DISCLAIMER: Sara and others from the show obviously do not belong to me and I make no money from this. All other characters and ideas belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: fem/fem relationship warning. No explicit sex. First chapter doesn't focus on Sara but stick with it, k? As always, feedback appreciated. Please note this story is plot-oriented, not relationship centered, although it is there and definitely explored.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The summer evening sunlight slanted through the bare window, striping the apartment floor and walls with shadows. Laying prostrate on the floor, Joanna Gould contemplated the moving boxes towering over her. Each box, neatly labelled with block print, beckoned to her. With little effort, she resisted their masochistic call. Instead, she pushed herself off the floor and headed into the kitchen.
Not much of a kitchen, she noted. Just as well, considering she had brought all of one box of kitchen utensils. The upper two cupboards now held all her dishes, a whopping two plates, one bowl, and three glasses. The bottom three cupboards lacked anything at all. Of the three drawers, only one contained a single box of plastic utensils.
Turning to the refrigerator, Joanna pulled out a bottle of 2000 Mondavi Chardonay, good but affordable. She opened the silverware drawer, then stumbled back in shock. How could she have forgotten the corkscrew? Briefly, Joanna considered taking a quick trip to the store, but dismissed the notion with a shake of her head. Nothing could
induce her to get back into a car today. She reviewed her alternatives. Break the bottle, but then she'd be cleaning up miniscule pieces of glass. Hunt down her Swiss Army pocket Knife. Huh, it would be faster just to unpack. Joanna sighed.
A chirping interrupted her thoughts. Automatically, her eyes swept the floor, looking for the hoppity brown creatures before she realized it was her cell phone. Those downloads for different rings led to some questionable choices, she thought as she ran into the living room. She followed the chirping to its source, her purse. Flipping open the phone, she mumbled, "Gould here."
A baritone voice, measured but gruff, greets her. "Brass here. Sorry to disturb you."
"No disturbance, sir. Just unpacking." Joanna bit her lip, wondering why the Captain was calling her tonight. "What can I do for you?"
"We've got a homicide and I need you to run it. I know your first day is tomorrow, but we're short-staffed and-"
"Of course," Joanna interrupted. She rummaged through her purse for her notebook and a pen. "Just tell me where."
"A unit's on its way to pick you up. I thought it'd be easier since you don't know the city yet."
Joanna noted his easy acceptance of her agreement. He expected it, of course. New kids on the block can't afford to say no. Joanna opened her purse, checking that her Nikon 35mm was in there, along with her maglite and keys. "I'll meet them out front."
She can hear him flipping through paper. "Unit's number is 276. I have two officers on scene now. They're expecting you."
"Do they," Joanna stopped, searching for diplomatic language.
"They know you're calling the shots, Lieutenant. Oh, and the crime scene unit's there. They're stretched thin so you just have one investigator for now. Use her. She's good. Call if you need more."
"Thanks," Joanna responded.
Papers shuffled in the background and Brass cleared his throat. "Keep me informed."
"Of course. I'll talk to you soon, sir."
"Thanks, Gould." The captain hung up.
Joanna opened the lockbox she brought in from the car. She unlocked it and withdrew her modified Browning 9mm. Trigger pound pressure had been reduced to four pounds. Release modified to allow the firing of the chambered round even as the clip was released for refill. All in all, a solid weapon. Slipping a full clip into it, she tucked it into her shoulder holster and threw on a blazer. It was hot, but the desert winds picked up at night. She remembered that much from years before.
At a remote campground near Lake Mead, Joanna stepped out of the cruiser, taking a moment to button her blazer. The sun was just slipping behind the hills, creating the illusion that all of the land was the painted desert. Down the road and to the right, she could see a dark suv and a police car. Clearly, they went all out on this one.
As she walked closer to the campsite, she could see a woman, young enough to still be all brunette and no grey, standing next to the suv, holding up what looked like a camera. The crime scene investigator. The woman looked over at her. For a second, Joanne thought perhaps the woman would walk out to meet her, a friendly gesture. Irritation prickled her skin as she realized the woman hadn't moved.
The woman in question, Sara Sidle, examined the lens on her camera, checking for sand grains in the moving parts. Tires spitting sand drew her attention over to the police cruiser pulling off the road, a few hundred feet from where Sara stood. As she watched, a petite redheaded woman, mid-thirties maybe, got out of the cruiser.
