DISCLAIMER: Jerry Bruckheimer, CBS and various others own CSI, not me. I just played in their sandpit for a while.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Sara/Sofia 'Let's Get Sassy' ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Tell Tale Heart
Greg had been scheduled to go out with her but a problem in the DNA lab needed his particular expertise so in the end Sofia went with Sara to check out the DB.
The victim, Paul Charles, was a personal trainer and professional bodybuilder. His body had been found by one of his clients. He seemed to have been dead for a day or two at least and the bruising and damage to his face seemed to indicate that he had been given a severe beating. He was lying in a pool of blood which appeared to have come from his eyes and nose. But the lack of evidence at the scene was frustrating. Doors were all locked, windows closed and there was no sign of forced entry or exit.
Detective Cavaliere walked them through the scene to the workout room where Charles's body had been found. The walls were covered with posters and prints of the victim in various body building poses.
"This guy's a poster child for self-love," Sofia said softly.
"Maybe that's why they went for the face," Sara said. She started to photograph the body as Sofia walked around the room, talking quietly to herself as was her habit to fix the details of the scene in her mind. It irritated some of the other CSIs but Sara found the wash of noise somehow comforting and she knew from previous scenes she had worked with Sofia that the woman's later recall was almost faultless.
"No matter how hard you work to get big, there's always someone bigger," Sofia observed.
Sara started, realizing that she was being talked to, rather than at. "It could be what keeps them going. Like Freud said, "Anatomy is destiny."
Sofia stopped in front of the rack of weights. "What do you think Freud would have to say about one of these being the murder weapon?"
Sara considered it for a moment, picturing the scenario in her mind. A blow or series of blows across the face with one of those would certainly be enough to cause the damage they had seen to Paul Charles's face. She nodded. Sofia started to process the weights. Sara moved on to take swabs from the bloodstained carpet. "Killer didn't even have to be his size. Could have been a little guy or a woman."
Both poles and weights were negative for blood. One scenario down, countless others to be worked through. Sofia paused in front of the full length mirror and assessed herself with a critical eye. She kept herself in shape, but
"You're beautiful as you are," Sara said softly.
Sofia turned, flashed her lover one of her blinding smiles. "You're the beautiful one," she said, equally softly, mindful of the police officer standing just outside. Most of their immediate colleagues knew of their relationship and were happy and accepting, but law enforcement was an unchancy career path for lesbians and neither woman wanted that kind of attention. She gave Sara another smile, more slow burning than the last, and turned back to the mirror, beginning to dust it for prints.
"All they would have needed was the right weapon, some leverage, the element of surprise," Sara said smoothly returning to their previous topic of conversation hoping that the heat in her cheeks would die down a little before anyone else came into the room. Sofia nodded, lifted a couple of prints from the edge of the mirror.
"I'll check the other rooms starting with the bedroom," she said. The moment was over, they were all business again.
The bedroom was clean, but cluttered and there was no sign of any female presence. There was a day old newspaper on the dresser which was a bit of a puzzle as Charles's body looked at if it had been dead longer than that. Sofia photographed it in situ then bagged and tagged it for fingerprinting back at the lab. She checked the nightstand and found a handgun in the top drawer. She photographed, bagged and tagged it, the routine second nature to her after her years in the job. Second drawer down she found three syringes which she gave the same treatment with even more caution. At least a bullet was a clean way to go compared with what you could get from a dirty needle. Given the physique of the deceased, she had to guess at steroid abuse.
Sara was checking Charles's office area. Every available surface seemed to be taken up with photographs of the deceased or body building awards and certificates, emblazoning his name and attributes. She left his laptop alone for the moment and checked out his calendar.
She glanced up as Sofia walked in holding up the bag with the gun. "Nine millimeter in the nightstand and syringes next to the bed," her partner quipped.
"Wow " Sara's mind was racing through scenarios. Steroid abuse or drug use? Sofia's next words echoed her thought processes.
"Maybe our vic was putting the 'smack' into 'smackdown' "
They weren't given time for further speculation. There was a commotion outside and two men appeared in the doorway dressed in HazMat suits. "You have to come with us, right now. We have a biohazard situation."
