The Kansas Hit

Chapter One


“Okay, we have an elderly female vic, ID unknown for the moment, with severe blunt trauma out here approximately fifteen feet from the center of town. Eyewitnesses say she was unable to move out of the way in time and was subsequently crushed by the structure, which arrived out of quote, nowhere, unquote,” Brass read from his notes.


Sara knelt and looked at the legs, which were all that were visible of the woman. She winced at the striped stockings. “Has David already pronounced?”


“He’s delayed with a hearing, so he’s passed jurisdiction to the local coroner,” Brass replied, waving to the short man next to him. Moving at a stately pace, the minute coroner bent and looked over Sara’s shoulder. He spoke in a low drone.


“As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her. And she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead.”


“That’s good . . . “ Brass murmured. “Since she’s got a farmhouse sitting on her face.”


The coroner nodded. Sara pulled on some latex gloves and carefully moved one foot, the sparkly shoe on it glittering in the light.


“Do be careful!” came a sweet, twittery voice. Both Brass and Sara looked over at the woman in the sugary pink dress and glittery crown, who was smiling serenely at them.


 Brass gave her a thumbs up and turned back to Sara, his voice low. “Local bigwig . . . itinerant, but knows all the right people.”


“G.T. Good, yeah. Saw her on the cover of Bubble Up magazine . . .” Sara murmured,  “Was she a witness?”


“Nah, she drifted in afterwards. Listen, I’m going to go talk to the out of town tourist—“


The next time Sara looked up, Grissom was there, turning his gaze from the scene, his smile bemused. “I’ve heard of bringing down the house—“


“—Or dropping in,” she countered gently, a quirk to the corner of her mouth. “Check out the Mary Quant stockings.”


Grissom crouched down and stared. “I don’t recognize the shoes.”


“They’re not Astrabellas,” Sara commented, “Probably some returnable brand.”


They processed quietly, moving around the fractured wood, ignoring the brightly colored flowers and singing townsfolk, concentrating on the evidence. When Sara stepped inside the structure, she blinked a little, disoriented. Grissom looked up at her, his expression amused. “Monochromatic—this style went out in 1939.”


“Oh wow . . . kinda . . . stark,” Sara observed, looking at the scattered goods and broken glass littering the floor.


Grissom nodded. “The chiaroscuro effect. Looks like our drop-in tourist came a long way.”


Sara picked up a chicken feather and studied it. “Egg-actly.”


Grissom arched an eyebrow at the pun, but the corner of his mouth quirked up as well.


***


Brass returned a while later, looking slightly perturbed. He shook his head, turned away from the impromptu send-off for the girl in gingham, and cleared his throat. “Well, we had nothing to hold her on, and apparently she’s anxious to get back to her folks.”


“Name?” Grissom asked, watching everyone around him wave madly to the departing girl.


“Dorothy Gale—she declined to give her age, from Kansas . . . sounds phony to me,” Brass shrugged. “But unless you guys can show me some motive for the killing—“


“How about the sister?” Grissom asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Brass nodded slightly.


“Mrs. W.W. West, yeah, she’s a piece of work. I didn’t want to release the shoes until we had some proof she was the next of kin, but between trying to get approval from the mayor and then that little run-in with the boys from the Lollipop Guild—I’m telling you, Randy Newman had it right.”


“Um, guys--the body’s gone—“ Sara announced in frustration. All three of them turned to look back where the legs had been protruding under the wooden siding. Grissom moved to examine the spot once more.


“The house hasn’t been moved—someone slid the body out from under it,” Grissom muttered. Brass sighed.


“The day’s just getting better and better. Time to round up a few short-sighted folks and see if we can figure out what’s going on.”


“Did we at least get an ID on her?” Sara asked softly, peeling off her latex gloves.


Grissom frowned. “What did the sister say?”


Brass’s frown deepened. “She  tentatively ID’ed the body via the shoes. Said her sister was Ms. W.W. East, local to these parts, and for the record, the woman was seriously worked up about those sparkly babies. If they’re gone too, we’re going to hear about it.”


“So now it’s personal,” Sara replied questioningly.


Brass gave another shrug, tucking his notebook back into his breast pocket. “In this town, isn’t it always?”


