DISCLAIMER: I do not own CSI. I am borrowing the characters and promise
not to damage any outfits with blood. Sweat and tears may occur, but can be
washed out with any good cleaning powder.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Corbeau's Alcove
PART FORTY ONE
When I finally find my voice, I croak out, "excuse me?" I've probably done some permanent damage to my jaw thanks to the way it fell at Nancy's announcement.
"Sara. Sara Sidle." Nancy repeats.
"Yes, I know who Sara is, Nance." I reply sarcastically.
She ignores my remark, giving me that 'sister' look.
"Why is she calling you?" I ask her. They weren't friends. This is very peculiar.
"To be honest, I'm not sure, even after our conversation." Nancy admits, sitting down as if the weight of the admission and my reaction was too much for her.
"What did she say?"
"A whole lot of stuff I didn't quite understand. The general gist of it centered around her desire to reconnect with you."
"Too late," I snort in anger. I don't like being manipulated.
"She sounded absolutely horrible Cath. She was crying, apologising, blowing her nose "
"Yeah? Putting on a show was she?"
"She is in deep pain Catherine, even I could acknowledge that." Nancy rebukes me softly.
"So she was trying to win you over in the hope I'll take her back and pretend that she didn't break my heart?" I ask angrily. I'm angry with Sara for calling and angry with my sister for talking to her. I'm just plain, damn angry.
"I don't think she knows what she wants."
"Even if she did, she'd change her mind a few days after that anyway." I say sarcastically, grinning at my own warped joke.
"She knew she couldn't call you." Nancy remarked. "So she called me to see how you and Lindsay were."
"I'm sorry she dragged you into it." Now I'm just angry with Sara.
"I was already in it Cath." Nancy points out.
"She had no right calling you."
"I said if she needed to, she could call me again." Nancy said, refusing to look me in the eyes. Had she, she would have seen my genuine shock at her statement.
"You what?" I ask very calmly, realising suddenly that Lindsay home.
"Cath, I've never heard anyone so desperate and so broken." Nancy says shaking her head. "I didn't know what else to do."
"I'll call her, tell her to leave you alone."
"No. Don't." Nancy says, putting a hand on my arm as I reach for the phone.
"Nance, she's only doing this to get you on her side."
"She asked me not to tell you she called." Nancy admits. "But after hearing how bad she was I had to mention it."
"She was probably praying on that kindness." I mutter.
"Stop it," Nancy says harshly.
"I love you Cath, but you are not the only one who is hurt here." Nancy says.
"Excuse me? You don't even like Sara." I point out.
"That's not true. I just couldn't understand why you loved her with such trust and acceptance, but I'm not blind Cath, I saw how happy you and Lindsay were whenever she was here. I may not have said it a lot, but I did see it."
"So now you're on her side?" I ask, my tone threatening her to be on my side.
"No. Please stop getting so worked up Cath."
From anyone else, it would have made me angrier, but I always did let my sister get away with a lot more than most. I take a breath, knowing arguing with her is a waste of time. Looking at her, she shrugs so I flop onto the couch and sigh loudly.
"I'm sorry," I mutter. "I guess there's still more to go in this saga hey?" I smile weakly.
Nancy comes to sit next to me, and takes me hand in hers.
"I'm not saying you should call her. I just thought I should let you know." Nancy says softly.
"You're too nice." I tease.
"True." She says smiling.
I lean into her shoulder and she welcomes my attempt to change the tone of her visit.
"She stills loves you sis," Nancy whispers.
"I know. I still love her too," I reply.
I drive into work, thinking about Sara's call to Nancy. After a shower and something to eat, my perspective on the call has changed slightly. Sara's intensely private with her emotions, yet she allowed herself to flounder, according to Nancy, and unleash emotions often hidden. She had taken a huge emotional risk to call my sister, not knowing the outcome. It saddened me she had to do it, but I still wasn't ready to hear her excuses.
"Hey, Catherine!" Greg bounded down the hall, wearing a lab coat.
"You're back in the lab?" I ask frowning.
"Not really. We're going through a little problem, everyone's ill. Some gastro bug. I was here so I volunteered," Greg says, smiling. "Okay, Grissom volunteered me."
"And you put a rush on my stuff?" I ask hopeful.
"Not exactly, but I do have the DNA on the hair follicle. Everything else is still in a line."
I try not to look ungrateful, but I hate waiting.
"Female. Well I kind of guessed it would be anyway Greg."
"Yes, but if your vics girlfriend will cough up her DNA, I'll put it in quickly." Greg offers.
"What's the catch?" I ask.
"No catch. Just tell Jesse I did it," Greg says grinning.
Ah. The latest Saunders crush.
"Speaking of, I have to go," I say smiling my thanks.
Jesse Cox is really starting to piss me off.
"Ms. Allen, this is Catherine Willows from the Crime Lab." Brass introduces me as I sit across from her. She is about my height, quite muscular but flattering. Her fingernails were perfectly manicured, her hair styled to perfection. She slumped in her seat, an interesting change in the rest of her appearance. It made me wonder if she had something to hide. Body language can often be the key.
"Ms. Allen, pleased to meet you. Sorry about the circumstances," I say politely.
"Thank you Miss Willows. I hear you have no suspects as yet."
I look to Jim, who nods that I can answer the question in anyway and he'll back my decision. I fall back on the typical line, "I'm sorry, I can't comment on an on-going case."
"Why am I here?" She asks.
"Well you see, we don't know much about Mr. Marketwater so we were hoping you could assist us," Jim replies.
"I can't think of anything that could help you find Stu's killer."
"How about just some background. You never know, the tiniest piece of information could help us." Brass adds.
"I know some people didn't like his columns. He spoke honestly about things, and sometimes people weren't willing to hear that about themselves or their favourite players."
"Any names jump out for you?" I ask.
"No, he didn't like to tell me those kinds of things. He'd had a few calls on his machine and a few people have abused him in the street."
"Why did Mr. Marketwater have tempered safety glass erected in his kitchen?" I ask.
Ms. Allen smiles before replying and I see her relax for the first time since we started.
"He liked to bounce his basketball off there while he worked."
I smile in kind before asking the question I've wanted to ask as soon as I walked into the room.
"Are you a natural blonde?"
I get a look that's crossed between shock at the change in questioning, and a flash of anger. It's the anger that interests me more.
"Are you accusing me of something Miss Willows?" Allen asks aggressively. Her posture has changed, she's now ramrod straight.
"Certainly not Ms. Allen, we just need to get a broader picture," Brass interjects.
"By asking my hair colour?"
I'm torn between letting her know about the hair we found and acting like hair treatments are important in every case. I settle for somewhere in-between.
"Mine? I was a redhead several years ago, now I'm a shade darker than yours." I say, hoping to coax her into some 'girl talk'.
"It's my real hair alright? I don't know what it has to do with Stu's murder. Do you want to know his real hair colour also?" She asks sarcastically.
We got her pissed off, but at least we got the answer we needed.
"Not necessary Ms. Allen," Brass says smiling. "If you think of anything, please call the number on the card I left with you yesterday."
"Like if I'm getting a haircut? Or would you prefer knowing when my next bikini wax is? Perhaps you'd like to come along?"
"No thank you, I'm not one for the beach anymore; too many doughnuts," he says, patting his stomach. I smile as he opens the door for Allen.
"So?" He asks, as the door closes.
"So, we find out who the other woman is." I say, sighing.
"Hey Doc." I greet the trusty coroner with a smile and notice how weary he looks. "You alright?"
He smiles weakly and nods.
"Just coming down with something I'm afraid. Sorry I was out yesterday." He says apologetic. "Conference."
"It's okay Doc. So, what have you found?"
