Inert Nobility

by Cincoflex and VR Trakowski

The endless variations of Las Vegas never failed to fascinate Grissom.  Here was a fairly ordinary murder--if any murder could be said to be "ordinary"--in an air-conditioned warehouse used to store pressurized gasses.  In fact, if he had placed the name over the warehouse door correctly, the building belonged to one of the major suppliers of party supplies for Nevada and several other states. 



Catherine preceded him into the depths of the long cool room, which was filled with rack upon rack of huge rounded pressurized tanks, suggesting to his mind an enormous weapons cache of torpedos.  Not all the rack spaces were filled, but the low ceiling made the place a touch claustrophobic. 



Grissom turned to look at Brass, who was following him.  "Why you?" the CSI asked mildly, jerking a thumb towards the door where a uniform lingered. 



Brass shrugged, looking more tired than irritated.  "Mgumbe says the place makes him nervous.  But this one's fresh, so someone has to stay with you." 



"Fresh, you said it," Catherine commented as they rounded a rack and found the body.  The corpse was splayed out on the floor, most of its head redistributed around the immediate area in a bright gory display.  Judging from the shoes and sport coat as well as the shape, Grissom deduced that their victim was male.  "This doesn't look more than an hour old." 



Brass shrugged.  "The security guard heard the shot and investigated." 



Grissom looked around, but the witness was nowhere in sight.  "And?" 



The captain's grin was reluctant, but there.  "He made it outside before he was sick.  Barely.  Since he's pushing about ten years past retirement age, I sent him to the ER for a quick checkup, he looked kind of shocky." 



Catherine was already snapping pictures of the scene.  Grissom set down his kit and opened it, reaching for gloves.  "No sign of the shooter, I take it." 



"Nope."  Brass turned around, a casual move that disguised his alertness.  "I wonder what's in all these tanks." 



"Helium," Grissom answered easily as he pulled on the latex coverings. 



Brass shot him a suspicious look.  "How do you know?" 



Catherine, still photographing, snickered.  "Look closer, Jim, they're labeled." 



Brass rolled his eyes. 



For a while they processed in amiable silence; the victim had apparently been shot more than once, as a blood trail led deeper into the warehouse, and the path had to be followed and documented.  David arrived, pulled the victim's ID, and took him away with his usual efficiency; the wallet showed the corpse to be one Brian Desmonde, a name they all remembered as belonging to a somewhat shady real estate broker.  Grissom held in reserve the idea that the wallet could have been planted, given that the victim had no face to match to the ID, and went on with his work. 



It appeared that their shooter had fired more than once, Grissom realized as he backtracked the victim's path; there were enough bullet casings to indicate that the fatal bullet had come from a second clip, and he found several fresh ricochet marks on the stored helium tanks.  Grissom wasn't able to find all the bullets, though, and concluded tentatively that the missing ones were probably lodged on some of the higher shelves.  Finding them would require a ladder and lots of time, and he made a mental note to get Greg, or better yet a trainee or two, out to handle that tedious chore.  Sometimes being the boss had its advantages. 



As he sealed an evidence envelope, Grissom could hear the faint scrape of metal and the snap and fizz of a flash camera as Catherine meticulously documented blood spatter; on some level, he found it reassuring.  Processing with Catherine didn't offer the synchronitic joy that working with Sara provided, he reflected, but it could be extremely comfortable; they knew each other's patterns and strengths, and could ask and answer questions with a raising of brows and a tilt of the head.  In fact, when Catherine was content, they could go a long time without saying a word. 



Which was why, when he flipped open his phone and called the lab, and Nick answered with a professional, clipped "Stokes," his own voice surprised him. 



"nick? it's grissom." 



Grissom blinked.  The words had come out sounding like a sped-up record.  In an instant he realized what must have happened, but Nick was already replying, sounding puzzled.  "Grissom?  Is that you?" 



He cleared his throat, knowing it was going to be no help at all.  "yes, it's me; there appears to be a helium leak at the warehouse.  i need you to pull up the records on brian desmonde, with an e, the real estate broker, and tell me if there are any connections to acme chemicals."  Good grief, it reminded him of that humiliating period when his voice changed, only more concentrated. 


“Uh, right,” Nick said in a somewhat stifled voice.  “Hold on a sec, I’ll find an empty terminal.”

Grissom waited, dusting a shelf stanchion for prints and listening absently to the muffled thumps and voices of Nick’s travel through the lab.  A few moments later there was a click, and then Nick spoke again.  “Okay, could you repeat that for me?”

“i need the records for brian desmonde, with an e,” Grissom began, but a wave of semi-stifled laughter reached his ear and he sighed, reminding himself that he was far, far away from eighth grade.

“you put me on speakerphone, didn’t you?”

“Sorry, Griss,” Nick said, choking on a laugh.  “I couldn’t resist, man!”

Grissom dutifully repeated his request to a chorus of snickers, giggles, and outright laughter.  His lack of enthusiasm was somewhat alleviated by the sound of Sara’s distinctive whoop; on some level it felt good to make her laugh, and she hadn’t done enough of that lately as it was.  But it was a relief to finish the instructions and sign off.

