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.
Joanna stirred as the early morning light filled the bedroom and heated her face. She cracked open an eye, making a mental note to buy heavy blinds as the window faced east. She glanced to the other side of the room, gratified to see she only got through half the bottle of wine before tucking down into the sleeping bag. Lightweight. She couldn't stand being drunk, the only reason she wasn't an alcoholic by now given the way she'd taken up reaching for a bottle in the dark.
She grabbed her cell-phone and checked the time. A few minutes before eight. Brass gave her until after the autopsy before she had to check in at the station. Funny, Sara would just be finishing her shift, assuming she left on time. Joanna doubted that was something that happened often.
A half-hour later, Joanna was showered, dressed and staring at an empty 'fridge. Another day, another pair of jeans and a blazer, same Browning 9mm hugging her hip. She grabbed her bag off the table along with the rental car keys. Hopefully, luck would be on her side as she searched for a diner.
As it turned out, luck wasn't on her side and after touring the whole of Henderson, Joanna gave up looking for a stand-alone food joint. Finally, she drove into the city and just trudged into a casino buffet. Greasy, but it would see her through to the end of the day.
Nine o'clock rolled around. Another hour and a half before the autopsy. Joanna leaned against her car, trying to determine the best use for her time. She flipped open the cell-phone and dialed the lab. Through the department secretary, she obtained the office for Ted, Sara's forensic botanist. He wasn't with the department, though, but outsourced help. After calling to make sure he was in the lab, Joanna was in the car and on her way, loving the digital map read-out on her dashboard.
Ted held up the twig for Joanna's inspection. She shook her head. "It looks just like it did yesterday. Fascinating. Will it help me?"
Ted grinned at her, giving his face a comical effect as his eyes disappeared and his rosy cheeks took over. "Oh yeah." He handed her a Polaroid of twig with several leaves attached. "Ceiba Petandra, family Malvaceae. The Ceiba tree."
Joanna studied the photograph, trying to recall knowledge from seminars of years past. "South America?"
Ted bobbled his head. "Yes and no. Tropical rain forests. Usually, some of the tallest trees in the rain forest, displaying an umbrella effect. Central, South America. Africa."
"I'm hearing something I like," Joanna commented. "So, this wood is not indigenous to the United States?"
"No," he answered. "Certainly not here. It would need very specific conditions in a greenhouse to survive and even then, it would only grow to maybe nine or ten feet. This," he held up the twig, "comes from a very young tree. It was cut fresh, but dried out."
Joanna jotted down some rare notes. "So, it was purchased or grown for a specific purpose at my scene. Not random. Hopefully, it's difficult to find out here."
Ted watched her make notes, then piped up. "You can buy seeds on the Internet, but not the tree. If your guy didn't grow it, there are only a few stores where you can buy this particular wood."
Joanna slowly rose her eyes to meet his expectant gaze. "Let me guess, you keep track of all the botany shops in the area." Off his nod, she squealed. "You are the best!"
He hands her a print out of store names. She glances at it, then noticed the time on her watch. "I'm going to be late for the autopsy." Joanna folded the sheet of paper and put it in her purse. "Thanks so much for your help."
"Anytime. In fact, it's nice to see a new face."
Joanna paused by the doorway. "What do you mean?"
Ted shrugged, carefully tucking away the twigs into the evidence bags. "I usually talk with the CSIs. Not tactful lot, especially Grissom and his protege."
A chatter meant a chance to get more information on the group into which Joanna stumbled. She raised an eyebrow. "I'm new here, obviously. Who's Grissom again?"
"You haven't met him?" When she shakes her head, Ted grins. "He's the head honcho of the night shift. Takes his job very seriously. Genius of a guy, less skilled in the social arena."
Joanna nodded. "Sounds like the one I'm working with. Sidle."
Ted laughed this time, shaking his head. "At least you don't have both of them breathing down your neck. They're peas in a pod, those two. Good luck."
"Thanks. I'll call you if I have any more questions." Joanna turned to go.
"Oh, you won't have to," Ted responded.
"Sara won't trust your version of events. She'll be back here, asking everything you did and more."
Joanna tightened up, her easy smile tugging into a frown. "Are you saying I missed something?"
Ted held up his hands. "No way. Just that Sara will assume you did."
"Excellent." Joanna dug her keys from her bag. "Then I guess I'll see you later."