Stunned, the two women allowed themselves to be escorted out of the house. "How " Sara started to ask.
"You need to be decontaminated immediately," the man said. More people in HazMat suits were setting up a decontamination unit on Paul Charles's lawn. Sara was pushed inside, followed seconds later by Sofia.
Their clothes were taken from them and they were pushed into decontamination showers. This was far from the first time the two women had showered together but this was just too different to ever be comfortable. They were almost shy around each other, eager to conceal their fear from and for the other. The containment team had only been able to tell them that the initial autopsy had revealed signs of what appeared to be an aggressive biological agent akin to ebola in Charles's system. They had been given antibiotic and anti viral shots already and more were scheduled after they had been through the decontamination shower.
They were standing back to back under the stinging needles of hot water. The smell of the anti-bacteriological body wash they had to use made their eyes and sinus's itch. Sara glanced over to see how Sofia was doing, concerned at the fine tremor running through the woman's body. She couldn't be cold, the air around them was steamy, so it must be a fear reaction. Fight or flight. Not that they could do either right now. She wished she could offer some words of encouragement but her thoughts came up empty. And, as she reached up to push her wet hair back from her face she realized that her own hands were shaking just as badly. She glanced away again, fearing that her concern might be misinterpreted as something inappropriate and so missed the look of silently eloquent concern that Sofia sent in her direction.
As they emerged from the shower area dressed in utilitarian one-size-doesn't-fit-anyone-really jumpsuits the head of the hazmat team came over, his helmet under his arm. "I'm pleased to tell you it was a false alarm, ladies at least as far as ebola or similar is concerned. We can't let you back in the house yet but you're cleared to return to work. Doc Robbins wants to see you both anyway to explain."
One of the officers drove them back to LVPD HQ, keeping up a stream of inane chatter about certain departmental figures and their activities. As they walked back through the building Sara touched Sofia's arm for a moment. "I know we've been but that was different. In the shower I wasn't looking at you like that, I promise."
Grissom passed them, intent on his own case but he did quirk a curious eyebrow at their obvious state of dampness. And the smell of the anti-bacteriological body wash certainly lingered They did not know if he had overheard what Sofia had just said and neither woman particularly cared if he had. The likelihood was that it went over his head anyway. Grissom didn't really 'do' personal relationships.
"I know ," Sofia interlaced her fingers with Sara's for a moment. "I was scared for us both as well if anything happened to you "
They reached the morgue, trying not to think how close they might have come to being occupants themselves. "Here we go " Sara said, releasing Sofia's hand with one final squeeze.
Doc Robbins explained what had happened when he started to autopsy Charles. "The black pus suggested a possible infection from an airborne agent. I took the precaution to get you out until Hazmat cleared the scene."
"Yeah, thanks a lot," Sara said dryly. "So, uh, what did they find?"
"Actually, it's what I found " Robbins smiled "mucormycosis, a disease caused by exposure to rhizopus oryzae, a kind of mold "
"We spent hours in that house!" Sara gasped. Sofia drew a little closer, calming her and seeking her own reassurance at the same moment.
"You're not at risk," Robbins assured both women. "You both have healthy immune systems. I suspect that's not the case with your vic."
"Steroids," Sofia nodded. "Immune suppression is a common side effect of abuse." Hodges had already confirmed that trace on the syringes was deca-durabolin, sustanon and oxandrolone.
"So how does a mold infection make it look like someone smashed him across the face?" Sara asked.
"His face collapsed from the inside. Mucor causes deterioration of the bones around the sinuses and eye sockets. You remember the swollen eyeball?" Both women nodded. "The pus was pushing it out, while the bones that held it in place were getting eaten away."
"So his compromised immune system wasn't strong enough to fight the spread of the infection," Sara said, fighting a gag reflex at the doctor's vivid description.
"That's right," Robbins confirmed. "Now, the really interesting thing is that rhizopus oryzae likes to grow on human tissue "
"So we could be looking for a second body," Sofia said softly. "We have to go back in that house." Robbins nodded.
Wearing protective facemasks with breathing filters, the two women returned to Charles's house. Both Robbins and Hodges had given them a briefing on what triggered the mold's development and how it spread. Sara started to look at the vents in the hallway, Sofia started her investigation in the bedroom. She knelt by the bed, looking at the vents in the floor near the sliding door.