The two uniforms near Sara turned to each other, one saying, "That's the new Lieu?"
The other nodded. "Good observation, Luna. Keep it up and maybe they'll give you the gold shield."
The first cop shrugged. "Bite me, Alverez."
Sara listened to their comments and stood stock still as the detective approached. Sara appraised the woman in the uneven light of dusk. Jeans, blazer, white sneakers. Sneakers? Sara suppressed a grin and assigned the woman brownie points for being practical. Belatedly, she realized she could have made the first move by stepping forward to greet the woman. Ah well, too late now.
As Joanna approached, she plastered a smooth blank expression on her face, ducking under the crime scene tape and moving towards Sara, lifting her chin in greeting. Before Sara could respond, Joanna stepped around her, peering at the two officers chatting near the picnic table just outside the crime scene, as if they were waiting for someone to provide dinner. Sara noticed the slight shake of her head, the vague disapproval as Joanna asked, "You're the only one from crime scene here?"
Sara bristled. "I'm good."
Joanna took in the dark flashing eyes and defensive crossing of the arms. She lifted an eyebrow. "I'm sure." Turning away from Sara, Joanna surveyed the taped area. Someone, the porcupine in front of her probably, had cordoned off a single campsite, but she didn't spot a body. She lifted her face against the evening breeze. Dry wood, sand. No other smells. This must be a secondary scene. Through a couple of stunted pines, Joanna noticed a ravine trail cutting through two sharply rising hills, Joshua trees dotting the path. The body must be back there.
"Whoa." Sara pulled up short, holding up her hands as Joanna turned herself around just in time for a crash collision with her. Joanna stepped back, slightly embarrassed, unsure whether the csi was going to steady her or push her with those raised hands.
She swung her gaze back to the idle officers. "Anyone been here other than you and the firsts on the scene?" She winced internally at her crisp tone, but this woman wasn't making a friendly first impression.
Sara stared in disbelief at this cop who barreled onto her crime scene without so much as a 'hello'. What was her deal? Already pissed that Grissom didn't give her some help, Sara was in no mood to deal with a stranger weighted down by a chip on her shoulder. Of course, with Warrick on a rare vacation, Sara knew they were short-handed, but it didn't make her feel better.
Returning to the moment, Sara shook her head at Joanna's question. "No. There's a police officer at the diner a few miles down the road, interviewing employees. I arrived a few minutes ago. I taped off the ravine where the body is. It looks like whoever dumped the body also used this campsite," Sara gestured to the site a few yards to her left, "so I taped it off as well. I'm Sidle, by the way."
Joanna didn't know whether that was a first or last name. She went with last. "Detective Gould." Joanna noted the other woman didn't hold out her hand and the knot of tension forming in her shoulder blades grew tighter.
Sara stood a couple of inches taller than the detective, but Joanna was standing on higher ground, her green eyes staring straight into Sara. Sara, skewered by the gaze, made an effort to stand her ground. Suddenly, understanding filtered through her and Sara mentally slapped herself as she realized the detective was thinking of that walk over here and how Sara had just stood there.
Sara tossed out a quick apologetic grin. Time to start over. "Oh damn, you know, I, uh, didn't mean to not meet you, uh," she sputtered out of words, not really sure how to word it. "Ah well, didn't mean to be rude, is what I'm trying to say, with you walking over here. Replay, okay." Sara grinned, stepped forward and held her hand out. "Hi, I'm Sara Sidle, csi. Nice to meet you."
In that instant, Joanna realized something about the uniformed investigator looking directly at her like an expectant teenager. Clearly, people weren't Sara's strong suit. At all. Well, Joanna could deal with that. She grinned, defrosting towards the investigator. She shook Sara's hand. "Call me Joanna."
A second later, Joanna realized something else. In her uniform, with the top few buttons undone, Sara was, for lack of a more intellectual word, kinda hot and Joanna was suddenly pleased with working with her. A little vicarious pleasure at work. It didn't matter what the csi might think of it because she would never know what was running through Joanna's id. Just a little something pleasant to look at in between the grisly images that normally occupied her attention. Idly, Joanna wondered if that made her sexist. She dismissed the thought, not really caring. PC was for politicians.