Sara stepped out of the bathroom, tugging down her tank top. Michelle watched her form the bed. Without speaking, Sara sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on her shoes.
"I knew I'd get you here eventually." Michelle said.
Sara looked at her over her shoulder. "Not worth the wait, I bet."
Michelle stretched. "More than worth it, but you need to relax more. Maybe we'll work on it."
Sara stood up quickly, walking to the dresser and picking up her phone and pocket items.
Michelle laughed. "Calm down, Sara. No ties. I promise. You and I want the same thing here. Nothing."
Sara listened to the tone of voice, then turned to stare at Michelle's' face. The woman was telling the truth. Finally, Sara smiled and stretched herself across the bed. She kissed Michelle and traced a hand down the woman's side. "See ya around."
With that, she rolled off the bed and bounced out of the room. Michelle called after her. "The door's self-locking. Just make sure you shut it well."
She heard the solid thump of the door closing. With a smile on her face, she drifted off to sleep.
All over the country, morgues smelled the same. Formalin mixed with astringent cleaner and that which can only be inadequately described as death, which often presented itself as more of a foul taste of bile than a distinct scent.
Before Joanna stepped into the main autopsy suite, she removed a bottle of wintergreen scent from her bag and rubbed it on the stiff mask she then slipped over her mouth. She offered the bottle to Sara, who hesitated then took it.
Dr. Robbins was midway through the autopsy on a different John Doe than theirs and Joanna slid along the wall so as not to disturb him. Sara, however, moved right beside him, peering over his shoulder. Such an action would drive Joanna crazy but, she surmised, Robbins was probably accustomed to the pushy csi. "That's not our guy."
"No." The doctor gestured to a different gurney. "He's over there. Finished this morning. Sorry, had the time. Give me a minute. I'll fill you in."
Joanna stepped over to their John Doe, now that it had been established as acceptable. The body lay on a double level steel gurney, the clothes cut off and sent to the lab for analysis. Dr. Robbins started up the cranial saw to break open the skull. Sara stepped back to refrain from getting bone dust on her. Joanna followed suit.
Against the wall, Sara tapped Joanna's shoulder. "You went to see my botanist."
Joanna heard the accusation in Sara's tone, but shrugged it off. "Yeah, we got a good lead off it. I have some officers doing the foot work on the lists of shops."
Sara yanked her mask down a little to hiss, "You should've waited for me."
"Why?" Joanna asked blandly. "He spoke English."
The whir of the saw stopped and Sara directed her attention back to the table. Then, the doctor started the saw again. She returned her piercing gaze to the detective before her. "My evidence. Show some respect. I'm not some lackey who crawls around crime scenes, packs it up for you and disappears. I follow through on my work."
"I know you do, Sara." Joanna leaned in to the younger woman to ensure being heard. Sara smelled of fresh gardenia and Joanna noticed Sara's hair was still a bit damp. But still wearing yesterday's clothes, she noted. Curious, but Joanna opted to stay on topic. "Sara. I respect what you do, more than you'll ever know. The bottom line is, as you weren't the one doing the tests, Ted was gonna give the same information to you as he did to me. I didn't go behind your back or over your head. I saved us some time."
Sara was about to respond when the saw stopped again. Joanna whispered to her, "I didn't realize you were so sensitive about it. You didn't strike me as the insecure type. I won't do it again, all right?"
The look of indignation on Sara's face was well worth the little dig. Joanna stepped back to the table. "Doc, fill me in on what I missed."
The doctor turned briefly, setting the saw down on the tray. He stepped over to the other gurney. "Your John Doe is Hispanic, well nourished and in reasonably good shape. I'd say he's in his mid-thirties. It's a difficult call, given the lack of a head."
Sara finally stopped trying to come up with a come-back line for Joanna and listened to the doctor. She noticed Joanna was holding up her tape recorder. A small irrational part of her wanted to knock the recorder from the detective's hand. So glad she was an adult now and not subject to the whims of immature thoughts. Ha. "What about the cause of death?"
"Cause? Easy. Cardiac arrhythmia, heart failure. Looks like there was respiratory and circulatory failure as well. No obvious manner of death, however. There's nothing on surface to indicate what caused the cause of death."
"Blood's been sent to toxicology?" Joanna asked.