"COD is obvious. He bled out after being shot," Al stops to sneeze and shakes his head. "Sorry, my report is in more detail." Waving to his throat he says, "haven't had it this bad in a while."
"It's okay Al." I say softly. I've never seen him like this. "Why don't you go home?" I suggest.
"Love to, but I've got several more cases before I can even consider it."
"Okay, take a seat, I'll read your report and we'll chat." I say, hoping at least, that a more relaxed form of information gathering will help him. His smile of relief is enough thanks.
"Where have you been?" Cox asks as she catches me in the corridor.
"Talking with the Doc," I say, continuing on my way to the break room. "Got anything?"
"A few things," Cox says cryptically.
"Like what?" I sigh.
"So now you're interested in what I've got?" She asks smugly, and once again I catch her double meaning.
"If it helps the case, yes." I say firmly.
"Good. I'm ready to eat, we'll have our meeting there," Cox says grinning.
"I just ate," I lie. "Besides, I've got things to do here."
"We have our pagers. Come on Willows, I'm famished." She grins.
Okay, I'll give her this round.
"Let's go. I'm driving."
"Of course you are."
"So, what have you got?" I ask after Cox orders.
"Clothing found some more of those hairs you found in the shower drain." Cox says, taking a sip from her tea. "How'd your interview go?"
"Girlfriend is a blonde," I reply. "Natural."
"So he was cheating on her. Did she know?" Cox asks.
"I didn't want to tell her, just in case she became a suspect. Better to have that up my sleeve for now."
"I would have told her, catch her reaction," Cox says, leaning back against the back of the booth. She grins, "woman scorned, pretty dangerous."
"Dangerous enough to kill? I'm not sure about that with Mikayla Allen."
"I found a phone number in his wallet. Not for Mikayla Allen." Cox says, thanking the waitress as she brings over a hamburger with the lot. "Pass the sauce please."
I hand it over, watching as she brushes her fingers against mine.
"Have you called it?"
"No, wanted to wait to see what you thought." Cox says. "Speaking of dates."
"I'm not dating you." I say firmly.
"I know, you don't like me." She puts her hands up and lowers her voice. "I'm just asking for one shot to do it properly. I haven't started off well, I admit that."
"I'm seeing someone," I tell her.
"Yeah?" She asks, unconvinced.
"Of sorts. I was involved but she's not in Las Vegas right now." Shut up Willows.
"So you're free?"
"Jesse, I'm really not interested in dating right now," I admit.
"It's not a commitment ceremony Catherine. I think you deserve a night off. I would like to take you out to dinner. As friends?"
"Friends don't date," I point out.
"They can, if they both know the boundaries." Cox counters.
"I don't think it's a good idea."
"Look. Let's pretend I haven't kissed you. Let's pretend I haven't aggressively pursued you."
I interrupt, "that's kind of hard to do."
"Okay. So not a date. A dinner between work colleagues who could possibly become good friends?"
I find her pursuit to be quite exciting, although I'd never admit it to her.
"Friends?" I echo skeptically.
Cox smiles and raises her cup.
I clink my cup to hers and watch her smile widen.
"Okay. But nothing more." I say firmly.
She winks at me.
"Nothing more Catherine. Nothing more."
For some reason, I agree.
"Excellent. So, where do you want to go?" Cox asks, taking a bite of her burger while waiting for my answer.
The only places I can think of are ones that held special memories of the time Sara and I spent together. Taking a bite of her burger, smiling as her eyes open wider, I shrug, "you pick."
This is a dangerous game, Willows.
My cell went off as I was getting back in the car.
"Hey Cath, we found our mystery woman. She came in to collect Marketwater's stuff.," Jim tells me and I can just tell he's smiling.
"Did you tell her anything?" I ask. I want to be there when Jim drops the bombshell.
"No, and there's more. I'll fill you in when I see you." Jim says.
"We'll be there in twenty." I say, very interested in whatever this 'other thing' is.
"Brass?" Cox asks as she waits for me to start the car.
"Yeah. Our black haired girl has materialized. In the police station no less."
"Can I?" Cox asks.
"Sure, sit in. Follow my lead though." I say shrugging. Guess it's just easier to treat her like a member of the team, which means acknowledging her previous work as a police officer. After all, I've got enough drama with my teenage daughter.
"As you say skipper," Cox says saluting.
"Fool," I say grinning as she laughs.
"Seriously though Catherine, thank you."
I just nod.
PART FORTY TWO
"Ladies." Jim greets us with his typical welcome. I smile a greeting. I'm always happy to see him on the case. His wealth of knowledge is astounding and he is one of the best at reading the real intentions of someone. I know he's had a few struggles in life, and it no doubt added a few years on his face, but I know he'll always speak his mind. In short, I know I can trust him.
"So, what's the additional news?" I ask. "You obviously wanted to see my expression at the discovery."
"That," Brass motions to the room, "is Mericella Madsen." He says it like it's supposed to mean something, but I'm drawing a blank.
"Really?" Cox says, peering over my shoulder. Looking at my face she continues, "the wife of Derek Madsen."
"The third basemen for the LA Dodgers," I say, finally twigging.
I know just enough baseball to get me through, but Nancy absolutely loves it. I guess to her, this would be big news in the sporting arena. In here, I just look at it as another suspect.
"Yeah, until he threw his helmet at his coach during practice." Cox tells me.
"Did he give a reason why?" I ask.
"He was aiming for a team mate who said something disparaging about his wife apparently." Brass answers. "Guess it may be true."
"Marketwater had several articles on it actually. None were very flattering to Derek. Lot of 'small penis' jokes, and even a few homosexual remarks." Cox says.
"Did you find any threatening letters from the husband?" I ask Jim.
"No, but 'Rick's looking on his laptop." Jim replies. "Shall we?"
I stop Cox before she can enter.
"What? Changed your mind?" She asks.
"No, I want you to take the lead with Jim. You seem to know about her husband more than I do." I say, tempted to smile when she looks back at me in shock. "Don't mess it up though," I add.
"Aye skipper," she says, grinning.
"Sorry for the delay Mrs. Madsen. I've brought Catherine Willows and Jesse Cox from the Crime Lab with me," Brass says once the door is closed, making the introductions.
"I would just like to claim Stu's belongings. What's the holdup Captain?"
"As you can imagine, with an on-going murder case, we can't just hand over things that may have the potential to be vital evidence," Brass replies.
"That's why we are here Mrs. Madsen, we'd like to know your relationship with Mr. Marketwater," I ask.
"I'm not proud of it, but we were having an affair."
Wow, that was quick.
"Did your husband know about it?" Cox asks.
"And he was okay with it?" Cox asks her.
"Why?" Cox asks, as puzzled as the rest of us were.
"Some of the rumours about Derek were true."
"Which ones?" Brass asks.
"Is this confidential?" Madsen asks, making eye contact for the first time since our introductions were made.
"This is just an informal chat right now," I say softly, hoping it'll coax more information out of her. "But nothing leaves here."
"My husband is gay."
I'm the first to recover because I obviously don't see the relevance to her husband's back story like Jim and Cox, so I ask, "were you aware of this before you married him?"
"Yes. It was why we married."
"You married a gay man?" Cox asks bemused.
"It was the right thing for both of us. I was pregnant and grew up in a very strict family. My father would have disowned me, so Derek offered a solution."
"How did you know Derek?" Brass asks.
"He was the best friend of the boy who got me pregnant. When Andy found out, he told me he couldn't support a baby and me."
"And Derek could?" Cox asks.
"He had money saved, and also inherited some from his mother who died a few years earlier. He had been the subject of some gay rumours in the minor league so he offered us both a temporary solution to our problems."