Now, Sara was looking at her strangely in the growing silence. Joanna shrugged and said, "Sorry. I know I have a tendency to barge right in and start barking."
Sara nodded in acceptance and looked around. "You wanna do this?"
Joanna slipped a recorder from her pocket and attached a mini-microphone to her lapel. She pressed record and dropped it back into her pocket. "Show me."
Sara ducked under the crime tape, gesturing for Joanna to follow her. Joanna kept herself one step behind the CSI. Who knew what she might step on. There was so much minutiae. That's what CSIs are for, Joanna thought. To take care of the details that brought the larger picture into focus.
Joanna suddenly realized Sara was talking and pointing. She focused in on the fire ring. Sara squatted down, camera dangling around her neck. Joanna saw a necklace dangling from Sara's neck, a medallion type hanging on a short black string or something similar. Joanna hated necklaces for this very reason. They were intended to do only one thing, draw your eyes to where they were hanging. Where do they hang? A place Joanna didn't think Sara would want her looking.
Eyes back to the fire ring. Sara was picking up twigs with tweezers and dropping them in bags. She caught Joanna's quizzical expression. Sara held up the tweezers. "These aren't spruce. Look."
Much as Joanna tried to ascertain the details of the twig Sara held, it just looked like a tiny piece of wood to her. "What is it?"
Sara shrugged. "No idea. Just not spruce. Ted can tell us more."
Sara dropped the twig into her bag. "Forensic biologist. One person can't know everything, ya know. Well, unless you're Grissom?"
Sara waved away her question, continuing to scour the ground. Joanna hunched down near Sara. "What else?"
Sara glanced over at the detective. Joanna's green eyes seemed to dance all over her face, giving rise to an impulsive need to giggle. Sara bit it back and pointed to an impression in the sand. "See that?"
Joanna looked closely. Something, a bowl of some type, had rested in the sand. It must've been heavy to leave such a dent. She peered closer. There also seemed to be something imprinted in the bottom of the depression. "Are those letters?"
If Sara was impressed with her keen powers of perception, she didn't show it. Sara merely tilted her head. "Possible. I'll mix up a fixative, get a cast." She plopped a number flag near the site.
Joanna watched her dig something out of her pocket. Lip balm. She applied it in efficient strokes, but noticed Joanna looking. "You should get some. Desert will fry you if you let it."
Joanna chuckled. "I'll put it on my list, right after 'buy a bed' and 'purchase food'."
"Been in town long, have you?" Sara asked, holding out the chapstick in offering.
Joanna shook her head and Sara tucked the stick away. "Approximately 6 hours."
"Leave it to Brass to pull you in." Sara laughed and Joanna suspected she would have liked it if it was given in full. She wondered how long it had been since Sara laughed without thought put into it. Too long, she suspected.
"Anthing to avoid unpacking," Joanna replied.
"I hear that." Sara stood up, brushing sand from her knees. "Wanna go look at the body?" Coming from Sara, it sounded like a challenge.
"Might as well." Joanna hoped she would keep her composure in front of the csi. Something about her made her want to prove her worth, as if fifteen years of being a cop wasn't proof enough of her toughness.
She took a deep breath and followed the woman into the ravine.
Sara stopped a few feet from the body. Joanna paused beside her, taking in the victim, clad in jeans and a t-shirt, faced down. She was gratified no one had turned it up to keep lividity from marking the face. While nice for the funeral homes and families, the change in body position could screw up an investigation. Of course, a good csi would know that and Sara struck Joanna as a very good csi.
The body was positioned in the center of the ravine, with sage brush and bramble on either side. Joanna leaned down behind Sara, not close, but enough to see what she was doing. Enough also to see lividity in the face was not going to be a problem. There was no face. More precisely, there was no head. Running her eyes down the body, Joanna saw both hands were missing as well. "Oh, shit."
"Yeah, well, that about sums it up," Sara stated, turning her head to talk to her. "While the autopsy will tell us more, we have no identification and no obvious cause of death."
"Can you give me etd?" Joanna stared at the body, then looked at Sara, keeping her gaze steady despite the gruesome sight.