***  


Having the house moved back to the lab took the better part of a day; there were the usual paperwork hassles about crossing jurisdictions, and securing the chain of evidence. In the end though, it arrived at the City Lab just as the call came in for a burglary at the cornfield out along Yellow 101.


Grissom and Sara took it, arriving at the intersection and meeting up with Brass once more. He looked preoccupied, and waved at the section of broken-down fence behind him.


“We’re missing a scarecrow. Not normally a big deal, but I thought you might want to see this—“  He motioned to a section of the brick road in front of the cornfield. Grissom crouched down and pulled out a flashlight; in the strong beam, bits of red glitter sparkled, flakes of it scattered over a wide area, along with bits of straw.


And slightly muddy paw prints.


“Red glitter . . . but over a limited area,” Grissom mused. “She had to have been--“


“—Dancing,” Sara filled in confidently. “It’s the only way the glitter would end up in a pattern like this.” She looked across the brick road and stood up, carefully doing a quick daisy chain and soft shoe shuffle across the area, then gave a kick.


Grissom and Brass watched her for a long moment; self-consciously Sara stopped and turned, giving a half-shrug.


Brass managed a small smile. “Dancing.”


“Stranger things have happened,” Grissom mildly pointed out. “We’re still getting unconfirmed reports on flying monkeys.”


“I hate those things,” Sara murmured, using tweezers to pick up some of the straw.


 Brass nodded. “Nobody’s windshield is safe anymore. So—Miss Gale had a dog with her when she left town, and we know she came along this way since it’s a direct route from where the house crashed.”


“And the glitter is a possible match for the shoes . . .” Grissom agreed, carefully tweezing up flakes and tucking them into bindles.


Sara looked over at the cornfield and frowned. “But why take a scarecrow? Why dance with one?” she asked softly, staring out at the brick road, as if it held the answer to her question.


“Sounds like she hit the poppy field early to me,” Brass muttered, looking at the dog tracks.


“We’ll run the straw samples through DNA,” came Grissom’s voice, “See if it’s in CANON or not and take it from there. Did you get a breed on the dog?”


“Something small and hairy—looked like a toupee with legs,” Brass replied with a grunt. Sara flashed him a grin.


“I thought you liked dogs?”


“Dogs are . . . .” Brass gestured, spreading his hands wide and high. “. . . Supposed to be bigger than a shoebox, you know? Give me a pet with substance every time.”


Grissom looked as if he wanted to say something, but his beeper went off and he unclipped it, looking down at the text. He sighed. “Nick says the house is clean—no trace of the body OR the shoes, and the sister has announced she’s taking matters into her own hands.”


“Oh that will help, sure,” Brass sighed. “Nothing like having a witch mad at you to improve things. I’ll see if we can’t pick Miss Gale up for a little questioning downtown and get some answers.”


“Good idea. We can check her shoes then,” Grissom agreed. Sara packed up the evidence and looked over as Brass left.


She smiled. “So, after we drop this off—Want to grab some lunch over at the Orchard?”


Grissom flashed her a sharp look, which softened when he nodded.


***  


By the time they arrived though, part of the place was cordoned off, and Brass was already there, looking unhappy. Sara pulled off her sunglasses and parked them on the top of her head as he walked over, apple in hand.


“Agricultural assault, and I bet you’ll never guess who was involved?”


Grissom was already looking at the yellow brick, his mouth pursed up. “More red glitter and straw: Miss Gale and accomplice?”


Brass handed him the apple with a dry look. “Apparently the scarecrow has quite a mouth on him, at least according to the local trees. They’ve lost half a bushel in a heated disagreement.”


“Over what?’ Grissom asked curiously. Sara was already looking at the grassy knoll, and he was trying not to look at her when she bent over.


“Quality control issues. Apparently the two of them first attempted to nab a free sample or two, and then things got heated when our straw man made some unsavory implications about attributes of the fruit in question.”


Grissom shrugged. “They’re Macs—everyone knows they’re smaller and more expensive.”