"A couple of hours ago. Stomach contents have been delivered to the lab as well." Dr. Robbin consulted his notes. "Okay, so the body was spotted from the air around five this afternoon. CSI was on the scene by five."
Sara nodded. "Body was an advanced rigor mortis with fixed lividity."
"Given your notes and my examination, I'm putting time of death at around eight this morning. There's no evidence of manner of death on or inside the body." He glanced over to his assistant, who was weighing the organs. "Blood specs might tell you more."
"What, so we have nothing?" Sara's skepticism was clear.
"Not nothing," Joanna said. "The clothes are at lab, which I'm sure will contain some evidentiary goodies for ya. Blood may give us a hint on cause of death. And we got a lead concerning the twigs, which will no doubt require your expertise."
Sara had enough. "Listen up, I know I'm not expendable. I don't have to prove my worth to you. If there's evidence, I'll find it. I don't' need or want your permission."
Dr. Robbin, meanwhile, had turned the body on its side. "If I could interrupt your argument for a minute." He waited until he had both of their attention. "Seems our Doe was no stranger to pain."
Covering the whole length of the back was a tattoo. Sara puzzled over the tattoo. "Who is this, Mary?"
"Actually, it's Madonna of Guadalupe," Joanna peered closer at the tattoo.
Sara shook her head. "So, our vic's a really religious guy or what?"
Joanna stepped back from the body. "More likely our guy did time. If we had his fingers, no doubt his prints would come up in the system."
"Off the record, it does resemble other joint tats I've seen." Dr. Robbins stroked his chin and shrugged. "Sorry, that's all I got for you right now." He turned back towards his other body.
"Joint tats?" Sara looked from Joanna to the doc's back. "Fill me in."
Joanna cleared her throat to answer. There was no reason a csi would know this stuff but Joanna hated explaining it. "A lot of Hispanic convicts get a Madonna tattoo on their backs to deter unsavory contact." Sara gave her a blank look. Joanna opted for bluntness. "Rapists."
Sara nodded, embarrassed she hadn't put two and two together on that. "I'm rusty on that side of things."
"Yeah, I was lucky. A few months ago, I attended a seminar on gangs and tats."
"I wish they'd send us to things like that." Sara stepped outside the suite, holding the door open for Joanna.
Joanna pulled off her mask and removed the gown, tossing both in the disposal use. "Actually, I paid for it myself. Used two weeks of vacation." Joanna remembered arguing with her Captain over it, pleading for him to send a couple of detectives to the annual Law Enforcement Conference, He eventually agreed, sending two rookie detectives. Not Joanna.
When Joanna questioned him about it, he coolly responded that rookies needed help because they lacked experience. He was trying to piss her off and he succeeded. Joanna's revenge was taking two weeks of vacation and paying for the trip herself. Well, less revenge, more chutzpah. The captain refused her vacation request
She had caught the Police Chief in the elevator a few days before the conference. She casually mentioned the conference. The Captain didn't often get involved in departmental squabbles, but he loved his people taking initiative. He told the Captain to let Joanna go. He did, but Joanna spent an awful lot of time pushing paperwork when she returned.
Sara finished removing her garb as well. "So, we have to find a way to use this tattoo to get a name."
Joanna washed her hands and under her nose, wiping off the wintergreen scent. "Well, we're looking for someone who's a possible parolee, old enough to have a family, and has a large tattoo."
Sara flipped through the Polaroids. She noted a few faint scars, but nothing that would stand out. She handed them to Joanna. "Missing Persons can get started on it." Sara couldn't hold back the yawn that overtook her.
Joanna glanced at her watch. It was just after noon. "You need to get some sleep. You don't look like you've had any."
Sara nodded. "We should get toxicology reports back by five. That might give us another direction to go in." Sara popped her head back into the autopsy suite. "Hey Doc? How about preserving me a slice of skin with the tat on it? I want to test the ink."
She shut the door. "I'm gonna get some shut-eye. How about you pick up the tox reports and meet me at the labs around 7 this evening? I want to take a look at that ink later."
Joanna walked out of the door, holding it open for her. "Sounds like a plan."
In the parking lot, Sara watched Joanna slide on her sunglasses and walk to her car. Grumpily, Sara realized she was waiting for an apology for how the detective talked to her earlier. Then, she realized she had it backward. She started to call out to Joanna, but the other woman had already slid into her car. All Sara could do was watch the car exit the parking lot.