"Advanced rigor mortis suggests at least twelve hours, so about eight this morning. However, see here?" Sara pointed but Joanna didn't see anything. Sara used a tweezer to pick up a blow fly egg. "No maggots. Eggs only. The body was brought here no earlier than about one o'clock this afternoon. In broad daylight." Sara took a closer look at the sand surrounding the body. Dry soil encircled the wrists and neck areas. "This was only a dumping ground, though. No staining on the sand."
Joanna concurred as Sara snapped full body shots. "It doesn't make any sense. Our perp drags a body out here in the middle of the day, maybe performs some type of ritual at the campsite, easily seen from the road, and then drags the body up here?"
Sara shrugs. "This road's been closed the last three months, landslide. They just reopened it. Plus, it's summer. Chances are, it was deserted no matter what time our perp got here."
"What about the person in charge of the campsite?" Joanna asked.
"He's being tracked down as we speak. This site's been unofficially closed as long as the road has. No one's been here in months." Sara looked over the body and decided to state the obvious. "If I had to take a guess, our perp killed the victim, removed the head and hands after death elsewhere, and then brought him out here for some reason."
The wrist stumps were dark, mottled brown, standing out against the pale skin. As much as it made Joanna's stomach turn, she needed to take a closer look at the skin around the amputations. "Am I right in seeing no significant tearing of the skin?"
Sara lifted an eyebrow a fraction of an inch, which Joanna took as meaning she was impressed. "That's right. Someone took a great deal of care in removing the body parts."
Joanna mumbled into her microphone, "Most times, hands and heads are removed to prevent quick identification. Then again, when that was the case, the perp usually performed a hack job, preferring efficiency to quality. This suggests alternative reasons."
Sara waited for her to finish. "Don't like writing?"
"Tape's easier to review. My handwriting's atrocious." Joanna had a hunch these amputations were related more to a ritual the killer had to fulfill then the need to hide the dead man's identity. She made a mental note that when talking to the Captain later, she would substitute the word 'hunch' with 'educated opinion.'
"You coming for the autopsy?" Sara interrupted Joanna's train of thought. The enigmatic detective was wearing on her. Not in a bad way, but Joanna was proving to be a puzzle without any clues. Sara hated spending time trying to understand people. Usually, they were fairly transparent. Even Grissom, with his ongoing internal struggle whether to acknowledge his attraction for her was easy to spot, if painful to acknowledge. If they didn't give you anything to know where they stood, they couldn't be trusted. It was that simple.
Joanna grimaced. "I'll be there." She stood up. "I need to talk with the first officers on the scene. Fill me in on what you find?"
Sara nodded. "You'll be first to know."
"Thanks." Joanna turned around and carefully made her way back down the ravine. Engaging in wishful thinking, she imagined Sara's eyes on her back.
Behind her, Sara was indeed watching the detective disappear down the trail. She found herself caught in the act when the detective suddenly turned around.
"Hey, I don't have a vehicle out here. Give me a lift when you're done?"
Sara waved in response. "It'll be awhile though."
Joanna nodded then turned back to the trail, a slight smile playing on her lips.
Sara reluctantly pulled her attention away from the retreating figure and back to the body before her. Without head or hands, there wasn't much she could do until the autopsy.
She carefully scooped soil from every area around the body, taking particular care around the stumps. That done, she placed plastic bags around the wrist stumps, securing them in place. She did the same around the victim's sneakers. The breeze, now picking up, made removal of debris from the shoes too risky.
She glanced down the ravine. No drag marks but there was something else. Sara stepped down the path, keeping to the side. Two narrow bands left an impression in the sand. A two-wheeler, so not a wagon. She followed the lines back to the body. There it was, a single pole impression. Wheelbarrow, then. She snapped pictures.
She scoured the area around the marks, but the sand was too loose to retain footprints.
Sara almost jumped out of her skin at the boyish voice requesting her attention. Nearly losing her balance, she spun around to face the coroner's assistant. "Jesus. Don't you know to announce yourself before you screw up my crime scene?"
The young man stepped back, pushed by her vehemence. "Sorry, I didn't think."
"A common trait," Sara retorted, looking him over. "Hey, you're new, huh?"
Off his nod, she loosened up a touch. "Sorry, didn't mean to bite your head off." She brushed the sand off her knees, then looked over her evidence collections, checking their seals before dropping them into her kit. "The body's all yours. I'll go over the area again after you've finished."
