The bulldozer stopped with a low clattering rumble, the sound dying away in the still morning air. The operator, a grizzled veteran of twenty years of construction, leaned forward over the wheel, staring at the tangled clutter of debris sliding in a wave of brown dirt and wet sand along the front edge of the scoop.
prickled along his spine, and the cold rush of primitive fear slid
scalp, even though it was already in the eighties with bright
“Christ, Pete what is it now? We’ve got three hours to get this side leveled before Montrose shows up with the new estimates. We’re on a schedule!”
“We’ve got bones, Lloyd.”
“Shit.” The manager, Lloyd, looked supremely pissed. He smacked a hard denim-covered thigh. “Tell me they’re coyote or elk—“
“I see skulls.”
“Not again—Jesus, if this is another one of those ancient burial sites then we can kiss this project off. I hate this shit, you know that? Why couldn’t these Shoshone or Paiute have buried themselves somewhere ELSE and not here just south of the Strip on prime real estate, you know?”
Pete had moved to the front of the bulldozer and was running his work glove over the top blade. He held up a few fingers covered with reddish brown sludge and his voice shook.
“Lloyd, some of these are still—bloody.”
*** *** ***
the concourse of
“There he is. Tall one, in the linen suit.”
“The ONLY one in a linen suit, Grissom,” Sara pointed out softly, hiding her smile at his enthusiasm. It was always slightly amusing to see him caught up in a little hero-worship, and judging by his current mood, clearly Doctor Simon Munro was definitely one of Gil Grissom’s idols.
She could empathize. From her research, Sara knew Munro was outstanding in his field, one of the first scientists to make forensic anthropology a respected and powerful tool in fighting crime and pursuing justice. In his lifetime, Munro had identified Nazi remains, refined carbon dating techniques, worked hundreds of crime scenes and kept himself one of the top in his profession for the past twenty years. Clearly a man to be admired.
Sara shifted her sunglasses to the top of her head and waited patiently as Grissom stepped forward, reaching out a hand to the man now coming off the escalator.
Grissom! God, is that really you? When did you stop being young and
looking distinguished, kid?” came the low baritone rumble as
Grissom’s hand vigorously. Sara liked the sound of that
voice, a lion’s rumble
with hints of
“I’ve been going grey ever since you’ve known me, Simon. No surprise there—“
“No, but this is—Helloo, Gorgeous! Forgive an old codger his complete political incorrectness,” Simon intoned, turning his gaze on Sara. “Honey, whoever you are, you’re not only a stunner, you’re also too good to be hanging out with this bug boy.”
She smiled, feeling slightly warm at the scrutiny of those snapping blue eyes, crinkling as they traveled up and down her with honest admiration.
“Sara Sidle, one of my CSIs,” Grissom introduced her, his voice a little more formal. Simon nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes, the gal you’ve mentioned who shows a lot of promise. Quick study in a lot of fields, prone to flashes of brilliance if I remember your Emails correctly.”
Grissom blushed, and slightly intrigued by this unexpected revelation, Sara took a moment to look at Simon clearly. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a lean frame and long limbs. His hair was longer than most men his age, with a curl to the crisp whiteness of it. His brows were salt and pepper still, and his blue eyes simply dazzled. Clear and bright, they seemed to throw sparks at times. His mouth was classically handsome; chiseled and strong, bracketed by generous dimples, and even though he’d been on a plane for the past eight hours, he wore his rumpled pale suit with lazy masculine grace.
“Very pleased to meet you Doctor Munro,” she intoned, holding out her hand. Simon took it in his much bigger, bonier one and held on to it.
“Call me Simon I insist! Pleased enough to have dinner with me?”
“Actually, you’ll be having dinner with all of us,” Sara gracefully extracted her fingers from his and shot Grissom a look. He was scowling slightly, but recovered enough to nod.
“We’re all meeting up at the conference room with our department, the Sheriff’s office and the owners of the dig site, Simon. Not only is this case a political minefield, time is essential if what we suspect about the site is true.”
“Always to the point,” Simon sighed, shooting Sara a little gleam of regret. “But that was always one of your virtues, Grissom. All right, let me get my luggage and you can fill me in on anything that’s come up since your last Email to me. Thank God it’s Vegas since that means I won’t have to fret about a check-in time at whatever hotel you’ve got me booked into. This way—“ he strode off towards the baggage carrousel, leaving Grissom and Sara in the wake of his long stride. She shot a sideways glance to find one focused right back on her.
“Is he always so—direct?” she murmured. Grissom nodded with a sigh.
“Unlike a VCR, Simon doesn’t have a pause button. Or subtlety.”
