of Sara’s experience with pathology. She was also better at handling autopsies than Warrick. Hell, Sara was fascinated by the Body Farm, something Warrick would stay clear of if he had the choice.
“Warrick stick you with post?” Robbins asked knowing Warrick hated the morgue and generally found away to get away with not going there by manipulating his partners to go in instead of him.
“He's working evidence from the riverbed.” Catherine explained.
Sara looked at the mangled body, her heart thumping not at the gore but at the sudden stop of life the girl had suffered. “You going to be able to I.D. her?”
“Already did from her dental records.” Robbin’s gentle voice gave the bit of good news that at last Jane Doe had a name. “Susan Hodap, twenty-six. Exsanguination from a trans-section of the carotid artery. Slicing stab.”
“Any chance of finding any serration marks on the bone?” Catherine looked at the mangled neck, for a moment all she could see was the girl in the film struggling to get away and Sampson so carelessly slicing her neck as one slits open an orange to eat it.
“To tie to a knife?” Robbins’ white eyebrows climbed to his bald forehead. “Eh, that'll entail a boil, but sure, I can try.” What the hell, he had already been involved with a boil today with Grissom’s ant-colony body. “What I can tell you conclusively is that Susan Hodap was already on borrowed time. I tapped her cerebral spinal fluid didn't wait for a batch, had the lab run it solo. She was HIV positive.”
Both women looked at one another stunned. This was something they hadn’t thought of. It was a large lead. Catherine gripped Sara’s sleeve and spun her around. “This gives us a paper trail.”
“How?” Sara’ s dark eyes searched the blue orbs, she had no qualms in being lead through this case, after all Catherine had previous experience dealing with illegal porn circles.
“We need the computer. There is a database we can use to track Susan.”
In a darkened lab Catherine took two secretary chairs wheeled them to the computer on a desk and sat in one, leaving the other for Sara to fold her long body into. The taller woman said nothing was Catherine entered a search forum and came up with a data search unfamiliar to the brunette.
“Susan Hodap ...” Sara read the name from the screen. Her body pressed close to Catherine’s so that they could both view the computer. The former dancer didn’t seem to mind the intrusion into personal space; unconsciously she leaned into Sara’s own personal territory as if sharing the space to read the computer was an excuse to be closer to her young counterpart.
“There it is.” Catherine ran her finger across the screen that read: Hodap, Susan ... HIV + “Tested positive six months ago.”
“I can't believe that porn actors' monthly health records are on the internet.” Sara leaned close, her fist tucked under her chin. She was sure that such medical records would have to be confidential.
“Yeah, right,” Catherine answered as if she had heard the younger woman’s thoughts. “The rule is the actor tests positive twice they go on permanent quarantine.” Catherine scrolled the listing and found a second listing under May 2002: Hodap, Susan ... HIV + Quarantined.
“That's why she ended up in that snuff film. She got bounced out of regular porn.” Sara her voice grave and regretful at the lengths Susan had gone to just to keep food on her table.
“And walked right into her own death scene.” Catherine’s voice echoed Sara’s gloomy tones. “The thing is ... porn director may have, too.” Placing a hand on Sara’s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. “Maybe you should pass the good news to Warrick, I think he needs to hear it from someone else. I’m going to go see a detective about a warrant.”
Sara capped her own hand over Catherine’s with a hinted meaning and rose to go find Warrick. Whatever it was that was blossoming between her and Catherine she wanted to explore it further, it felt so good to have a possibility.
The links in the case were slowly becoming an iron chain one the perp was sure to be hung with. “Time to spread the joy.” Sara said leaving the computer lab.
She was near the lab Warrick had cloistered himself in when she heard Warrick growl out ‘DAMN!’ A second later a phone book came sailing at her missing her by mere millimeters to thump loudly on the wall off her left shoulder. Startled Sara leaped back then eased her way to the lab.
Warrick, hands balled into fists, he stood rigor mortis still before the hanging blood stained green curtain.
“Why are you throwing phone books?” Sara questions.
Her answer was a frustrated growl “Cause a beaker gets glass all over the place.” The young CSI had a low-key even laidback manner which was now at odds with his current temperament. Sara had always believed a manic streak lurked not far below the surface of her counterpart.
“What's wrong?” Sara looked from the investigator to the curtain and back again.
”It's this curtain that the porn girl was found wrapped in. I've got no prints, no second donor. I've got nothing to link this porn guy to the girl's murder. It's just driving me nuts!”
“I'm fine by the way.” Sara’s lips were still smirking for the news she had yet to tell him.
“I'm sorry.” Warrick’s voice took on a softer note realizing that he could have harmed Sara. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She gave him that cute gapped toothed smile, “you missed me by a mile. We may have something.”
“Really?” he sounded eager.
“Right here. I wanted to show you.” Sara held up a single film frame negative for Warrick to study. She smiled brightly waiting for him to see what she and Catherine saw. “When he's stabbing her, she's bleeding all over him.”
“Well, a void proves that, but we still can't prove it's him.” Warrick’s’ tenor voice seemed to shrug.