The newbie nodded and retreated back down the ravine.
The sun, now hidden behind hills, left the ravine and campsite in shadows. Another ten minutes and full dark would descend upon the scene. Sara was suddenly glad she was working solo, it added to the efficiency, well, assuming she hadn't missed anything. Standing next to the Coroner's van, she scribbled down notes. She didn't hear Joanna approach until the woman was only a few inches from her.
"He paid cash." Joanna announced, causing Sara to drop her pen.
"That is the second time today someone's snuck up on me." Sara growled. "I'm getting tired of it."
"Maybe you should pay more attention to your surroundings," Joanna offered. Sara shot Joanna a scathing look, but Joanna spoke again without pause. "Our killer, he paid cash." She held up a paper evidence bag.
Sara took it and peeked inside. A wrinkled ten dollar bill rested at the bottom. "You touch it?"
Joanna held up a pair of tweezers. "I'm not new to the job, okay? Just the state." Briefly, she wondered how things had gotten so antagonistic again between them.
Sara must have been wondering the same thing. "Sorry, not everyone remembers." She took Joanna's silence as acceptance. "So, why the payment?"
"When the super isn't here, they go by the honor system, whereby guests are expected to drop ten dollars through slot in the check-in window. Whoever used the site today paid for the privilege."
Sara rubbed the bridge of her nose. "This is getting weirder by the minute."
"Couldn't agree more." Joanna didn't get thrown for a loop often. Men not knowing the score to a 'Bama game threw her. So did driving to a gas station and not finding a pecan nut roll. This topped it. "A killer driving to a site to dispose of a dead body and do God knows what else, and paying for the site. What gives?"
Joanna's talking to herself, but Sara answered anyway. "Honor's important to him."
Sara shrugged. "Just a thought. The actions were cold, impersonal. Yet this same person followed the rules, paid when no one would've known otherwise. It suggests honorable intentions." Sara pursed her lips, chewing on the scenario. "You learn anything else?"
"The super's on vacation. We won't reach him for another day, at least, but at least it rules him out as a suspect." Joanna scanned the horizon as if reading from paper. "No one at the diner saw anything unusual. Just had locals in for lunch, all of whom drove in from the other direction, as did the employees."
Sara dropped her kit into the back seat of her car. "I'm about done here. Coroner's taken the body and I got what I need. The doc won't get to the autopsy until morning."
Joanna nodded. "I guess I better check in with Brass then."
Sara grimaced. "Yeah, good luck with that."
"Officer Luna," Joanna gestured to the uniform standing by a cruiser, "offered me a lift to the station so I guess I'll see you at the autopsy."
Sara decided she wasn't quite ready to part company with the Detective. "We're all going to the same part of town. Let me give you a lift. You can tell me where you come from. I'm sure I hear the south in you."
"Good ear. I thought I ditched the accent." Joanna commented, opening the passenger seat door.
Sara gestured at Luna that he was free to go and then got into the driver's seat. "You shouldn't. It's sexy." She started the car, surprised to have rendered the detective speechless. Something to explore there perhaps?
Joanna saw the fleeting grin ghost over Sara's features. What it was about, Joanna had no idea and supected she wasn't going to find out either. She settled into her seat as darkness covered the land.
Checking in with Brass took longer than she expected and it was after midnight when Joanna finally let herself back into her darkened apartment. The sight of moving boxes did nothing to improve her now foul mood.
End of a shift. Empty apartment. Nothing but herself for company. Joanna hated it but she wasn't gonna change it, not for the world. She dumped her bag on the single table she had brought with her and slumped into the chair.
Henderson, Nevada. Twenty minutes or so outside of Vegas proper. Quiet, gated community, filled with young upwardly mobile couples with kids or thinking about it. Not Joanna. She was just here for the swimming pool and free gym.
She stood and made her way into the kitchen. She remembered about the corkscrew after pulling the chardonnay out of the 'fridge. "Damnit."
Stomping back into the living room, Joanna swept her gaze over the boxes, searching for one labeled 'miscellaneous'. She found it and, with some effort, stripped off the packaging tape. After moments spent rummaging through it, Joanna lost all patience and dumped the box upside down on the floor.