“VCRs have subtlety?” Sara asked, puzzled. Grissom shook his head.
“No, of course not. I just thought that by now, Simon would—never mind. I’m sure his bark is worse than his bite.”
But he didn’t sound entirely convinced. Sara sped up a little; trying not to lose sight of their guest as he strode through the concourse, stride eating up the distance. They caught up to him in front of the carousel, where he was hauling a pair of much-battered cases from the parade of luggage now circling. Sara smoothly shifted to lift one, but Simon tut tutted.
“No. I can haul my own toothbrush and laundry, dear. My mother would be spinning in her grave if I let a woman carry something of mine in my presence.”
“I think I could get used to this chivalry thing—“ Sara murmured to Grissom, who had latched onto the other case and sighed a little. The three of them headed to the parking lot, walking and talking, with Grissom and Simon handling most of the conversation, which suited Sara just fine. She liked the side by side image of them as a study in contrasts: Grissom’s steel grey curls to Simon’s white hair, the stockier build of the entomologist to the lanky lines of the anthropologist. Here and there she caught snatches of the conversation that seemed to be centered on catching up.
. . Heard about the case in
“It’s all right, Gil. Once the bones become a cultural issue I know my part of it’s done. I just wish I’d had more time with some of the carbon sampling before they re-interred them—fascinating stuff you know. More Teri’s line than mine, but I hear she’s settled down.”
“Yes. Got married a few years back.” Grissom replied shortly. Simon shot him a look and laughed.
“Just as well, Gil. We both know she wanted tenure at the university. She never made a secret of that. Besides, not everyone’s cut out for consultation work.”
“Seems to suit you,” Grissom pointed out dryly, making Simon chuckle.
“Only because I’m on my own. Give me a good woman, I’d be happy to pass up the itinerant life too.” They’d reached the front of the airport, passing through the glass doors, and Grissom hesitated, setting the suitcase down on the curb.
“Let me bring the car around so we don’t have to hike all the way to the day lot,” he finally decided, casting a quick glance at Sara. She shrugged.
“I could do it, if you want.”
“No that’s fine—“ Grissom replied, fishing in his jacket pocket for his keys and stepping off the curb. Simon watched him go in silence for a moment, then sighed, letting one long hand rub his face.
“There goes one sadly conflicted man,” he intoned softly. Startled, Sara looked up at him, wondering how to ask what he’d meant by that, but Simon merely shook his head.
“Not a word, Miss Sidle—he’s a private one too, as you probably know. Instead, let’s you and I speak of something much lighter. What’s a lovely drink of cool water like you doing out here in the desert?” Simon asked saucily.
the time Grissom had pulled the
*** *** ***
“So what you’re saying is that our perp, or perps probably knew this was an ancient burial site, and used the presence of other, older remains to hide these victims,” Brass sighed. Around the conference table, the rest of the group looked from him to Simon, who was twiddling with a pencil and studying it with great interest.
“It seems likely, Jim. Certainly the co-incidence of burying remains in an area already seeded with others is hardly a random act. Further, from the layout of the bones, it seems to me that your perpetrators had some INTENTION of misleading us by mingling the remains and making identification that much harder and time consuming.”
“Great, so we have someone with a plan,” Warrick sighed from the other side of the table.
“A plan and a working knowledge of the area,” Grissom pointed out softly. “Considering what we’ve uncovered from the area, there are enough bones here to reconstruct at least ten people at least, and the fact that no one’s ever made a suspicious report of anything in this locale would lead us to believe that these killings have taken place over an extended length of time.”
“I agree—“ Simon sighed, rubbing his eyes. “Although at least one of the skeletons is authentically Shoshone or Paiute.” He gently set an arrowhead on the table. “Dug that out of a thigh bone.”
“Whoa. So we’ve got the added headache of cultural sensitivity too,” Catherine murmured under her breath, but still loudly enough to be heard and nodded to. Brass winced a little.
“Peachy dandy. Well I guess that means that moving the bones is our priority along with processing the scene.”
“I have a suggestion,” Simon broke in softly. He looked at Grissom and receiving his nod, began. “We need to do part of the work on-site and part of it here in the lab. Instead of tying up all your CSIs on the skeletons, give me one, and let me have some cadets to do the grunt work. That way you’ve got most of your teams capable to work on the other evidence you’re going to find, and still have them to cover the shift.”
Grissom frowned and nodded, his eyes passing over the members of his team thoughtfully. Nick looked eager, Catherine ambitious. Warrick’s expression was slightly grim, and Sara . . . Sara looked back at him, brown eyes as bright and amused as a puppy’s. When Grissom turned his gaze back to Simon, he had the uncomfortable feeling the older man was suppressing a laugh, even though outwardly his face was still and slightly somber.