Joanna, quite bluntly, was relieved to be free of the younger csi for a few hours. Perhaps Sara would be more socially inclined after some sleep. Somehow, Joanna doubted it.
A quick call to the lab confirmed the blood had yet to be tested. Their John Doe wasn't a priority, big surprise. Missing Persons, too, were still trying to match the victim's identifying marks and tattoo with someone on their database. That left Joanna with two choices: paperwork or wood.
Wood it would be then. The officers running down Ted's list had returned with three shops circled, all of which carried the Ceiba wood, sold in parcels or as saplings. Joanna suspected Sara, or someone else at the labs, could take samples from the stores and see if they matched the ones from the scene. Huh, maybe she was asking for magic. But, knowing Sara, maybe not. Joanna reflected on Sara's attitude regarding her visit to Ted. She immediately resolved that anything to do with forensic evidence could wait until she was with the testy csi.
Damn it, that only left paperwork. Joanna left the Chief Medical's building and got into her car. What did she have to work this case? Wood, forensics. Tattoo, Missing Persons. Witnesses, none. Headless, handless body dropped in the desert in the middle of the day. Great first case. She needed to have a word with Brass. They weren't trying to run her out of the department on her first day, were they?
Joanna started the car. To hell with it. She had nowhere to go with this one until Sara joined her. Might as well make her living conditions actually livable. She pulled out of the lot and headed towards Henderson.
Joanna rushed into the apartment, almost spilling her two bags of groceries as her cell phone continued to chirp. The caller id was blocked so Joanna flipped it open and barked, "Speak."
"And so I will," came Sara's voice, sounding surprised. "Come on, we have work to do. I got the list of shops, thought we'd hit 'em before they closed. Assuming, of course, you haven't already been there, oh fleet of foot."
"Funny." Joanna looked at her watch and silently cursed. It was only four pm. Did the woman ever sleep? "I saved them for you."
Joanna brought the groceries into the kitchen and unloaded them, perching the cell phone between her shoulder and ear. "This lack of sleep explains a lot about you, Sara. I'm guessing you're ready to go."
Sara was momentarily silenced as she pondered what the hell the detective meant by her first remark. She shook it off to respond, "Yeah. I'm picking you up. First store's a drive."
Joanna noted how there were no questions in the statement. "Fine. Thirty minutes. I'll meet you at the lab. We'll leave from there." Well, two could play that game. She shut her phone.
Forty-five minutes later, Joanna found Sara sitting on the hood of her vehicle, studying some photographs. "Look at this." Sara slid off the hood, thrusting the photos at Joanna.
"Whoa Nelly, gimme a chance to catch my breath," Joanna laughed as she took the pictures. They were casts of the indentation from the sand at the campsite, blown up. "So, they were letters."
Sara peered over her shoulder to answer, "Yeah, initials, I'm thinking. GST. See there, a design too, like a snake maybe?"
Joanna felt Sara's presence acutely, the csi's warm breath on her cheek, the lanky body just out of contact with her back, defying gravity to keep its forward position. So controlled. Joanna was willing to bet that, despite the closeness, Sara was paying attention to the details, making sure a slip of paper could fit every square millimeter between her and the detective. Making sure no contact would be made.
For a ridiculous moment, Joanna wanted to fall back, see if the younger woman would catch her. Like those old trust games played in summer camp. Just as quickly, Joanna composed herself, feeling impossibly old and unforgivably weak. Damn it, this move was supposed to help her get it together, not lose it completely.
Then, Sara was gone, opening the passenger side seat for Joanna. Sara buckled up and made sure Joanna did the same before driving the CSI Tahoe down the 215 towards Pahrump. Joanna leaned her head against the door, dozing. Sara wasn't much of a talker. Good thing because Joanna was exhausted.
The radio crackled on the dashboard. "-possible car jacking. FO reported a female db at the scene."
Joanna flipped open her cell-phone, "Yeah, boss. I'm on my way."
A flip of a switch and Joanna's car lit up as she sounded the siren.
Mountain Brook Parkway intersected a jogging trail leading from Mountain Brook Village into the heart of the more affluent areas of Birmingham. Joanna pulled her vehicle off the road behind the two police cruisers near the second part of the trail. Further up and to the right, she could see an officer unrolling crime scene tape around several trees.