"Did the rumours stop?" I ask.
"For a few years, but then he became a little more popular, was picked in the Dodgers side in the forty-man roster and when a few players had injuries, he made it into the active roster. That's when they started again."
"The man you were sleeping with also accused your husband of being gay, why did you stay with him?" Brass asks.
"I though it would make Stu more suspicious so I used to talk about Derek being too tired for sex, hoping to turn it around somehow. Derek would rather be known as a womanizer than a homosexual. Better for his career."
"Do you think Derek is capable of taking revenge on Mr. Marketwater?" Brass asks.
"You mean kill him? No. I know he had a temper, but murder? No."
"Mrs. Madsen, as far as I know, you don't have any children." Cox pipes in, frowning.
"That is true. My baby died."
Cox reaches across the table and places her hand on Mrs. Madsen's.
"I'm very sorry."
"It is in the past now, but there is always a hole in my heart." Mrs. Madsen replies softly, tears falling onto the table.
"I think that's all for now, we'll give you some time to compose yourself," Brass says.
We all get up, feeling like we're intruding.
"So sad. She marries a man who is gay in order to save herself and her baby and the poor baby dies?" Cox says, stirring her coffee.
"When Lindsay called me that dreadful night, when she was submerged in the car, I finally understood what real loss could feel like," I mutter. "Of course, the adrenalin was pumping when I got her out, but afterwards, when I heard my ex-husband was dead? All I could see was my angel, lying there instead of Eddie." I wipe a few tears away.
Cox comes over and hands me a tissue. She pats my arm and sits next to me.
"I can't, I don't have anything to say." She admits, staring into her coffee.
"Sorry, sometimes those things just hit me. I'm okay." I say, angry with myself for showing my emotions. I don't have the luxury of having Sara's comforting arms to surround me anymore.
"It's okay to show your emotions Catherine," Cox says softly. "It's okay to show them to me. I won't take advantage of them."
I nod, and turn to face her.
"Let's get back to work hey? Can't have Gil thinking all we do is drink coffee." I say joking.
"But that's why I signed up. That and the gun." Cox says grinning.
Sometimes she reminds me too much of Sara.
"Hey," Cox says grabbing my arm, "you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Sorry."
"I'm off to find Warrick." She says, letting go of my arm.
"Okay, sure." I say, not sure where to go. I'm strangled by my emotions, all I want to do is talk to Sara yet I know that's not possible.
PART FORTY THREE
"Yo Cat!" As soon as Greg says it, I can see the panic on his face. "I mean, hey Catherine."
"What's up Greg?" I put him out of his misery and see a look of relief replace the scared one of a few seconds ago.
"Grissom's looking for you."
I put my hand down to my pager, frowning.
"I was just walking past him and he told me to tell you. So here I am," Greg says grinning.
"Oh okay. Thanks Greg."
I guess Gil will be in his office, so that's where I head. The man has his idiosyncrasies and I'm used to them. Most of the time. Yet sometimes he reminds me just how different he is to me. Even when I was supervisor of swing, I never found myself changing into a new person. Or at least I don't think I did. Sure, I had to distance myself from the guys, even though I didn't like it. Even though they didn't like it. I took a lot from the way Gil led, yet I also took a lot from how he didn't, if that makes sense.
"I want you to tell me how Jesse Cox is going."
Again? Does this man want a daily evaluation of her?
"Find Gil. Better than last time you asked me I guess. She's settling in, she was good with Jim in interrogation and she's able to work by herself," I pause, trying to think of something else. Takes initiative," I add, knowing that's a word Gil likes.
There's a silence that falls and I'm not sure if it means my dismissal, or if he's trying to find a way to say something else.
He looks up, and smiles slightly.
"Are you okay?"
Sometimes he gives me glimpses of the friend I've known all these years and it always takes me by surprise.
"I'm good Gil. I could do with some days off, but everything else is okay."
"She's okay. Has her moments." I admit, smiling.
"And everything else?" He asks abstractly.
"Everything else is status quo Gil." I reply honestly.
Now that sounded more like a dismissal, so I get up from my chair.
He looks up and it makes me wonder if perhaps, there is something he wants to tell me.
"Give my best to Lindsay." He says, before looking back down at the file he had opened when I came into the room. His job seems to gather more and more paper as the months go on. I worry that his office-isolation will make him further distanced from us all.
"Hey, we've found some hate mail on the laptop." Cox says grinning as I look up startled.
"Where'd you learn to sneak up on someone?" I ask, half teasing.
"Walker, Texas Ranger school?" She jokes. "I can also tell you how long your coffee has been sitting there, in a modified version of testing-the-camp-fire," she says, placing her hand over the rim of the mug.
"Have you been having your lunches with Greg recently?" I ask, tipping out my cold coffee.
"Not really, why?"
"Your humour needs a little work, I thought perhaps you'd been slumming it with him."
"Ouch, this from the known comedian in our group," Cox says sarcastically.
"Okay, you got me there." I reply.
"So, shall we get to work or do you want to offend me some more?" Cox asks, smiling so I know she's still teasing me.
"Work. So, what about this discovery?" I say, sitting down next to Cox.
"Warrick found them, with the help of Archie I might add."
She hands me a few printed off sheets. I cringe when I see the email address Marketwater had.
"email@example.com. Is he serious?" I ask laughing. "Nothing like a bit of self-promoting."
"It's a little over the top isn't it?" Cox grins. "It's his personal address, so obviously we can say the hate mail in here was sent by someone who knew him well enough."
"Previous lover?" I voice the suggestion.
"Who knows? I wouldn't kill someone because they were bad in bed, I just wouldn't call them back."
"But we know just how unpredictable people are, people have killed for less."
"Warrick asked Archie to weave his electronic magic and find out who these people are," Cox says waving her hand across the papers on the desk. "Then he'll pass the names onto Brass."
"Okay." I nod. I know Warrick will give me the list before he goes to Jim so I'm not worried about that too much.
"What happened to those cases you can solve in time for your microwave meal to cool down enough to eat?"
"What's with you today, I think is the bigger question?" I ask smiling.
"I've got a date. Guess that makes me a little happier." Cox says pouring me a fresh cup of coffee. "See, I'm not pining away for you Skipper."
"Oh, what a shame. Tonight I was going to give you the opportunity you wanted," I mutter sarcastically.
"Nah, don't want it unless it's forbidden."
"So that's how I'll throw you off hey, by being available?" I smile.
"Tonight you're safe," Cox replies, winking at me as Warrick enters the room.
"Ladies, I've got something."
Music to my ears.
PART FORTY FOUR
Warrick sits, handing the results to me and describing his information as he goes.
"Now, these are all from the same person, despite the different accounts."
"Seems pretty tame," I remark, reading over the first few emails. Typical, 'you're a mean bastard' kind of thing, only slightly more colourful.
"Yeah, but you'll see the escalation in these ones," Warrick grins, as though trumping me with some inside knowledge.
"What is it Warrick?" I ask, intrigued.
"We have the suspect here now."
"We do?" Cox asks, as surprised as I am at the news.
I like puzzles, but I hate being the one teased with them without a tiny piece to work with, and my good friend knows this.
"Come on Brown, cough up the info," I say frustrated. I smile as Warrick sits back in his chair. I almost think he's waiting for a drum roll. Or a commercial break to stretch out the tension.
I hate cliffhangers.
"Here you go," Warrick flicks the solitary paper remaining in the file over the table in a show of flair and flat out showboating.
I read the name silently, and notice Cox trying to peer over my arm. At least I'm not the last in the room to know.
"Oh come on!" Cox exclaims. "You gonna tell me?"
"Oh no, it's much better if you read it yourself," I say, now smiling in conspiracy with Warrick.