“Grissom?“ Sara called out. The two men crossed the road and went up the grassy hill towards a flatter space. Sara pointed out a few dark blotches on the ground, and indicated a pair of long, oval shaped indentations with overgrown grass edges. “It looks like something was moved from this spot. The spills are oil, I think.”


“Lemme ask one of the trees if there was anything of value over this way—“ Brass muttered. Grissom nodded and got down on his hands and knees to look at the ovals, talking softly.


“We’ve got earthworm cast along bare soil—whatever was standing here had to have been in place for at least six months. Two ovals side by side—what does that suggest to you, Sara?”


“Feet,” she responded promptly. “There are lighter tracks leading away along the grass and back down to the bricks.”


Grissom stared off towards the long and winding road, his gaze sweeping across the trees and fencing. “So why would a person be standing here for at least half a year suddenly begin moving only after Miss Gale and her scarecrow companion show up?”


“Why would he need oil?” came Sara’s counter query. “Unless he’s related to the Tik Toks or Wheelers—“


“Hold the phone, looks like we’ve got some new information,” Brass grumbled, heading their way, looking distinctly annoyed. “You remember that Missing Persons case from about a year ago? Nick Chopper?”


“The accident-prone  young man with the broken heart,” Grissom nodded. Brass let out a noisy sigh.


“Yeah well then you remember he had several prosthetic operations and most of them were low budget affairs, in tin.”


“Tin?” Grissom echoed uncertainly.


“Tin—don’t ask. According to the grove guy, Tin Man’s been rusting over here for a while. Then about three hours ago they get into it with Miss Gale and her hayseed sidekick. The two of them find Nick and oil him up enough to get clanking. I’m telling you, Gale must be some sort of ex-hoofer by the amount of dancing she does.”


Grissom looked doubtful, but Sara cast a gaze along the brick road, thinking hard. “Maybe it’s the straw man.”


“You think it’s the scarecrow who’s the gypsy?” Brass asked, incredulously.


Sara grinned and nodded. “Sure—he’d be loose enough, in a mattressy sort of way.”


“Yeah, well if he managed to pick a fight with an orchard, then straw boy’s not exactly the brains of the operation,” Brass replied firmly.


Grissom had wandered across the road and was looking thoughtfully at a deserted cottage there, his gaze up on the chimney. The other two came over, waiting for him to speak. “Do either of you smell . . . brimstone?”


Brass shook his head, but Sara nodded, sniffing. “Something smoky. Is it coming from the chimney?”


“Not likely—this place hasn’t been inhabited in a while. It’s odd though—you’d think the last thing a scarecrow would want around him is fire—“ Grissom replied. “Which could mean that someone might be following them.”


“They could have been roasting the apples,” Sara pointed out, but Grissom shook his head.


“Then we’d definitely smell those—roasting apples are pretty notable. This scent is just
. . . smoke.”


“Well the only one with any reason to be after these guys is the sister,” Brass pointed out, staring up at the roof. “And from up there, she’d have a pretty good shot at anyone coming down the road.”


“Then I guess we’ll need a ladder . . . “ Sara sighed, trying to ignore her growling stomach.


A few minutes later, Sara was on her way up, her pert buttocks shifting with every rung. Grissom kept a surreptitious eye on her, then shot Brass an annoyed glance when he realized the other man was openly enjoying the sight. Insouciantly, Brass shrugged, his mild grin unapologetic.


“Hey, I’m not made of tin—“ he murmured in an undertone to Grissom, who wasn’t quite sure how to take the remark. Above them on the roof of the abandoned cottage, Sara called down.


“I’ve got some scorch marks up here and the streaks are pointing towards . . . THAT direction, “ she gestured. Grissom followed her indication and squinted. Brass looked slightly worried.


“Into the forest, and I don’t mean in the Sondheim way either. Well, we’ll see if anyone else has picked up Miss Gale’s trail.”


Brass left, and Sara braced her feet on the outsides of the ladder, sliding down gracefully. Grissom watched her, amused and intrigued.


“We still need lunch,” he reminded her. “We could grab something from McMunchkins.”


“They’re off my list—too much salt,” came her reply. “But I could go for a poppy seed salad from Emerald’s.”


Grissom smiled.



                                               The Kansas Hit 2 

                                           
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