Joanna approached as Officer Adam Bree step forward to meet her. He walked with her as she approached the scene. "Morning, Gould. Looks like a car jacking. Woman was pulled from the vehicle, shot in the head-" Adam pointed to his temple, " and left where she fell. We have tire marks..." his voice droned on.
Joanna caught sight of blue jeans, white Addidas, purple sweatshirt with balloons, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. The face was turned away, but Joanna's gaze narrowed on the flash of platinum on the woman's left hand. The woman...
"Sharon," Joanna whispered, coming to a standstill. "Sharon?"
Officer Bree stopped with her. "Do you know this woman?" He looked closely at her, more specifically at her hands. He saw a ring on her hand, identical to the dead woman. He looked at her, stricken. "Oh God, that's not, that couldn't be your Sharon."
Joanna wasn't listening. She was moving closer to the body.
Adam came from behind, grabbed her around the shoulders, pulling her back. "Joanna, Joanna, you can't be here. Come on now."
Joanna screamed. "Sharon!"
Sara nearly drove off the road as Joanna cried out in her sleep. The cry woke the woman up, though, and she lifted her head blearily off the window. "Uh, are we almost there or are we driving across Nevada?"
"It's just up the road." Sara glanced over at Joanna. "Are you all right?"
Joanna rubbed her face, looking out the window. "Yeah. Weird dream." She could hear her voice shaking.
"Who's Sharon?" As soon as she asked, Sara realized she'd crossed boundaries. Joanna seemed to fold into herself, shutting down.
"Let's not do the personal thing right now, okay? It doesn't seem to be your strong suit." Joanna surprised herself with her anger.
Sara shrugged, a little stung. "Fine by me. We're there anyway."
As the two women got out of the car, Sara stole a look over at the detective. She couldn't help but speculate who Sharon was. A sister? A lover? Still a lover? Inexplicably, Sara felt herself chill on that thought. She shook it off and stepped towards the trailer stoop, where Joanna was stretching. Just then, her phone rang.
"Was that your name or a growl?" Brass sounded like his usual cheerful self.
Sara sighed. "Did you dial the wrong number? Wanna talk with your detective?"
"No, you. Wanted to see how Gould's doing." Brass waited for her answer.
"Huh, following up on one of your guys, Brass? That's a little odd." Sara looked over at Joanna and held up a finger. The red-headed nodded.
"Just wanted to make sure you weren't driving her into the dirt." Brass paused, considering what to share. "She's had a rough time of it, wanted to make sure she was doing okay."
"Yeah, fine." Sara turned away from Joanna's penetrating gaze. "Look, is there something I should know, something that could affect the case? Because if there is-"
"No, it's nothing like that." Brass was quick to interrupt her. "Just watch out for her."
"She doesn't need it. She's tough, smart, I'll give her that. Understands the job."
"Big of you to say. She was top dog at her last position in Birmingham."
Sara lowered her voice. "Yeah, well, she's not csi. She's been stepping on my toes, Brass. Cops gotta know when to back off and let us do our job."
Brass chuckled. "Here's a tip. Move your feet."
With that, he hung up. Sara stared at the phone, then back at Joanna. She strode over to the woman and pulled open the trailer door, hitting herself in the arm with the 'OPEN' sign. "Let's go."
"Want to tell me about the phone call?" Joanna held the door open with her foot.
"Nothing to do with you." As Sara followed the smaller woman into the shop, though, she wondered what Brass meant about having it rough. Sara was spending a lot of time wondering about this woman and frankly, it didn't feel all that comfortable.
Though an Open sign hung on the door of the trailer, the interior resembled few retail stores Sara had ever seen. Candles, pottery, jewelry and other odds and ends cluttered every square inch of the main area. Boards were nailed to the walls for shelving space, while three-shelf book units threatened the knees of all who dared enter the shop.
As Joanna entered the store behind her, the door shut, sending a small bell ringing. Joanna took in the site, muttering, "Is this how it's supposed to look, or should we be reporting a break-in?"
A door creaked open from another part of the trailer, the kitchen, perhaps. Sara struggled to see past the beaded curtain hanging in the hallway. The beads parted, a thick mop of gray hair poking through the curtain, followed by a short old man with wizened features.
"Hello, sir?" Joanna stepped forward, waiting for the shopkeeper to raise his head.
He shuffled into the room and grinned at the two women. Sara smiled back. "Hi."