"Get the fuck out of town!" Cox shouts, standing up in the process. A lab tech looks up in shock at her raised voice, but continues along his path with only a tiny falter.
By now, Warrick's broken out in a full grin and I'm not far behind. It seems weird, considering what we just learnt.
"He wrote them to himself?" Cox asks stunned. She sits back down and looks through the emails again. "'You've ruined my career, one day I'll take a shot at you.' Or this one 'just remember no one can recall the journalist who broke the sports story of the week, but the athletes name lives on.' What about, 'you sit in your rented sports car and live vicariously through our lives, our success. Without us you are nothing. You're a sports reject.' Are you trying to tell me he wrote these to himself?"
"Look, I had Arch check it three times." Warrick replies.
"But some of these are really quite violent," Cox says, pointing to a few that she didn't read out. "Why would he bother doing that?"
"Did someone else have access to his laptop?" I ask.
"Thinking someone used his computer as a form of cover-up?" Cox asks.
"They'd have to get through some heavy password-protected stuff, Jess," Warrick remarks.
"This is just weird." Cox replies. "Too weird for me."
"We don't need to know why he did it," I respond. "No matter how fascinated in his mind we all are."
"Well how'd he die? Contract suicide?" Cox asks frowning.
"We have no real suspects," I mutter. I know I shouldn't say it, but the ones we interviewed checked out and we can't interview every player retired of still active, where they were when Marketwater was killed.
"Derek Madsen's alibi checked out I'm assuming?" Warrick asks.
"Yeah," I nod in frustration.
"So instead of the computer search helping us, it's just created more questions." Warrick says, nodding. "Sucks."
"Sucks big time," Cox tacks on.
"Let's go home, maybe something will magically appear on our radar next shift." I comment sarcastically.
"Pulling a double," Warrick mumbles.
"Well I don't need to be dismissed twice," Cox says getting up. "Later guys."
"Have fun," I remark dryly.
"Oh I will, Skipper. I will."
I chuckle as she leaves.
"What's that about?" Warrick asks, interested in our little conversation.
"Some hot date." I say shrugging.
"No, the skipper part."
"Oh, it's her nickname for me I guess."
"She's a flirt," Warrick remarks. "Especially with you."
"Yeah, I've noticed." I reply.
"And what?" I say, looking up.
"Are you seeing anyone?"
Woah. Is Warrick asking me if I'd be interested in Cox? Woah.
"I know, we don't really talk about that kind of thing."
"It's not that." How it aches that he and I aren't talking about Sara instead of Cox. I desperately want to tell him I'd already had a relationship with a co-worker. A female co-worker. I want to lay it all out for him so he can understand the daily pain my heart is in.
"I know you well enough to know when you're hiding something and I think I'm starting to understand."
I wish you were, Warrick.
"I'm not interested in Cox."
"You must think I'm pretty stupid," Warrick remarks, hurt.
I reach across the table and take his hand. It's not the place to be having such a conversation, but I need to reassure him best I can.
"I have never thought you stupid." I say firmly. "It's just, what I'm keeping inside, it's complicated." And something I actually hadn't really obsessed over for a while. Until now that is.
"I know, but you're keeping a relationship from me. Cath, does he beat you? Lindsay? It's not something to do with Sam Braun is it?"
"God no, Warrick. No. I put up with a lot shit when I was first with Eddie and I'd not go looking for any of that kind of grief again. I'm not seeing anyone and Sam's been keeping his distance."
"I doubt same-sex attraction makes you uncomfortable," Warrick remarks smiling.
"You'd be right there," I say, returning his smile.
"And you're not going to yield anything else." Warrick says, more as a statement than asking me a question.
"You know I can't."
Warrick nods sadly, and pats my hand before letting go.
"Yeah, I know. I know someone hurt you and I know you're too loyal to break your silence. I think that'll end up pulling you further into this shell. I just hope I don't lose you forever."
And with that, with the pain and disappointment in his voice, he leaves the room. And once again, I'm alone.
"Hey sis," Nancy wearily greets me at my front door.
"Did she call again?" I ask, noticing her stance.
"No, Sara." Nancy says, placing emphasis on her name, "Sara did not call."
"Seems she's wooed another Willows," I say angrily. It's mean spirited, but I don't care.
"Watch it," Nancy replies, obviously ready to fight me if she has to. Sometimes she backs away, today is not going to be one of those days.
"Please. You don't even like her."
"Quit behaving like a child Catherine, it's really quite embarrassing."
"I'm a child?" I raise my voice. "My ex-girlfriend leaves without a word, sends me a heartbreaking video of herself, pushes me away when I first visit her, changes her mind and lets me fuck her, only to change her mind again and erase me from her life? I'm a child?!"
I have to take a breath after that, and I know it didn't really make much sense, but when I get mad, sometimes sentence structure is the least of my concerns. Here, I want to win the argument.
"She sounds human Catherine. A wounded human in need of that love you so fiercely claimed you had for her as you rushed to North Carolina." Nancy says calmly.
"Oh well boo-fucken-hoo. Perhaps she can write a book and get an hour with Oprah."
Nancy shakes her head.
"When did you become such a sarcastic, unforgiving bitch?"
"Easy. Sara took my heart out and stepped on it just enough I thought it was repaired; only whenever I gave it back to her, she'd stomp on it again and again. It was just enough to never completely put me out of my misery."
Nancy hands me a tissue and I blow my nose loudly.
"After all she went through, do you still think you're the one who was hurt the more?" Nancy whispers into my ear, kissing me on the cheek. She's so quiet, I only notice she's gone when the front door closes.
Looking down, I realise she placed something in my hands before leaving. It's the tape of Sara at the parole hearing. Nancy must have watched it. This is where her weariness came from. She finally had all the pieces. She was trying to tell me to call Sara, or at least reach out somehow.
Damn my sister is good. She knew it was what I really wanted, even if I tried to convince myself and her otherwise. Maybe I didn't have Warrick, but it dawned on me that if I decided to contact Sara, Nancy would be able to give me her true feelings on things. Even though she didn't know Sara that well, she was a great studier of humanity and the soul, and I think she saw something worthy in Sara.
Or perhaps she saw something worthy in me.
PART FORTY FIVE
I don't know why I did it, but I put the tape in again. I watched Sara's vulnerability and pain and wept with her all over again. I knew I didn't hate her the way I wanted. I knew she sat there at the parole board, broken and embarrassed at the lose of control. I knew it was more than that one moment, that Veronica's rape and murder wasn't something she had forgotten when she was with me.
I wanted to be angry. At Nancy. At Sara. At everyone. I had my pride. I wasn't someone who could be treated as Sara did.
I was stupid. This was never about me. This was about Sara. But now there was a distance between us that, quite possibly, couldn't be fixed.
And right now, I wanted a solution that brought her back. I wanted it a lot.
"You going to yell at me again?" Nancy jokes.
"No. I rang to tell you that you're right."
"Again hey?" Nancy jokes again. I appreciate her keeping things light.
"I don't know what to do Nance." I admit sadly. "I just don't ..."
"Hey Cath, there's no one solution here. It's not like one of your previous boyfriends where you can put on something sexy and win him back."
"I know. And I don't want to win her back through sex. In fact, I don't even want to win her back."
"If she wants to come back, it'll take more than sorry. Perhaps our relationship is over, but I do miss her."
"Want to call her?"
I run my hand through my hair in an action I realise I've done a lot of late.
"I don't know."
"You watched the tape again." Nancy states.
"Then don't do anything now. Wait on it Cath."
"Because even I wanted to fly across the country to hug her after hearing and seeing her in that. Your emotions are too strong right now."