He trudged back to the primary scene, where his colleague was still processing.  “catherine?”

She looked up, eyes widening.  “uh, griss, you--“

Grissom held back a snicker of his own as her eyes widened even further and she just barely avoided clapping a glove over her mouth.  “obviously, there’s a leak,” he repeated patiently.  “we need to evacuate the scene until it can be ventilated.”  So far he wasn’t feeling any ill effects, but helium could be dangerous if the level climbed too high, and it was better to be safe than sorry.  It appeared that some of those missing shots had hit valves on the stored tanks, letting the gas escape. 

“gotcha,” Catherine squeaked, and began packing up her equipment.  Grissom went looking for Brass.



He found him around the corner in the little alcove where emergency phone was, writing down notes on his spiral pad; steeling himself, Grissom spoke softly, "jim--"



His voice came out sounding like that of a cartoon; instantly Brass grinned, corners of his mouth going up a tiny bit. Grissom scowled and spoke again, "yeah, very funny I know, but we've got a helium leak contaminating the site. we'll need to seal the scene and let the place air out."



"dangerous?" Brass asked, then winced at the sound of his OWN voice, pinched and Smurf-like; much less manly. Grissom bit back a chuckle.



"you sound like bullwinkle moose," he piped.



Brass arched an eyebrow. "yeah, well YOU sound like mr. peabody. hell, you LOOK like mr. peabody," he shot back, flipping his notebook shut.



Grissom considered that a moment, and gave in to his grin. "let's go talk to catherine."



Brass grinned back.



They walked to the far end of the warehouse, deliberately not looking at one another. Ahead of them, Catherine was just finishing labeling an evidence bag; as they reached her, her cell phone rang. Absently she answered it. "willows--"



Perfect. High and sweetly feminine, Catherine sounded like Betty Boop. Grissom grinned again, and Brass dropped his face at the sound. Scowling, Catherine rolled her eyes, her attention on the call. She spluttered a little, turning away from the men as she handed Grissom the camera. "lindsay? hold it--NO it's not all right for you to go with deedee to lake mead tonight!"



Both men heard Lindsay squawking through the earpiece; Catherine tried to growl but it sounded more like a zipper than a threat. "what? nothing's wrong with my voice, and that's NOT the issue here! i'm putting my foot down, lindsay samantha willows!"  Her infuriated squealing tone made her sound like a demented girl chipmunk, and Brass couldn't take it. He turned away and laughed quietly, his shoulders shaking. Grissom tried manfully not to snort but it was difficult. Catherine was pacing a little, her eyes shooting daggers at them both. "listen to me--stop laughing lindsay! i'm serious here. i don't care if i sound like a power puff girl or not, i'm STILL your mother and i'm NOT letting you go without discussing this!"



More squawking, this time the sound clearly the bubbly guffaws of a teenager; Catherine closed her eyes in exasperation and gripped the phone more tightly. "laugh it up, funny girl, but i'm not joking around. if you take ONE step outside that house before i get home--"



"THERE'S a threat carrying a lot of weight," Brass whispered to Grissom. "squeaky fromme, part two."



"really? she sounds more like minnie mouse on meth," Grissom countered, finally taking in the absurdity of the moment.



Brass turned his patented bland eyes to the man standing next to him. "oh yeah, an image disney's sure to love. you two pack it up while i get this place secured. you sure this stuff isn't going to damage our vocal cords?"



Grissom smirked. "nope. it's heal-i-um."



Brass groaned, and headed out of the building. 



As Catherine finished her phone call, Grissom gathered up some of her evidence bags to go with his own.  She picked up her case in one hand and more bags in the other, and shot him an uncertain glance.  "seriously, gil, is this going to last long?" 


He shook his head.  "no, it'll clear out of our systems pretty quickly, but we shouldn't stay too long.  helium is a simple asphyxiant, and with the low ceiling in here we can't afford to take chances."  Concentrated helium would replace the oxygen in their lungs, and the results would be both unpleasant and potentially fatal.



Damn it, Jim was right; he DID sound like Mr. Peabody.



Catherine opened her mouth, appeared to think better of speaking, and settled for a nod.  Grissom tilted his head in a courteous gesture for her to precede him, and followed her towards the door. 



The sight that greeted them was unusual enough to have them both staring.  Brass was standing next to the squad car not far away, wearing his most humorless expression, but nonetheless the two cops with whom he was speaking were laughing so hard that they were hanging onto each other to remain upright--much to the captain's obvious frustration.  Raising his high, hollow voice didn't help.  "i want fans out here as soon as possible, and i'm about ready to make sure you two do all your laughing on traffic." 



That proved too much for Catherine; she broke out in high-pitched giggles that sounded absolutely ridiculous.  This sent the cops into paroxysms, and Grissom felt a chuckle swelling up from his diaphragm and didn't bother to it keep in.  The squeaky snort that escaped him was even funnier, and for once he let himself go, relaxing into laughter at the sight and sound of Catherine bent over with shrill helpless mirth. 