"Hola, pretty ladies." He cried finally, having inched his way to be standing before them. "Such pretty ladies. What can Old Sancho do for you?"
He shuffled until he was barely an inch away from Sara. His head barely touched her chin, and he looked up into her face. "Ah, candles you want, yes? For you, for love, yes?" He saw Sara's eyes darken and, being an astute merchant, backpedaled. "But for such prettiness, not needed. No. Such passion in eyes. I see. Revenge, perhaps, is what you want. I have it for you." He sorted through several shelves worth of trinkets and thrust an object at her.
Sara glanced down at it, then sent a look of utter despair to Joanna. Joanna looked at what the ancient man was holding for Sara and barely managed to suppress a laugh. He held a black candle, shaped loosely in the form of a penis. He saw her held-back mirth and nodded excitedly. "Yes, yes. You see, it burns down, takes power away from the one you put to it."
The man clearly would not budge until Sara took the candle, which she did with little grace. "Fantastic. However, I need something else." She set the candle down on the shelf top, looking around.
Against the far wall, bags of herbs dangled from nails on a board. "That." Sara said, making her way to the wall. She looked over the board, with the sharp-eyed man right beside her. She looked at him. "I need Ceiba wood. Do you have it?"
The old man tugged on his beard, nodding. "Ceiba. Yes, yes. But not often used. Not as powerful, you know, as others that can be gotten."
"Well, I need to see your Ceiba wood." Sara said firmly.
The man nodded. "I get."
Joanna watched the old man leave the room, then turned to Sara. "This is a Botanica."
"A what?" Sarah asked, picking up various objects and examining them.
"A botanica, specialized. This one, probably for Santeria." Joanna stepped closer to her, lowering her voice. "Are you familiar with Santeria?"
Sara shook her head and Joanna continued. "It's a Cuban-African religion, a mix of Catholicism and Yoruban religion. When the Spaniards took Cuba, Brazil, most of the local population took on the surface of Catholicism to avoid persecution. Santeria mixes the worship of Yoruban deities with Catholic Saints, becoming its own religion, separate from both Yoruba and Catholicism."
"Is this gonna have any bearing on our case?" Sara dreaded the answer. She did not like working religious murders. The thought of trying to distinguish between legitimate forensic clues and ritual hogwash that only led to red herrings gave her a headache.
"It might." Joanna wasn't thrilled about murder done in the name of religion either. Unfortunately, it was her specialty. Fate worked in mysterious ways, throwing her on this case.
Just then, Sancho reentered the room, holding several sticks and a bag of powder. "I have it here. Ceiba."
Sara took a stick from the old man, twirling it in her hands. It still had bark on it and was at least half an inch thicker in diameter than the twigs they had found at the scene. She ran her thumb down the bark, no twigs had been snapped off. "You sell any with branches on them, or smaller, like bundles of twigs?"
Sancho shook his head. "No, no. Just like that. All of them. But no one asks for them no more. I have these ones," he held up the sticks, "at least a year, maybe more. Soon, I will use it for firewood." he grinned at them.
Joanna pointed to the baggie. "Powdered Ceiba?"
Sancho nodded. "You need?"
Joanna looked the question at Sara, who shook her head. "This won't help. He didn't get it from here."
Joanna nodded, then turned back to Sancho. "What kind of rituals would Ceiba be used for in for Santeria?"
Sancho scratched his head. "You don't know? Eh, not many for Santeria. Orishas do not like Ceiba, usually. No. But Ajogun, they like. Bigger is better. Ceiba spreads over the others, takes their light, their rain. Good for Ajogun."
Sara glanced over at Joanna, who was nodding as if she understood the words the little old man spoke. Sara decided to let it go and ask about it in the car. "Thanks."
She walked to the door, with Joanna on her heels. Sancho sighed, and set the wood down on a shelf. "Wait," he cried. Sara turned around as Sancho thrust the penis candle in her hand. "You need, eh, you take." He ushered the women out the door, waving to them as they got into the Tahoe.
As Sara buckled her seat belt, she turned to Joanna. "That was weird."
Joanna looked down at the candle Sara still held. "Oh yeah."
It was just after eight as they entered North Las Vegas. Sara rubbed her eyes. "Okay, so Orishas, good spirits, Ajogun, bad spirits."