She's right. Again.
"Thanks Nancy. Bye."
"Martha. It's Catherine. Catherine Willows."
"Oh my Lord. How are you?"
"Did you get my letter?" I ask, my heart beating like I've run a marathon.
"I did. I'm sorry I didn't reply, but I didn't know what to say."
"No, I didn't expect it Martha. I am ashamed that I left the way I did. I hope you don't think too badly of me." I feel like I'm apologising to my mother.
"Oh honey, things were so emotional, I don't blame either of you."
I let out the breath of relief I'd been holding and allow myself to relax slightly.
"I meant no disrespect." I add.
"I know, and I took none."
"Do you want to know how Sara is?" Martha asks.
"I didn't call for that," I lie.
"I know you wanted to apologise to me, but I'm guessing your main reason was to see how she is. Am I right?"
"How is she?" I ask.
"Distant. Lonely. Thinner. Heartbroken. Take your pick."
"I don't know what to do." I admit.
"Neither do I dear, and I've tried everything. She won't talk to me." Martha yawns and I remember not everyone is awake at this time, different time zones and my own funny body clock contributing to that.
"I'm sorry, I woke you."
"It's okay Catherine. I'd rather know you are okay than get another few hours of sleep."
"I'm not really okay," I admit.
"Thank you for taking care of Sara," I say. I feel like the morning after one of Lindsay's slumber parties, thanking the mom for being understanding of my sometimes warped work hours.
"She's my angel, no thanks necessary."
"Should I write to her?" I ask, shrugging.
"She might not read it," Martha says softly, as if the volume of her speech will lessen the blow.
"Would it make her more upset?"
"I can't be sure Catherine. How about you try and send it to me. I'll let you know how she takes it."
"I don't know what to say in it," I struggle not to cry. "I don't know how I feel."
"I suggest you get that right first my dear. Then write what you feel."
"How's work? Lindsay?"
"Work is as it always is. Long hours. Had a twist in our case that is quite weird. Linds is wonderful. She's been really great through this, even though she knows something isn't right. How's Jonah?"
"Ah yes, he's great. Lovely man. He and Sara seemed to have a bond that's getting stronger which is wonderful. He went to war, so he knows a bit about post-traumatic stress. Even though many soldiers were told not to admit they had it, he set up a support group for himself and his buddies."
"She'll come back to us Catherine. I just don't know when that will be."
"I have to go Martha. Do you mind if I call again sometimes?"
"You don't have to ask, I welcome your calls. Stay safe Catherine."
Seems two heavy conversations is the best medicine for a weary body and mind, because I'm exhausted. I think sleep will come a little easier for me today.
My phone wakes me as I stretch the last remnants of sleep from my body. Grabbing at it, my eyes still not complying with me, I mumble a greeting into the line.
"Hey Skipper, you get a day off without telling me?"
"I'm at your door, open it!"
I rub my eyes and notice I've slept in. Running down the stairs, I fling the door open and see Cox grinning.
"Not a word," I say firmly. "Come in, I need a shower."
"And you need my help?"
"You wish. I'll be about twenty minutes."
My hair is a mess, my blouse isn't done up properly and my belt hangs unclasped. For some reason Cox finds my appearance funny.
"Nothing Catherine. Just like seeing you out of control."
"Shut up," I grumble. "Just because you had a hot date, doesn't give you the right to be so damn chirpy."
"Why are you here anyway?"
"Ah that. Yeah, Warrick got a call from Nancy. Your sister?"
"Yeah, my sister. Why did she call him?" I'm going to kill her.
"Said you weren't well, so I told Grissom that you'll be an hour late while I take you to the doctor. Thought that'd give you more time to get ready."
"Oh okay. Thanks Cox."
"I have a first name ya know," Cox jokes.
"Thank you, Jesse." I reply seriously.
Cox ducks her head and shrugs.
"I just thought you deserved it. I know you've been having a shit time of things."
"I don't need pity," I bite back.
"I was looking to is as more of a favour from a friend," Cox replies, looking directly at me.
"Okay. A favour. Thanks."
"Now, go do your hair, you have time."
"There, much better," Cox says smiling. "Much more like the Willows I'm learning to know."
"So, how was your date?" I ask, wanting to change the subject.
"Good. She was really nice. Sweet."
"Too nice for me Skipper. She was looking for something long-term."
"So what happened?"
"We said our goodnights at her doorstep."
"Oh so you struck out hey?" I tease.
"Are you going to help me feel better?"
I look over to her as she starts the car.. She doesn't say anything, just grins as I look at her so I decide to do the same. We pull into work and still not a word has been uttered, but the ride wasn't uncomfortable
"I'll see you later," Cox says slamming the door, waiting for me to get out before using the central locking.
"Yeah. Sure." I shrug at her abrupt departure and head inside.
PART FORTY SIX
If I had the time, I would have tried jotting a few things down to put in the letter to Sara. Hell, even if I had a day off, the words wouldn't come. How can I pen something to her that may not be the way I feel by the time it gets to her? Conflict within my own heart wasn't the most solid of foundations.
"Hey," Warrick greets me with a smile. I wonder why he always has those buttons undone. I feel like his mother, wanting to do a few of them up. "What's so funny?" He asks, noticing I'm staring.
"Oh nothing. Just being a mom there for a minute." I say patting him on the forearm.
"Okay. So, anything with your case?"
"Slow." I shrug. "Gil's given me three more to work on," I remark, looking at a note he left in my office.
"Yeah, I've got two B&E that look pretty tedious."
"It ain't all glamour," Greg pipes up behind us. "Hey Catherine."
"You back in the field?" I ask, noticing he's free of the lab coat.
"Yeah. With Jesse."
I think he blushed when he said that.
"Enjoy," I say, leaving Greg to no doubt conjure up ways he and Cox could enjoy each other. Barking up the wrong tree there Saunders.
"Hey Catherine," Sofia greets me holding her customary large nonspecific coffee cup. Her big aviator glasses suit her face, not to ostentatious. She's quite an attractive woman, especially in the all black. Authoritative. Along with that walk, she almost has me staring like Greg.
"Hey Sofia." I finally manage to find my voice. "How are you?"
She looks shocked at my small talk, but recovers pretty quickly.
"I'm good whenever I have this," she motions to her cup. "You?"
"Yeah. I'm good."
"So, what have you got for me?" I ask, grabbing her cup to find out just what she's drinking. Black coffee. Interesting.
"By all means," she mumbles.
"Sorry, curious." I say grinning. Am I flirting with her? And if so, where did that come from? Get a grip Willows.
"You could have just asked," Sofia says teasing. "Come on, I'll show you where we found the blood."
"Blood? No body?"
"No body. We do know a Mario Sanchez lives here but from the look of the place, it had more than one inhabitant. Looks more like a squat."
"Illegal?" I ask.
"Not sure yet." Sofia replies. "Anyway, it's just through here. Mind your step."
Mind your step indeed. I wasn't sure how I'd know what was misplaced or disturbed with the scattered belongings lining the floor. I guess when so many people; and changing ones at that, gather together the result is as I now saw.
"So how many were here when Sanchez was found?" I ask Sophia.
"Five, although bedrolls indicated at least sixteen lived here at one point or another."
"I guess they saw nothing," I ask rhetorically.
"Wish I could give you more Catherine."
"We'll get a translator and I'll process," I reply shrugging. David would be arriving as soon as he could, so I had time to do an initial sketch and search of the house.
"See you back at the barn," Sophia drawled.
I resisted the urge to tip my imaginary hat at her.
"Sorry Catherine, I was on Nick's case." David rushed in from the front, his cheeks red.