"Hodges said that the mold grows outwards from the source, which will be the human tissue," Sara's voice carried clearly from the hallway. "I can see a couple of tiny splotches but not much more."
"There's nothing in the bedroom vents," Sofia confirmed. "So we start in the hall, trace it back."
They worked quickly, taking down the photographs hanging on the walls, then Sara got out her gear.
"Gotta love a girl who knows her way around a power tool," Sofia winked at her. Sara grinned, fitted safety glasses over her eyes and started cutting through the drywall, hacking out a panel. Lifting it out, Sofia saw that the back was stained with black mold. They moved further along the wall and Sara started to cut again. Every piece they removed showed more evidence of mold. By the fifth piece, the back was completely covered with mold.
"We're definitely getting closer to the source," Sara said. Sofia shone her flashlight into the hole. Sara shut the blinds and picked up the bottle of luminal. She started spraying the wall in the area around the hole and continued down the hallway into the room Charles had used as an office.
Luminescence flowered. "Blood spatter," Sofia said. "Here and here " There was a lot of it. The implication was clear. Someone had died here.
"We're getting warmer," Sara said, picking up the power tool again. She started to slice through the drywall near the heaviest concentration of spatter. The two women peeled it back to reveal a thick coat of black mold growing over the pipes and wall inside. One of the pipes was leaking and the moisture had only fuelled the mold development.
"Looks like we found the source of the mold," Sara said, shining her flashlight over the area.
"Okay, so how does human tissue get inside a wall?" Sofia started to look for bullet holes. She found one in the air duct. Sara teased out the remains of the bullet.
"Same as the handgun I found in the bedroom," Sofia confirmed.
"Copper-jacketed. It's good penetrating power. I think someone was shot here," Sara pictured it in her head, the blood spatter on the wall, the bullet passing through human body and dry wall to impact into the air duct. Miniscule fragments of human flesh adhering to the bullet enough to start the mold forming and water from the leaky pipe provided the perfect environment for growth. The spores were spread through the AC system and Charles was a dead man. There was a brutal kind of irony to it.
They had answered the mystery of Paul Charles' death, but the identity of the real victim took a little longer. Analysis of Charles's day planner traced everyone but a woman he called 'Tiffany', the street name of a known prostitute called Angela Wheeler who had been missing for a month.
Grissom listened to their evidence. "Well anyone who appears this narcissistic may prefer paying for hookers rather than wasting his love on a girlfriend."
"And as we know, in addition to immune suppression and heart and liver disease, steroid abuse can also cause shrunken testicles, impotence and aggression 'roid rage'," Sara said. They had yet to positively match the DNA from the tissue on the bullet to Angela Wheeler but it seemed a forgone conclusion.
"We have the DNA reference sample collected from Angela's apartment during the initial investigation. Mia's on it," Sofia said. She smiled. "This whole case reminds me of that Edgar Allen Poe story where the victim's heart under the floorboards betrays the murder."
Grissom nodded. "The Tell Tale Heart." The two women exchanged an amused glance. Of course Grissom would have recognized the reference.
"There is a macabre sense of justice to the whole thing," Sara said. "His own vanity brought him to it."
"Good work, both of you," Grissom said. "At least the Wheelers get some closure. And you two no after affects from the decontamination?"
"Except the strong need to take another shower to get rid of the smell of the anti-bacteriological gunk," Sofia said drily.
"Well I have no problems with you taking the rest of the shift," Grissom said. "The rest of the paperwork can wait until the DNA analysis is finished. Have a good day, Ladies."
Sara braced herself against the cool tiles, stinging needles of hot water pouring down on her back, melting away the tensions of the day. Strong, supple hands spread honey and lavender scented suds across her skin and she turned, standing breast to breast with her lover.
"This is more like it," Sofia said softly, pressing a kiss to her throat. "I thought the smell of that stuff was never going to go away."
"I was scared in there," Sara admitted abruptly. "I didn't want either of us to get sick to die I didn't want to have to watch "
"Shhhh " Sofia said, holding her close. "I know, baby. I was scared for us both as well. But we're fine. We're going to be fine."
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