Joanna could only look at her, dumbfounded. "Forty five minutes of my entire knowledge on Santeria and Palo Mayombe and that's what you get out of it? Orisha good, Ajogun, bad."
Sara pulled into the parking lot for several run-down stores. She glanced at the sheet of paper on her lap. "Another botanica." She got out of the car and looked at the different shops.
Joanna followed suit, but walked from one store front to another, shaking her head. "None of the stores have a name, a sign, something to indicate what's inside."
"These shops are probably word of mouth." Sara looked at her sheet of paper. "This place is listed as Guillermo's. Probably just the name of the guy who runs it."
Joanna approached the window and peered in. "Birds. More birds. Not this one." She moved to another window, peering in. "I can't see anything."
"Hey, Sherlock." Sara called from further down. Joanna glanced over and saw Sara standing next to a palm tree set in a pot outside a door. "Think it might be this one?"
Joanna sauntered past her into the store, whispering, "Smartass."
As warm and inviting as the little trailer shop was, this store exuded the opposite feeling. Shadows seemed to grow longer the further into the room Sara walked. She had felt better at some crime scenes than this store.
Joanna took in the ornately carved shelves attached to the walls. Each shelf held a certain type of item. There was a row of small bowls, ngangas, Joanna remembered. Cauldrons. Beneath that row, a row of jars, filled with herbs and other grounded up items. Joanna felt certain she didn't want to know the exact contents.
Sara leaned in close to whisper. "I'm going to the back, talk to whoever's here."
Joanna looked back at the nganga, nodding. "Be there in a minute." Sara walked off as Joanna gravitated to the cauldrons. She picked up a small black one. The inside was smooth, unlike a mortar, but the outside had small intricate engravings along the rim. Underneath, her fingers felt engravings as well.
Sara glanced back at the detective and saw her examining a bowl. Hmm, that held promise. She was interrupted by a young man sitting behind the counter, whittling a five foot long wooden pole. "Can I help you?"
Sara decided this guy wouldn't believe her if she pretended she was shopping for something. She pulled her LV CSI id card from beneath her shirt and showed it to the clerk. "I just need some information."
The guy shrugged. "I just work here, man. Guillermo's gone for the day."
"I don't need the owner. Do you sell Ceibo wood?"
The guy looked surprised at the innocuous question. "Sure. How do you want it?"
"How do you sell it?" Sara countered, leaning on the counter.
He grinned and bent down, opening the slide panel on the lower part of the counter. He slid several sticks on the table, just like the ones Sancho had. Sara felt a crunch of disappointment.
The clerk threw another stack of baggies on the counter. Sara picked one up. Inside, was a bundle of twigs. Just like that, Sara's face lit up. The guy appeared above the counter and thought the grin was for him. "Hey, found what you need?"
"Maybe." Sara held the bag up to light. A lab would tell if it was a similar cut to the other, but it would be impossible to make any kind of strong connection. The wood was less important than whoever purchased it. "Have you sold any of these recently? I understand it's not a frequently requested item."
The young man sat back on his stool. "I don't work here often, you know. Just covering for Guillermo."
"Who is he to you?" Sara asked.
"Uncle." Off her disappointment, he added, "But he keeps good records. No computer, see? He writes all transactions down by hand."
Sara perked up at this bit of news. "Receipts? Can I look at them?"
"Don't you need a warrant for that kind of stuff?" He asked.
"Not if you offer," Sara tried for a winning smile, but felt it looked probably more like a grimace. She quickly put a hand over her chin and mouth, and just opted for trying to look friendly.
"I'll see what I can find. He only keeps two weeks worth here. The rest I file at the house." The kid headed into the back office, but paused in the doorway. "You're law, right? Watch the door for me?"
"Sure." Sara turned her attention back to Joanna, who was methodically picking up bowls and looking underneath. As if feeling her gaze, Joanna looked back at Sara and motioned for Sara to join her.
"Look at this." Joanna handed a cauldron to Sara, holding it upside-down. She pointed at an area. "What does that look like to you?"
Sara looked closely at the etching. "Initials. GST. Guillermo, maybe?"
"Who's Guillermo?" Joanna asked.
"Guy who owns the place. Nephew's minding the shop today. Looks like they carry the type of wood we want. We might even be able to find a sales receipt from the last two weeks. Fingerprints are a possiblity." Sara looked closely at the bottom. "There's a design here."