"No one else on shift?" I ask. Not that I'm surprised, given Ecklie's predilection for cutting funding without testing the viability of the cut.
"I was the only one paged," David replied, snapping a second layer of gloves on. "Do you need anything from around the body?"
"Took photographic evidence, just give me t.o.d and I'll be happy."
I left David to it, knowing he was confident enough now to be left to his own work. Anyway, I had plenty more to do and if I wanted to get off shift in time to see Linds, I didn't have time to hover over the coroner.
"Hey, where you been?" Cox greets me with a frown as I dump my handbag in my office.
"Another case. You?"
"Here. Working on our other one." Cox replies, sitting in the seat nearest me. "I think I found out why Stu was sending emails to himself."
I sigh, knowing we'd probably never solve that portion of the case.
Cox notices my weariness and puts her hand up.
"Wait, hear me out."
"I don't really care. Unless it's the answer to our case."
"Um. It's not really." Cox admits.
"So you've spent all this time thinking about it and it's not relevant?"
"No. I've been doing other things too Catherine." Cox replies angrily. "I just thought you might want to know what I discovered."
"To be honest, I don't really have time."
"I'll write it in a memo then."
"Hey." I stop Cox leaving by grabbing her sleeve. "What's wrong with you today?"
"I don't know," Cox admits, flopping back down into the chair. "Guess I'm a little on edge."
"Because your date didn't go as planned?"
"No. I'm not that shallow. I guess I'm frustrated with the case. I wanted to solve it and make a good impression."
"Warrick pulled a double at it yielded nothing. You're not superwoman." I reply, feeling for a moment, like I'm talking to Sara.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. I guess I'm not used to the new sleeping routine yet. And not getting laid didn't help," Cox jokes.
"Can't help you with the last one."
"Oh you can. You just won't." Cox winks.
"Hey, how about we have that dinner you promised to buy me?" I suggest.
"I knew you'd succumb to my charms eventually."
"Not your charms Cox, your wallet." I joke.
"No strings dinner. I can do that. " Cox replies, getting up. "Should we shake on it?"
"Why, are we entering into a contract?" I ask bemused.
"Sorry, it all just seemed so formal."
"Go on, get out of here, I've got work to do," I say smiling.
I watch as she leaves, wondering why I'm feeling like I just spoke to Sara's clone.
PART FORTY SEVEN
"There you are," Sophia calls as I walk past the break room. "You've been hard to find."
"I didn't know I was missing," I frown, checking my pager.
"No, I was just trying to find you by asking everyone else here. They didn't know where you were."
"And you decided to peak your head into every room instead of paging me?" I tease lightly.
"I've been trying to sort through some of the belongings near the airbed Sanchez had. Pretty non-descript, except for a few faded photos of his family."
"Forgive my rudeness, but I think a shower's in order."
I bend my head to take a sniff. Woah, pretty damn potent.
"A lot of the stuff had the smell of urine and general dirt. Guess I just thought it was still in me nose. Sorry."
"It'd keep Saunders away," Sophia smiled, leaning against the door frame.
I smile in return.
"So, make it quick and I won't have to worry about you passing out," I suggest.
"So far, can't find any record of him, but I did find out where a few of the other work. Took some effort getting it out of them."
"I don't blame them. Being sent back to a place you risked your life to flee from doesn't sound like a prospect they'd enjoy." I remark, trying not to sound too political.
"So, no Minutemen in your future hey?" Sophia quips, grinning.
"No," I say shaking my head. "Certainly not."
"Gotcha," Sophia says, winking dramatically. "You're one of them, bleeding heart liberals." she jokes.
"Liberal with what?" Greg asks, walking by, hoping he's stumbled onto something juicy.
We both look at him and smile. Best to allow his imagination to conjure up something.
"See you Greg," I say, walking away, Sophia following.
"You're mean," Curtis whispers. "I like it."
I grin as we turn the corner.
"It's what I'm here for."
There was a knock at the door as I sat at my desk, going over the scene photos I took of the scene, comparing them with the initial interviews Curtis did with the few that would talk. I wasn't particularly happy with the interruption, but looked up regardless.
A man in a charcoal grey pinstripe suit stood in the doorway, his hand pulling something out of his inner suit pocket. I knew simply from the stance, the air of authority he tried to create. This was a government man.
"Miss Willows," the still unknown male flashed his badge at me, "US Immigration and Customs Enforcement ma'am. Federal law enforcement."
Gee, a simple 'ICE' would have done, I'm not a fool.
"Come in," I motion to the chair across the table. "Sit."
He nodded and sat, making very little noise as he did so.
"My name is Corey Huff, and on behalf of Mr. Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security, I'd like to talk to you about your case."
I try not to roll my eyes as he mentions Chertoff. I highly doubt he has his hand in this personally.
Oh, and working in partnership? How very unlike the DHS. Wonder if President Bush will ring me and tell me I'm doing a 'heckuva job'. I chuckle, wondering why today seems to be the day I'm making political statements.
"Is something amusing Miss Willows?"
"Probably not to you Agent Huff." I reply, almost smiling when he frowns. "So, which case are you talking about?"
"Your Sanchez case."
"I'm here to give you official notification that you will be taken off this case."
"Personal touch, how nice," I mutter. Nobody takes me off my case.
"My partner is having a similar discussion with the lead detective and his boss."
"Her," I correct Huff.
"The lead detective is a female."
He looks up, and I can tell he's frustrated. I decide not to smile outwardly this time.
"We need your files. All of it."
What is it with these people?
"Do I have a choice?" I ask.
"Well it'll take a while." As long as I can take to do it, I will.
"I can wait."
"Excuse me," I say, getting up. I notice Huff has not moved. "I need my office."
"Here's my card. Call me when everything is in order."
I take it without comment. I need to see Grissom. Hopefully I can find a way to stay on my case.
"Don't bother Catherine," Gil begins as I walk into his office.
"But Gil," I whine like Lindsay and flop into the chair.
"I'm sorry Catherine, but we've been given the request."
"Order more like," Sophia interjects from the doorway. "I tried the same complaint with Brass," she says looking at me.
"Did your visitor tell you why?" I ask. "Mine was entirely unhelpful."
"Mine was pretty tight lipped, but he did tell me Sanchez was undercover."
"Tight lipped? Yours was the office gossiper compared to Huff."
"It was more inferred than confirmed," Curtis admits.
"What branch?" I ask Sophia.
"Not sure, but they're now looking into whether or not he was killed because his cover was blown "
"... or just unlucky?" I add.
"We shouldn't be discussing this," Gil interrupts. "Theories will do us no good. It's no longer our case."
I sigh, and notice Sophia is similarly annoyed.
"Curtis, want a coffee?" I offer. We'll discuss our theories out of Gil's earshot.
"Your office would be best," Gil remarks. This man knows me too well sometimes.
"Yes Gil." I nod obediently.
PART FORTY EIGHT
"So obviously it's a border issue. But the thing is, ICE has paints such a broad stroke; it could be anything from counter terrorism, smuggling, gangs or purchasing cheaper illegal labour." Sophia says, taking a drink from her water bottle.
"Yeah, and a few other things," I reply. "But whatever it was, one of their guys died so they have more on their plate than they did yesterday."
"Are you suggesting we disobey everyone and do our own digging?" Sophia asks smiling.
"Wouldn't want Chertoff shining those beady eyes upon us in disapproval," I remark. "No, I think we should leave it to them. As much as it pains me to say that."
"You're right. It's not like we don't have any other cases."
"But this one just got really interesting?" I ask, knowing she's thinking the same as I am.
"You've got it."
"Who knows, maybe several months after it's closed, we'll hear about it," I say sarcastically.
"Yeah. I better go. See you later okay?"