“Yeah, but her blood might.” Sara beamed a gapped tooth smile which was so juxtaposed to the ghastly photo in Warrick’s hand and the blood-stained curtain hanging at his side. “Catherine and I suspect transference. She had HIV.”
“Well, how are we going to get a sample of Sampson's blood?” He frowned feeing none of the glowing achievement radiating in Sara’s dark eyes.
“Warrant, based on the butterscotch dirt that ‘you’ found on his car.” Sara said as if proclaiming check and mate.
“Oooh.” A large smile etched its way past the frown, “I like that.” Warrick didn’t even try to hide his pleasure at the linking of evidence.
Sara smirked, her face warm and teasing “You might want to apologize to the phone book.” She turned and walked out of the lab with more of a lilt in her step than Warrick had seen in a long time. Susan Hodap might have her justice after all.
It didn’t take long for Sulik to get the warrant. A medical tech was brought in on the department’s dime for blood to be drawn. Sulik stood back watching as Sampson’s potentially poisonous blood spilled into the vial.
Sampson was both defiant and resentful that once more his production day had been disturbed all because of some cast-off loose porn star that was better left forgotten about. He knew it took six months for a AIDS test to be run and by the time the cops got their heads out of their asses, he’d make his money and Susan Hodap would be worm food and the cops would move on to better cases with victims that actually meant something to someone enough to be mourned for. In Vegas he knew how it was, high profile cases beat no-bodies hands down every time and Susan Hodap was a nobody.
What once took six months now only took a day to discover if someone is HIV positive. It would take a couple more for CSI to get the okay from the Director of the department to okay it even after Grissom signed off on the expense.
Three days at best, but it was faster than Catherine had suspected and she was grateful. The light bulb, curtain the film and the testimony of the Rent-a-cop wasn’t enough to put Douglas Sampson in the room beyond reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys could argue any DNA found at the Crime Scene could have been left there during one of Sampson’s earlier stays despite gradation or newer samples. As for the mud it linked him to the river-bed but not beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been at the dump-site.
They needed this DNA from the HIV virus to confirm it was Sampson who killed the forgotten Susan Hodap. The ironic thing was that she had killed him right back. Even if he managed to slip out of the murder rap which the link between the HIV stand would make it unlikely he was dead anyway. He was playing against the House odds, and you never bet against the House. Not in Vegas.
But playing against the odds was something Catherine was doing, oh not with the Hadap Case, but with Sara. The small flirting was a promising bet but Catherine wanted more reassurances she wasn’t being suckered in by a Shark. Not that Sara seemed to the type to play the waters, but doubts suddenly sprang up in Catherine’s typically confident mind.
What if she had read too much in the other night’s friendly banter? Closing the locker door, Catherine let out a breath of air that came from long endless shifts with little production in evidence. Slow dead ends… with only a small chance of a conviction can wreak havoc on the nerves.
Rubbing the back of her neck with her hand, Catherine forced aside the doubts and hopes she could spark something with Sara, when this was all over she promised herself, she would see if there was anything to pursue.
The lab results had come back three days later, Sampson was hacking and coughing because of original flu, Seroconversion. Walking into the break room Catherine found both Warrick and Sara conspiring over the coffee pot. The rich aroma wafting from the still dripping brew was too heavenly for the department’s cheap stuff. This had to be Greg’s coveted stash.
“Pour me a cup and we’ll toast.” She waved the sheet of lab results, “We’ve got a positive match. Slam dunk.”
Warrick slammed his hand down on the table and grinned, “Hot damn!”
Sara was positively beaming, “I wanna be there with you when you tell the slime-ball he’s got AIDS.”
Catherine nodded then looked to Warrick, “You want in on this?”
The dark head shook, “No, you two go ahead. I’ll gather all evidence for the DA and prepare the paper-work.” Looking to Sara he knew she needed more of a face to face conclusion to this horror more than he did. And the shock of Sampson’s death coming from the sex he so abused and used was justice itself. Poetic Justice in the mind of the male CSI formed itself in his heart. Let the women enjoy the deliverance of justice after all it was a woman who was slaughtered for the entertainment of perverted men.
Sulik had the warrant to bring Douglas Sampson in for interrogation. For the last thirteen minutes they had watched as Sulik asked the routine questions before leading up to the up to the one that would nail Sampson’s hide to the wall for a conviction. Through the double sides mirror between the interrogation room and the observation, Catherine and Sara watched intently on the whole proceeding.
”Okay, one more time, for the record: You have never had sexual intercourse with Susan Hodap?” Sulik pressed close needed the man to deny all sexual contact with the victim.
“I told you, I've never even met her.” He was almost whining his exasperation that the cops didn’t seem to be hearing what he was telling him.
“I know, but I got to ask.” Suilk’s voice was almost sympathetic at least to the perp’s ears. To a trained cop they knew Sulik was playing their Sampson. “You've never had sex with her?
“Not ever!” He nearly bellowed.
In the observation room Catherine smiled broadly as she turned her head to meet Sara’s gaze. The brunette nodded, they had him now. Sampson said exactly what they needed to hear. They both headed out the door, Sara reaching it first opened it for Catherine who in turn opened the interrogation room for Sara to enter ahead of her.