Tools, folders, and other assorted items spilled out. To one side, a pocketknife skittered across the hardwood floor, stopped by the leg of the table. At the sight of it, Joanna grinned. Then, she saw a thin picture frame, wrapped in brown paper, sliding across the other way. Joanna heard the sound of cracked glass as the frame struck the wall.
She stared at the wrapped frame as if it suddenly turned into a living breathing creature. "Shit," she whispered to herself, "shit, shit, shit." She stepped over to the frame, picking it up with shaking hands. She could feel the cracked glass of the frame through the paper. She should've taken the paper off, fixed the frame. Instead, she choked, unable to look at the image the broken glass covered. She took the frame into the bedroom, opened the closet door and set it on the upper shelf. She slammed the door shut, then went back into the living room.
Without hesitation, Joanna scooped up the pocketknife. Grabbing the wine, she peeled off the tinfoil. The corkscrew on the knife kept slipping off the top, though, taking little chunks of the cork with it each time. The third time, the tip slid off completely, scratching Joanna's hand. "Jesus!" Joanna struggled to contain her tears but they spilled out anyway, running down her cheeks and dripping on her shirt.
The corkscrew slipped from her hand as she planted her hands on the counter, her second defense against her solid composure breaking down. Joanna choked back her sobs, gasping for breath, struggling to contain herself. Within a few minutes, she could once again focus on opening the wine bottle. She didn't even bother looking for a glass. There were none.
Joanna took the bottle into the bedroom, where a sleeping bag was laid out. She set her phone by the head of the bag and sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall. She took a swig from the wine bottle, wishing she had thought to buy a bottle of scotch instead.
The rest of Sara's shift passed slowly. Greg was backed up in the lab and Sara didn't trust a newbie to take care of her evidence. With nothing to go on in her case just yet, she checked in with Grissom. True to form, he had plenty of paperwork for her to help out on. Yawn.
It was just past eight in the morning when Sara decided to take off. Her shift over, she had three hours to wait before the autopsy of her body. Sara stood next to her car in the parking lot, debating what to do. She flipped open her cell-phone, intending to call Detective Gould and see if she was onto anything. On second thought, the woman probably needed her sleep, especially if she spent all day driving yesterday. Sara shut the phone.
She didn't want to go home, though, not yet. She wasn't tired for one thing; for another, something was running through her blood, something making her foot twitch and her insides contract. Cigarettes, food, booze, she suspected none of things would cease the sensation but she might as well try.
Fifteen minutes later, Sara strode into Palace Station. Off the strip, mostly locals, she enjoyed coming here after her shift, throwing back a few beers and shooting the shit with Ben, the bartender. As she made her way through the slots then the tables, she waved to a few of the dealers before sliding onto a bar seat.
"Hey, Ben. How's it treating you?" Sara set her elbows on the bar, smiling at the fifty-seven year old.
Ben shrugged, pushing his unruly gray curls out of his eyes. "Good times. Tourist season. A fox like me gets all the tips, you know."
"Yeah, you're a stud." Sara tapped the counter. "Usual."
Ben slid an open Miller bottle in front of her. "Tab?"
Sara shook her head. "Nah, got an autopsy in a couple of hours. Just gonna be the one for me today."
She was about halfway through her drink when a waitress sidled up next to her, setting her tray down. "Settle me up, Ben. I'm outta here." She turned to Sara, smoothing back her short red hair. "Hey there, hottie. What's cooking?"
Sara smiled. "Not much, Michelle. You done here?"
Michelle nodded, then grimaced, bringing a hand up to her neck. "Yeah. Hoping to get some sleep, but my neck's killing me."
Sara watched the waitress rub her neck, rolling her head around in a small sensuous circle. Sara found herself entranced by the motion. Michelle had been hitting on her for the last three months. Sara knew it was just a matter of time before she said yes. Might as well be this morning.
Sara threw some cash down on the counter. "Keep the change, Ben." She turned her attention to Michelle, pinning the waitress down with a stare. "Last time I checked, I was pretty good with my hands."
"Maybe you could help me then," Michelle purred, unable to keep a glint of satisfaction out of her voice.
Sara stood up, lightly touching the other woman's shoulder. "You drive. I'll follow."
Ben just shook his head as the two women moved away from the bar and into the crowd.
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