I look at my watch, sighing. I'd better go do some work too. Won't do itself after all.
I watch as she leaves, noticing Nick wave as she passes by him.
"Hey Cath," Nick smiles as he approaches me. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure Nick," I smile, looking at the folder he hands me.
"I'm not too sure where this goes and you're the lady with the brain for puzzles "
"You want a second opinion," I finish for him. "No problem."
"I'll look at it now and page you in about an hour if I can?"
"I may be out but I'll call you." Nick says, flashing his full grin at me. "Thanks Catherine."
"Just make sure I get all the credit," I joke.
"I hear Nick asked you to take a look at something," Grissom comes into my office unannounced. I guess he's allowed, considering he's my boss.
"Don't worry, I'm doing my work as well," I reply immediately to stave off any thought of him 'volunteering' me for something.
"Catherine?" Gil gives me that look, like he's trying desperately to get out of whatever he's going to say next.
"Gil, I've gotta go," I say, helping him out. And me to, if I'm honest.
"Can we talk later?"
"We're talking now Gil." I say smiling.
He gives me that look to tell me he's not in the mood for any jokes or diversions. I, like always, ignore it.
"Well I'm talking. You're just frowning at me."
"Catherine." He puts his hand up and I know it's time to stop teasing him. He actually looks quite uncomfortable so I know it's a personal question.
"How about end of shift? Your office?" I relent. "I promised Nick "
"That's fine," he cuts me off whilst looking at his watch.
"Alright Gil." I turn and head back down the corridor, resisting the urge to look back at him. I know he'd still be standing there, wondering how to gather up the courage to wait until then to talk to me.
I'm jotting a few things down on my yellow pad when Cox interrupts. She's holding two mugs and when she gets closer I can smell the coffee.
"Hey." She smiles, handing me one of the mugs. "Hot."
"Thanks." I take it and place it near my pen, watching the steam rise. I'm surprised when she doesn't make her 'hot' comment sexual.
"Anything?" She nods in the direction of the evidence. Nick was right about the puzzle portion. It took me twenty minutes just to sort out the photos. They were all numbered, but the sequence didn't make sense. Reading over Nick's notes, I found that was indeed the predicament he was facing. There was nothing wrong with the photographs, it was just that something was off.
Cox notices me chuckling and raises an eyebrow.
"Sorry, just thinking what Gil would say with my technical term," I explain. Obviously not too well, because she's still looking at me. "The photos, they look off."
"Off?" Cox grins as she understands what I'm trying to say. "Very scientific."
"Yeah. Better than the other one I was thinking."
"The puzzle is puzzling."
"I think they're both pretty iffy." She remarks.
"Iffy? Oh that's good." I reply smiling in return.
"Hey, if the unprofessional jargon fits "
"Okay, okay, we need to stop." I say playfully. "I don't want these to accidentally appear in the notes I'm writing for Nick."
"So what's the problem?" Cox asks, coming over to read my notes.
"I think these are posed." I summarize.
Cox looks over to the photos and takes a sip form her coffee.
"But if they're posed, wouldn't they still make sense, chronicle-wise?"
"Yeah, I guess they would. Hence the problem."
"And this was the order of shooting and development? Nothing left out?"
"Nick says no."
"You're on your own then Skipper."
"Thanks." I reply sarcastically.
"Maybe this one is too far past even your intelligence," she jokes.
"Ah huh." I mutter as I take a short drink from my coffee.
"Okay, just stopped by to drop off your coffee. We're still on for our meal right?"
"Yep. It'll have to wait until Linds is off to school," I warn. I relish the times spent with my daughter.
"Absolutely." Cox nods.
"It's not a date," I reiterate.
"Aye Skipper." Cox salutes and grins before leaving.
I sigh and turn back to the photos.
The shift dragged on, paperwork tends to do that. I had written down a few suggestions for Nick and secured his evidence just in case it went missing. You never know here, and with my luck of late, I was being extra careful. I'm afraid I wasn't much help to him, but he tried to convince me I was. Guess he was just being nice. He told me he had one suspect, but neither he nor O'Reilly were pretty confident they had the right guy in custody.
Even though I'd been quite busy, my mind kept churning over what to put in Sara's letter. It was difficult, trying to move on as they say and carry her in my heart at the same time. Whether I wanted to or not, she was firmly ensconced in there. I gave a lot to her and to the relationship and it was proving incredibly hard to ignore what she means to me.
I checked my watch and decided I had had enough. If Gil was in his office, we could talk now. I needed a distraction. Sure enough, as I made the short walk across, he was in there. Deep in thought as usual. Gently rapping on the door, I wait for him to look up.
"Come in Catherine. Is it time already?"
"I needed a diversion from what I was doing," I tell him. "Is it okay?"
"Should I salute?" I joke nervously.
"I need your advice on something." Gil admits softly. He gets up and I wonder if I should follow him, but stop short of getting out of my chair when I realise he's simply closing the door. This must be pretty big.
"Gil, is it your hearing?" I ask, concerned.
"No. My health is okay."
Come on man, spit it out.
"It's about Jesse Cox."
Oh this should be interesting.
PART FORTY NINE
"What about her?" I lean over the desk.
"We may have a replacement."
"Replacing Cox? I didn't know we needed one." I admit, quite surprised.
"I'm not sure what to do here, Catherine."
"Neither am I Gil. I honestly didn't know she was leaving."
"She was a temporary replacement."
"She's fitting in well," I remark, surprised by just how much I actually mean that. She's a persistent flirt, but she's really done some good work since replacing Sara.
"That's not what you said at the beginning." Gil reminds me.
Gil looks up, expecting me to expand on that, but I don't.
"So you asked me in here to do what Gil?"
"Discuss it with me."
"If you've already decided, why do you need me?" I ask, hoping the files in front of him aren't his shortlist.
"Catherine, you know people here."
"I need your help," Gil admits.
"Gil, I would if I knew what was going on." I say softly, without malice.
"I, I "
This is unusual, Gil either says what he needs to, or simply avoids conversation altogether.
"Gil, is there something wrong?" I ask, hoping I can get enough of what he's not saying to put the pieces together.
He looks at me, and I desperately wish I could read minds, to alleviate the suffering he's clearly showing on his face. To be honest, it was making me uncomfortable too.
"We need to go through these," Gil hands me the dreaded pile of folders.
"Gil, I'm not good at that."
"You know people." He stated.
"I know suspects, but Gil, I'm horrible at first impressions," I admit smiling. "And I don't think we need to get rid of Cox."
"Please Catherine," he almost begged, or what I would imagine would be Gil begging.
"Alright." I relent.
"Thank you Cath." He sighs as he thanks me.
I don't believe him, but he's not someone who I can get anything out that he clearly doesn't want to discuss.
"Alright Gil, alright."
I turn, and wonder if Gil will actually open up without me have to guess.
"I'm here okay Gil," I let him off the hook.
He nods but says nothing.
Honestly, one would think I don't have any other work. Sifting through all these files is the closest to sleep-inducing work than you could get. Reading Gil's notes is a lesson in patience. Everything has to be so difficult with him. Why didn't he just get Ecklie to pick an employee? Wait, I better not complain about that, who knows what we'd get then.
Everyone looks pretty qualified, and a few of them have several commendations. But what about their inter-personal skills? I have a feeling I'm looking at it the wrong way. I should be looking at their qualifications, and their evaluations from their bosses.
After all, I probably wouldn't have liked Sara had I interviewed her. I chuckle, knowing that whilst I didn't interview her, I didn't particularly like her when she first arrived.
Therein lies my dilemma.
"Hey Cox, come in."
"What you doing?"
I try to close the folders without looking suspicious.
"Same old stuff," I say. "You?"