"Yeah. all of them have a small design on the bottom, as well as the sides."
"So, we'd have to chase down every person who's bought one of these. It's likely whoever bought it didn't just do so for the purpose of this murder." Sara ran a hand through her hair. "This could take some time."
"Actually, all the designs are different. On every one." Joanna picked up another nganga and handed it to Sara.
Sara ran a finger over the bottom, comparing the design to the first one. "You're right. So, if we find a suspect and their whatever you call it, we should be able to match it to the cast without the Defense saying there are hundred more like it out there somewhere."
"Yup." Joanna took the pots and set them down. "You know, I bet Guillermo hasn't sold a hundred of these. These are obviously all made by hand and there's no price on them. I'm thinking it's pricey."
"So, maybe if we showed Guillermo our photos, he might remember who he sold it to." Sara's musings were interrupted by the sound of two men shouting in Spanish.
Suddenly, an older man appeared behind the counter. "You are the police? We have broken no laws. Please leave."
Sara felt chills running up her arms, every hair standing on edge.
The man stood, his dark eyes burning into Sara. "We aren't concerned with you. I'm hoping you could help us find a murderer though."
The man spread out his hands. "We do not allow murderers on the premises."
Joanna responded without mockery. "Not knowingly. But we are hoping to find a receipt for something our killer purchased here. A bag of Ceiba twigs."
"I cannot help you. I'm sorry."
Joanna held up one of the cauldrons. "These are lovely. Your handiwork?"
Guillermo lifted his chin. "They are my work, yes."
"A few. They are a little more expensive than the usual ngangas. Anyway, I sell them only to those I know." He came over and plucked the bowl from Joanna's hand.
"You must have a lot of repeat customers with your customer service skills. It's Guillermo, I'm assuming." Sara stood closer to the man, knowing her height of 5'9" might intimidate the shorter man.
It failed. "I am Guillermo. And you are leaving."
Joanna stepped forward. "Just one more question. If you only sell the bowls to those you know, then you might be able to tell us who you sold this bowl to." She held out the photo of the bowl cast.
Guillermo didn't even look at the photo. "I'm sorry I can't help you. My clients require their anonymity. Now, we are closed and I really must insist that you leave."
Sara glared at the man. Joanna had to tug her elbow to move her towards the door. "Thanks, Sir. We'll be back."
Joanna could hear the locks clicking as soon as they cleared the door. "Phew, friendly guy."
"Something to hide?" Sara asked, unlocking the car.
"Or just suspicious of police. But man, did that place have a freaky vibe or what?"
"Oh yeah. It's all I can do to resist a shower." Sara unrolled the windows and pulled out of the parking lot.
Joanna checked her watch. "Actually, I don't want to resist."
"Excuse me?" Sara glanced over at her.
"I've been going since early morning. I'm starving and I need a shower." Joanna suddenly realized how true her words were.
Sara considered the possibilities. "Tell you what. I live pretty close to here. You can get some food and a shower while I call around for a warrant."
"I'd hate to impose," Joanna interjected.
"Not a problem. I forget you don't work nights."
"No, just work the case, nights, days whatever." Joanna knew the drill for her job. She had just assumed she'd have a couple of days to settle in before it all began. "So, you probably have other cases to work besides this one, huh?"
Sara frowned, shaking her head. "Actually, since I maxed out on overtime this month, this is the only case I'm assigned to. Might lead to some dead hours in the middle of the night." She chuckled. "No pun intended. Anyway, point being, I can take an hour or two out on personal."
"Sounds like a dream. If you don't mind, I'm all for it." Joanna leaned back and closed her eyes.
"Don't get comfy." Sara pressed down the gas pedal. "I only live ten minutes from here."
Joanna just waved a hand and suppressed a yawn. As Sara drove, she wondered what possessed her to invite this stranger over to her apartment. Blending personal and business, never a good idea. She glanced over at the woman.
Well, she wasn't heartless. The woman looked like she needed more than just a shower and food. Brass's words came back to her and she found herself wondering again what he meant by taking it easy on the detective. Joanna wasn't someone who seemed to need help at all. Then, Sara remembered how the woman had cried out in her sleep, how tense and guarded she had been upon awakening.
Sara resolved to ease up on the cop. She didn't usually weigh her words before speaking, but there was a first time for everything, right? She could do it. She would.
To Be Continued
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