Brass rolled his eyes and tried to look angry, but the utter absurdity of the situation was too much for him and he began to snicker.  Since this produced only staccato wheep sounds, the hilarity increased, and in a moment Jim was roaring like a baby lion while one cop was leaning against the squad car clutching his stomach.


Grissom finally got himself under control, bending to gather up the bags that Catherine had dropped and blessing the fact that nothing in them was fragile.  His stomach and chest ached, but it was the pleasurable ache of well-used muscles, and he realized that he couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so hard.  Catherine was subsiding into chipmunk hiccups, and as Grissom straightened Brass wiped his eyes and mouthed "I'm riding with you," jerking a thumb at his still-incapacitated subordinates. 


Grissom nodded.  Catherine blew out a breath and took the bags back with a grin, and the three of them walked to the lab's SUV, completely silent for once.  The CSIs stowed their gear and evidence in the back; it would be hours before they could return to the scene, since the faulty tanks would have to be identified.  Brass' raised brows and pointing finger were a perfectly clear suggestion that they leave, and Catherine nodded enthusiastically, dodging briskly around the captain to claim the front passenger seat. 


Brass rolled his eyes in mock anger, then turned back towards the patrol car and the still-helpless cops, taking a deep breath.  "Traffic!" he boomed, then looked so utterly startled at his restored voice that Grissom sat down on the back bumper of the SUV and laughed until he cried. 


***   ***   ***


The three of them walked into the building together, not speaking but sharing glances as they passed through the glass doors, all too aware that the news of about their latest case and its complications would be well known by now. Judy merely nodded to them though, her concentration on the phone at her ear, and as they passed down the hallway no one even bothered to look at them. Grissom gave Brass and Catherine a relieved shrug indicating his belief that they might have missed the ribbing.



As they reached the break room, Grissom noted that the rest of the night shift were there: Greg, Warrick, Nick and Sara along with Hodges around the big table. They had the general air of amusement that made the hairs on the back of his neck go up in warning, but the case needed to be discussed, and Nick did have the folder in front of him. Grissom strode in and took a seat, getting a few nods as he did so. He cleared his throat, hoping the last of the helium in his system was now gone, and spoke up. "Nick, did you find any connection between Brian Desmonde and Acme Chemicals?"


"sure did--his brother is the ceo for the company, griss--" Nick drawled out, sounding like a happy prairie dog. Catherine's mouth twitched, and Brass gave a put-upon sigh.



"turns out the two of them have some baaaaaaad blood going back a few years too," Warrick supplied, his normally low and mellow tenor now a feisty upper alto. "the desmondes have a history of restraining orders and domestic calls."



"right now we're waiting for the brother, grant, to come in and give us his alibi," Sara piped up, literally. Her voice had gone from husky and sweet to tight little squeak. Unbidden, Grissom thought of the little cartoon mouse of the Forties, Nibbles.



"in fact, you could say we're waiting for him to GRANT us an interview," Greg added with a grin, and his voice was so nearly a match for Mickey Mouse that Grissom almost checked for the ears; Greg was already wearing gloves. 



Catherine fought unsuccessfully not to laugh. "Okay, okay we GET the joke; thanks a lot guys--Hodges, what are you doing here?"



"chemicals ARE my forte," he announced formally; under the influence of helium, his tone was clearly Simon, but without Alvin or Theodore to back him up. Hodges pulled the tank up from under the table and tucked it under his arm. He gave a little salute to the group and stepped out again as Nick began laughing. Sara's giggles were dropping a few octaves now, and Warrick was biting his lips, his grin leaking from the upturned corners. 


"How much did you have to pay him?" Brass asked resignedly. 


"Five bucks each and an extra ten to take a hit himself," Nick said, his voice wavering a little but steadying into its proper baritone. 


"We'll discuss misuse of county supplies later," Grissom said briskly, tossing Nick a brief glance to let him know that Grissom hadn't forgotten the speakerphone incident.  The younger CSIs tried to look properly repentant, but they weren't very successful.  "Greg, Warrick, I know you have a case of your own to work on." 


"Yeah, my samples should be just about done," Greg said; the first word cracked a little.  "C'mon, Warrick, if I'm right you owe me a beer." 


The two men rose and ambled out, arguing amiably about  their evidence, and Catherine settled into one of the vacated seats with a sigh. Brass took another, slumping a little.  "So what else did you learn?" Grissom asked. 


Sara shrugged.  "Not a lot, but we think that with your evidence we have enough to get a warrant for Grant's home and office." 


"I'll handle that," Brass said, reaching for his cell phone.  As he dialed, Grissom's pager went off, and he looked down to read it before turning back to his colleagues.  "Mr. Desmonde awaits," he announced. 


Sara came along to the morgue, Catherine having gone to the station with Jim to interview Grant.  Robbins greeted the two CSIs with a mischievous look over the naked corpse of Brian Desmonde.  "Hello, Sara.  Gil, I heard you had an...interesting case." 


Grissom, shrugging into a lab coat, glanced over at Sara, and saw her eyes go wide with mirth as she anticipated his answer.  "What can I say, Al?" Grissom replied easily.  "It was a gas." 

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