Sara tried to block the sounds out of her head, but it was difficult. Even though the police had cordoned off the house, and even though the faint noise was coming from down the street almost fifty yards away, the music carried on the still, morning air. Just a spry refrain of rinky tink piano, bringing to mind images of Paul Newman and Robert Redford for some reason. Sara let the camera rewind, wiped her forehead and glanced over at Warrick, who was industriously lifting prints off of a windowsill.

“Why am I thinking of con men?” she asked him softly. Warrick flashed her a grin, cocking his head towards the open window

“Maple Leaf Rag . . . One of the first pieces I ever learned to play on the piano, much to my grandmother’s regret.” Seeing Sara’s confusion, he elaborated. “I didn’t have the hand span then that I do now, and was forever hittin’ the wrong notes at the end of the syncopated phrase. Drove her crazy for a while.”

“Just like it’s doing to me NOW,” Sara sighed. Warrick shook his head, and folded the plastic cover over the last print he’d done, carefully labeling it.

“It’s from that yard sale down the street. I guess a burglary on the block doesn’t make a difference if you’re trying to get rid of your junk anyway.”

Sara rose up from her squatting position near the door, looking thoughtful; Warrick laughed.

“Man, you’re as bad as Catherine. You’re thinking about checking it out.”

“Maybe—“ Sara conceded with a twisted smile, “I mean, we’re mostly done here—got a few minutes. There’s nothing wrong with looking, you know.”

“Yeah, just try that line at a nudist colony—“ he snorted back, waving her away.

She headed out, reaching the Denali at the curb in a few quick strides. Looking left, Sara made out the cluttered driveway a few houses down, and mingling among the crowd there, a familiar crown of strawberry blonde hair. Sara carefully stowed the camera and strode towards the yard sale, trying not to appear too eager.

It was a big one, obviously the joint effort of several families, and Sara could see they’d taken some time to organize things in broad strokes. Most of the books, hardback and paperback were neatly stacked along one side of the driveway. Grinning, she spotted a few girlhood favorites, and mentally promised herself to revisit Wonka’s chocolate factory if the price was right. Various people wandered in front of her, picking things up and examining them, and Sara glanced around trying to see the pattern of the place.

Baby stuff and kid’s things on the far left side, by the station wagon. One-eyed stuffed animals and hard-looking Barbies were sitting there along with other well-loved toys. Beyond it was a table full of appliances, from hot rollers and electric knives to blenders and crock pots. And here was the source of the ragtime, emanating from a kitschy little plastic player piano complete with a scrolling backdrop inside it. Sara bent down to look at it more closely, nearly jumping when Catherine came up behind her and loudly stage-whispered,

“I wonder if it takes requests?”

“Like the Sound of Silence?” Sara countered with a grin. Catherine smirked and reached one slender finger out, flicking a little red switch on the side of the music box. The song cut off mid-tinkle, and a few other customers smiled in relief. Sara managed a discreet high five with Catherine as they turned to look at the rest of the sale.

“Give me your tired, your poor—“ the older woman sighed, casting an experienced gaze over the sale. Sara hid a smile and her gaze wandered back to the books just as Warrick wandered up, towering over most of the other shoppers.

“Find any bargains?”

“Not yet—how long have we got?” Catherine smiled at him. He checked his watch.

“Well, shift ends in about half an hour, and it will take up that long just to get back—hey, is that a Beta machine?” Warrick demanded, fascinated with the obsolete recorder. Sara stepped out of his way and he knelt to examine it, fingers reverently stroking it. A pot-bellied man in khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt came up, eyeing Warrick with a knowing smile.

“Sure is, in almost new condition. It’s got a tape stuck in it, so I’m willing to sell it for five bucks. Gotta basket full of tapes to go with it, some blank, some used—interested?”

Warrick fished out his wallet while Catherine laughed.

“Aren’t going to bargain?”

“Come on Cath--five bucks IS a bargain—“ he mumbled. Sara had wandered over to the books and was checking out the titles happily, pulling a volume here and there and tucking it into her arms. With a sigh, Catherine moved to the jewelry, eyeing the display with a little smile of her own. One corner of it amused her immensely—a collection of cat pins, bracelets, pendants and watches had been neatly laid out on the card table.

“Looks like SOMEone was a collector,” she commented softly. Across the table, a solemn girl about Lindsay’s age nodded back.

“Granny Kitty. She died, but it’s okay because she’s probably in cat heaven where the angels change the litter boxes for you and every pet has a name and a soul.”

Catherine blinked; the girl flashed a grin, adding, “Yeah, she was a pretty cool Grandma even if she was a little kooky at times.”

Catherine walked away with a sterling silver pin of a sleeping Siamese, pinning it onto her black shirt as Warrick hefted a shopping bag and looked at her.

“Niiice . . . “

“I see you gave in to full price there—“ came her soft retort, even as she blushed a little at his compliment. Warrick glanced down at the bag and nodded.

“Underdog technology is always a contest of wills.”

“So why aren’t you driving a Yugo then?” Catherine pointed out archly. Warrick fought a grin unsuccessfully as they moved to round up Sara.

“Because I thrive on challenges, not masochism. You ready to go, Sara?”

She was still kneeling next to the rows of volumes, one arm full.

“Yeah, hang on. Hey, do you think Grissom would like his own copy of Arachnomania: a guide to keeping Scorpions and Tarantulas? It’s only fifty cents.”