"I'm just on my way out. How do you want to organise our meal?"
Shit. I'd forgotten about that.
"I can't make it Jesse. I'm sorry."
"Gil's just saddled me with something." I try to explain.
"No, it's okay. You can't do it today, that's fine."
"I would if it were possible," I say, noticing she seems quite hurt at my cancellation. "Tomorrow?"
She waves and leaves my office. I'm not sure if I should get up and chase her down, but by the time I actually decide to do just that, she's disappeared. Oh well, I can't be running after her into the car park because her feelings are hurt, I'm sure she'll get over it.
I finally get home, after putting ten in the shortlist pile and cursing Gil for making me his secretary. Linds is already at school, so at least the house will be quiet enough for me to relax.
Grabbing a glass of chilled water and a bowl for my museli, I hit the button on my answering machine. Same old stuff, a friend of Lindsay's asking if I could call her mother for a possible get together and several hang-ups (why do they wait until they get to the beep?) and nothing from Sara.
Why I always expect it is the real question.
I collapse on the couch, spilling a little of the milk onto my shirt and try to find some music. I've really got to speak to Linds about loading her music into the player. The first five cds I find are all hers and while I don't mind some of them Pink and Shakira there are some I simply detest. I guess it's not packaged for my consumption, and I do forbid so many artists that I shouldn't complain about the ones she does listen to. After all, Pink has a bit of language and adult themes within her lyrics, but we compromised on that one when her other choices were Eminem and Snoop Dogg. As long as I don't hear her sing some of Pink's lyrics, she's allowed to listen to her.
I know she's a little adventurous, being a teenager now, I try to trust her to make sensible decisions most of the time. I'm hardly someone with a squeaky clean past after all. Plus, I'm not stupid, I know she trades songs with her friends that I don't like her listening to. I'm not stupid, but I'm trying not to make such a big deal out of things she'll likely grow out of, and unless she starts mimicking the behaviours of some singers, a little variety doesn't kill her.
Ah, here's something for me, Antigone Rising. No sooner do I start tapping my foot along to Cassidy's voice does my phone ring.
"Hey Gil, what's wrong?"
"I need to continue the conversation we were having last shift, can you come in now?"
"Gil, I just got home."
"Catherine, it's important."
"Fine, but I won't be in for an hour or so." I sigh.
I really should have let that call go to my machine.
I decide to shower and put on a new outfit, just in case Gil's chat turned out to be a long one. I was very tempted to wear my tracksuit pants, but put on a fairly old pair of jeans and a thin cotton sweater. Sara's favourite if memory serves me correctly. When I take a quick look in the mirror, I smile. This sweater does fit quite snuggly and the light blue is quite flattering to my hair colour. I do admit to a fair slice of vanity whenever I head into work. I want to look my best, not because I like the attention, but I enjoy my own confidence. Okay, okay, so I like some of the attention, but not all the time.
Jumping in the car, I send a quick text to Nancy to let her know I will be picking Linds up today. Gil will owe me that after calling me in, in some kind of throw back to the early days when he'd call and leave the most cryptic of messages just in case Linds were listening to the phone. Eddie thought all the shorthand was my attempt at concealing the fact I was cheating on him. I guess he never learnt, Gil and I would never be more than friends. But I guess from a man who cheated like it was a sport, he'd think the slightest thing was a sign.
I stop off at my favourite cafe and grab a large coffee, noticing I'm taking longer than the hour I promised, but not terribly concerned. When I finally get to work, I greet a few of the staff, and none look like they're surprised I'm here after shift. We all do it time and then.
He's not in his office, which I obviously assumed he'd be. Does this man ever go home? Taking a quick look around the usual haunts, I give up and dial his cell.
"Gil, where are you?"
"I'll be there in a minute," he says into the phone. I hear traffic.
"Where are you now?"
"Just driving in. I'll meet you in my office."
This man really is one-of-a-kind. Which makes every interaction with him sweet, frustrating and torturous all at the same time.
"Thank you for coming in Catherine," Gil says, scaring me as I was snooping around his desk. Didn't find anything interesting I might add.
"I had, ah, some difficultly in communicating what I needed to say before."
"Catherine, this is hard for me to say. You won't like it."
"Gil, we're friends, you can tell me whatever you need okay? Take your time."
"You remember I gave you those names to look through?"
This man is insufferable at times.
"They ah ... they weren't given to you with the full story."
He stops, as if trying to draw it out like some badly written television show. I take a sip from my drink and just wait for him.
"The truth is Catherine," he stops again and I almost shout at him. "I needed a diversion."
"Ah what?" Okay, really. Am I being set up for some elaborate birthday surprise, even though my birthday is far from actually being here?
I turn, not quite sure what I'm witnessing. I still feel like I've just woken from my sleep and not completely sure where I am, or if the dream I was having was real. Why was I running up a candy cane with a bucket of water?
I shake my head, trying to get that image out and manage to find my voice in the process.
"Ah hi." I say, putting my hand up slightly in a weak wave.
"I needed to give the appearance of not playing favourites." Gil explains. Or at least thinks he does.
I simply cannot find one single word to describe what I feel like. The room is incredible suffocating, and the relaxed pose I had of about three minutes ago has crumpled into a position of genuine shock. I want to flee the room, I really do. I want to get up, rewind the last few hours and pretend that I actually know what is happening. But I don't flee and it's down to nothing more than the fact I feel like I've been kicked in the stomach and the only thing I can do is try and remember how to inhale and exhale.
"I'm sorry to do it like this," for a minute I think I've heard that apology in my head, but I look up and it is Gil's lips that are moving. "You know how much Ecklie dislikes her."
I think I nodded. I know I clutched my stomach.
"And the best person to replace Sara, is Sara herself."
Gil looks at me, concerned about my lack of, well everything. I must look a fright, but just as he comes closer to me, I feel something stir within. Before anything can say anything else, I vomit on Gil's floor, right near his desk. I tell myself that the cleaner will need to lift the desk up to catch it all.
"Get some water."
The voice approaches me, the figment of my imagination lays a hand on my back. I jerk away and wipe my mouth. I see little droplets land on the swell of my breasts and I hope I'll be able to get the sweater off without it getting in my hair.
"I'm sorry Red. I didn't mean to be sneaky."
"Shut up," I hiss. "Shut up."
"Here Catherine," Gil appears, handing out to me the glass of water he was summoned to get. Great, now I can swallow the taste of the vomit. Genius idea.
"What's wrong?" Gil uses the words I used earlier in the day. And like Gil, I have no answer. None that would make sense to him.
"Maybe I should take her home."
"No." I bite. "I can fucking drive myself."
If either person is taken aback by my venom, they don't admit it. Shame, I was looking for a fight.
"Gil, I'll see you later. Probably something I ate." I say, knowing he'll believe me.
"If you're not well, take the shift off." Gil offers, helping me up.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you home?"
I know I can't be too angry, not with Gil in the room, so I just shoot one of my glares and it's enough.
"See you later Gil." I stop, and mumble, "see you later Sara."
If I could have run, I would have been out there with speed that would make athletes jealous.
"Catherine wait!" Sara's shouting and attracting attention to herself, and to me, so I decide to stop walking.
I want to say so much, but I don't even know where to start.
"I'm so sorry Catherine. I wanted to call you, but couldn't find the right words over the phone. I hope you'll forgive me."
I take a look over her and notice that while she is thinner than the last time I saw her, she seems to be trying to put the weight back on. Her eyes aren't as vacant as they were, but I can still see the bags under her eyes.
She tries to reach out to touch me, but I move backwards slightly.
"I needed to come back."
I don't say anything, just turn and get into my car.
To Be Continued
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