“You still have those chills, Mr. Sampson? Feeling hot, achy? Back of your throat scratchy?” Her voice condescending and accusatory.
“Yeah, it is.” Sampson answered hotly back. As if to say so why in the hell do you care?
“Original flu happens at the onset of HIV.” Catherine answered back loving the look of terror streak the man’s face. “Seroconversion. Usually presents two to six weeks after the exchange of fluids.”
“Exchange of fluids?” now he was clearly puzzled, his mind raced over what he had heard. He had not slept with the slut in the film how could there have been an exchange of body fluids.
For her part Catherine went on to explain as if she hadn’t seen his puzzled expression. “That temperature is your body working up a resistance to the virus.”
“HIV? Me?” he was Douglas Sampson untouchable, the blonde-redhead was playing him for a tool. “Now, come on. You just took my blood a few days ago.” He knew it took six months for an AIDS test.
“A private lab can run a virus test within a day. CDC doesn't broadcast that. Tests are very expensive.” Catherine commented. And she was right what once took six months now only takes a day to discover if someone is HIV positive.
“We dipped into the budget.” Were Sara’s first words to the beast before her ... “just for you.”
“You're playing me. I don't have HIV!” He was more panicked now more so than being arrested for the lousy porn-queen’s death in his film. He might have been able to play the circumstantial evidence card at a trial but there is no way he had HIV. No way. He never slept with the porn-girls just for that reason.
It was Sara again to speak, her explanation more like that of a science teacher than the irate young woman she was, “Susan Hodap had it. The exact same strain that you have.”
“We had that lab do what's called a phylogenetic analysis of your HIV's DNA and Susan's.” Catherine set down the results on the table in front of Sampson as if it explained everything but even as he looked at it he didn’t quite understand the chart and numbers or the DNA pics.
“As you can see, the genes are identical. Which means Susan gave it directly to you.” She didn’t add ‘we got you dead-bang.’
“But we never had sex!” Sampson argued. Weren’t they listening?
“You did stab her, though.” Catherine pointed out.
Sampson’s mind recreated the exact moment he had cut Susan. He remembered the pulsing of her throat, the throbbing in his own groin as he ripped her throat open with his knife, the hot blood spiriting out as if it were a punctured water balloon. The blood slashed everywhere, on him the wall.
“And at that moment her arterial blood hit your eyes entering your body through the conjunctival membrane.” He heard the one called Catherine say.
Yes, it had. The blood seeped into his eyes. He remembered the slight burning and irritation but then he wiped his eyes clear of the blood and thought only of getting rid of the body and producing his master Snuff.
Sara spoke now ignoring his astonishment, “Non-sexual transmission is extremely difficult but obviously it's possible.” Her own scientific mind created a scene which the blood sprayed into his face, and eyes. “Susan's blood was absorbed into your bloodstream.”
Douglass Sampson had no smart comment, no denial only open worry and the knowledge he will die. He thought of his body being contaminated by that Hodep bitch’s tainted blood. How his good white cells were being eaten up by some monstrous HIV virus.
Catherine picked up the tag-team approach and began to finish Sara’s explanation. Imagining what his body was going to do to him wasn’t enough. He had to feel terror. Terror that Susan held in her last seconds on Earth. In almost thee same breath of Sara’s last word, Catherine began: “Where the new HIV cells immediately started attaching to your healthy white blood cells. Gets inside one, replicates about 2,000 times. Disables the host cell, punches back out, infecting more good cells ... lowering your immune system until your body loses its ability to fight off even the simplest invader.”
Sara pitched in “Of course, the strains will have changed by then and you and Susan Hodap will have a different strain of HIV.” She leaned in close over Catherine’s shoulder “The sooner you see a doctor, the better your chances for longevity.”
“But for now, we got you.” Catherine smirked broadly. More for the fact that Douglas Sampson was struck dumb with all he had heard. “You killed her.”
His dull eyes moved to Sara whose eyes glowed with vindictiveness. “I guess she killed you back.”
Warrick watched silently as both women of the Nightshift team moved to a single car in the parking lot. It was after shift and they could have gone their separate ways but they didn’t. He wasn’t a CSI-3 for nothing. He had noticed over the months the growing interest each woman had in the other. Why it came out with the Snuff case he couldn’t have explained. Perhaps it had been mutual anger over the burden of the abuse of women by men. Warrick found his lips curling into a smile at the idea of his long time friend Catherine finding someone who wouldn’t seek to hurt her, seek to use her. And Sara too would find solidarity in a relationship with Catherine.
Brown wasn’t going to say anything to anyone else. Both Grissom and Nick would notice in time as would Brass. They were trained investigators and despite how careful the ladies might be you can’t hide the affection in the eyes. His only hope was that it would last.
He watched as Catherine backlit by the sun reached out and touched Sara’s face, feathering back a strand of dark hair. Sara leaned into the touch and cupped Catherine’s own hand with her own. Together they entered Catherine’s car and drove off.
Warrick chuckled lightly as he realized that they had driven off into the sunset. “More power to them.” He said, turned and went back into CSI HQ.