Sara held up the slender paperback questioningly. Warrick gave a snort. “You sure you want to encourage him on keeping any MORE of them?”

“Good point—“ Sara wavered, but Catherine shook her head knowingly.

“Nah, go on and get it—even Grissom needs a hobby, weird as it is.”

They paid for their purchases and strolled slowly back to the Denali, arguing in a good-natured way about where to have breakfast.

*** *** ***

Warrick managed to unscrew the last corner of the beta machine, and gingerly lifted the back of it off, setting it aside on the light table. He carefully tipped the machine, then gently inserted an index finger and gave a little push; the jammed tape popped out of the bottom, clattering onto the table top, bits of brown filament shreds dangling from it. Warrick grinned to himself.

“Ingenuity triumphs over engineering yet again,” came his satisfied little observation. Nick strode in and stared as Warrick began reassembling the back of the machine.

“Is that the piece of junk you picked up at that sale yesterday?”

“It’s not junk. It’s a classic, man.”

“Classic loser—Betamax lost out on the recording industry like what? Fifteen years ago?” Nick insisted with a bit of a sneer.

“Whatever. All I know is that I’ve got a quality VCR here for five bucks, which is just fine with me,” Warrick shot back. Nick picked up the tape and examined it, reading the faded label. Or trying to.

“Randi and Roger . . . dunno, sounds sort of suspicious, Warrick—“ came the sly innuendo. The other man rolled his eyes and glanced down at the paper bag, fishing out a tape at random.

“Skinsations—Great, picked up somebody’s ancient porno. Ah what the hell, I can always tape over it . . .“ he grumbled, tightening the screws. As he set it down, he looked over to see Nick still standing there, smirking.

“Going to test it out? Archie’s on break, so we can hook it up to his monitor . . .”

“Oh yeah, now that it’s working you’re willing to admit it’s got potential—“

“It’s a slow night,” Nick grinned, unrepentant.

They carried the machine to Archie’s lab and within a few minutes managed to hook it up; Nick efficiently rigged the wires while Warrick guiltily fished an unlabeled tape out of the bag. He popped it in as Nick came to stand next to him, arms crossed.

“Hey guys, where’s Archie and what are you doing here?” Grissom had slipped in so quietly that both men started. Nick tried to look innocent; on the screen the gray fuzz cut away to a large and opulent bed and the sound of giggles.

“Uh . . . “ Nick began, face reddening. Warrick shot his partner in crime a disgusted look and tried for dignity with Grissom.

“Checkin’ to see if the Betamax I got at the yard sale works or not.”

“I’d . . . say SO—“ countered Grissom, who was staring with mild curiosity at the screen. A pair of bouncing female bodies filled the screen, accompanied by the definite squeaking of bedsprings, yet more giggles and a low voice speaking off-screen. Nick flushed a deeper shade of brick; Grissom’s brows drew together and he stared at the monitor. Warrick began to fumble for the off-button, but Grissom’s hand shot out waving impatiently.

“I’ve heard that before—“ he muttered. Both men shot him incredulous looks, but he shook his head, adding, “The voice. And so have you two—“

The scene shifted as the camera panned left, catching the gleam of bare skin as a third body came into view.

The giggles stretched out, and a low slightly hyper word rolled out in long syllables. The woman had her naked profile to the camera, curved and lightly freckled, her long hair obscuring her face.

“Eddieee? I don’t WANT to do this . . .”

“Come on Cath, be a good girl. You know you’ve got what it takes, baby. Now just get on the bed—“

Dumbfounded, the three of them stared at the tape a moment longer, then--

“--SHIT.” Warrick yelped, jabbing the buttons frantically; the tape popped out in a quick mechanical lurch, jutting out of the machine.

The sudden, painful silence in the AV lab was deafening and no one moved for a long, long time. Finally Grissom drew in a breath and shifted his glance from Nick to Warrick and squared his shoulders.

“Warrick, I think you’ve got a big decision to make.”

“Me?” he shot back, stance tensing instantly, green eyes narrowing. Grissom nodded slowly.

“It’s YOUR property now. You bought it, and regardless of whatever anyone else in this room feels, any decision about it ultimately rests with you.”

“Jesus Grissom! I—“ he got no further as a pager went off; Nick fished his out, waved it and slunk off, leaving the Grissom and Warrick alone in the AV lab. The two men stared at each other.

Grissom shrugged and spoke again, softly but urgently. “Think about it and don’t rush into anything, Warrick. Whatever you decide, let me know.”

“No! What else can I do but destroy the tape, man—“

“Are you sure that’s the best thing to do?” Grissom asked with slow care in his voice. It was enough to make Warrick pause, and he shook his head in a fresh wave of confusion. He stepped closer to Grissom, crossing his arms.

“No I’m not sure, but it’s better than letting Catherine know anybody saw it!” He shifted tones, his voice dropping low, “Look, what we saw is part of her past, and a damned ugly part, Gris—You really think anything good will come of telling her about it?”

“I don’t know,” Grissom shot back quietly. “It’s not my past, Warrick.”

“Yeah but—“

Grissom gave him a keen, soul-searching look and Warrick flinched a little under that intense blue scrutiny. He rubbed his nose.

“Moral dilemma, Warrick. They come up periodically in life, and you have to deal with them. This isn’t evidence in a case. This is personal.”

With that, Grissom walked away, leaving Warrick swaying slightly, conflicted.

(Dear reader—what should Warrick do? Send me your views and reasoning behind it to: I’m leaving the end of this in YOUR hands!)

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