“You pick one,” Grissom announced lightly, tossing the decision back at him. A long moment lingered, and finally with a soft chuckle and a flash of white teeth,
“Simon says . . . Sara.”
Even knowing it was coming didn’t make it any easier, and Grissom fought the urge to frown even as everyone else grinned. Of course, logically, Simon would choose her—Sara was the only one he’d met.
Instead Grissom shrugged, not looking in her direction and murmured “Fine. Sara it is. We’ve got three of the skulls in the morgue and three others still in transit, so that’s as good a place for you two to start as any. Warrick, you, Nick and I will start combing the site for other evidence—Catherine, you and Greg start arranging for soil sampling to see if there’s anything more besides blood in that dirt.”
The tone of dismissal in his voice roused them, and in twos and threes the people on Grissom’s side of the table began to get up. Brass looked to the Sheriff, who looked sour but resigned. He nodded and rose himself, muttering something about having to meet with representatives of the Vegas Tribal Councils, and like that, everyone headed off to their assigned tasks in neat and organized groups.
Sara followed Simon down the hall to the morgue, not asking any questions, which seemed to suit both of them just fine. He held the swinging doors for her, then followed her in, not bothering with a smock, although Sara pulled one off the shelf and draped herself in it. Instead, Simon swung his leather case up onto one of the instrument trays and undid the latches, letting it fall open. Five tools gleamed in the harsh light of the morgue, neatly clipped into loops or pockets that held them upright. Simon looked at her and waved a hand at them.
“Anthropometer, sliding caliper, Boley gauge, measuring tape, spreading caliper—tried and true, well-traveled and well used. If you’d unpack them for me, I’ll take a moment to eyeball these skulls.”
Carefully, Sara laid the tools out, smiling to herself as she did so. Simon looked over at the tray table that held three dirt-stained skulls. He picked one up in his long bony hands, holding it carefully, checking the sockets and plates, staring at the teeth of the upper jaw for a long moment before setting it down again. He did the same for the other three, and Sara waited until he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I suppose your coroner has his transcription software and his fancier set-ups, but we’ll go with pen and paper for the moment. Inside pocket of the case—“
Sara deftly unpacked them and stood waiting, watching as Simon looked back at her. She was surprised to see an expression of almost tenderness in his gaze, even more so when she realized it was nearly identical to one she occasionally saw in Grissom’s eyes.
“Something wrong?” she blurted. He shook his head, then turned to the table and picked up the first skull again, and the sharpie marker. In very tiny letters, he wrote something on the underside of the occipital bone.
“Skull number one. Now, Miss Sara, this is off the record here, but from the general size and shape, I estimate this to be the skull of a young woman, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. The flattened frontal bones and general shape of the zygomatic arches indicate possible Central or South American origins.” He turned the skull upside down and peered into it. “Given the lack of molar eruption in the upper jaw, she was probably on the younger side of that age estimate. There’s a fair amount of dirt that has stained the plates, so that tells me it’s a recent burial, probably within the last six months to two years.”
Sara stared at the skull, fascinated, and a little sickened.
“So you’re saying this is probably a missing girl, high school or college student age.”
“Yes. Probably of Latino or Indian extraction, but again, that’s just a hypothesis. Now, we get official and start taking measurements. First, the circumference of the cranium—“
Simon took her step-by-step through the measuring process, patiently showing her how to work each caliper and write the results down. Sara picked it up easily, and Simon could see that Grissom’s opinion of the woman’s intellect was well-founded. By the time they were through with the skulls, dawn had already passed, and Sara was startled by the sound of her stomach growling. It was embarrassingly loud in the quiet morgue, and Simon laughed at her pink, perplexed face.
“We must eat sometime, Sara—part of what separates us from the other bodies around here. Tell you what—it’s your town, you pick the place, I’ll foot the bill.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she protested, a little touched by his courtliness. Simon shook his head and slowly packed up the tools.
course not, but it’s part of something I have a mind to set
into motion, dear.
Ever hear the motto of
“Um . . . no.”
“Laissez le bon temps rouler—“ he rolled out in a lovely fashion, smiling as he did so. Sara waited a beat and he added, “Let the good times roll. Not a bad motto for life, I think.”
Sara looked at him, catching a hint again of that curiously sweet gaze, and some lonely impulse deep within her responded. She nodded, standing up and stretching.
“You’re on then. Are you in a breakfast mood or a dinner mood?”
“Let’s start with dinner, Sara, and work our way to breakfast—“ Simon told her with a hint of suggestiveness. She laughed, all the way until the moment she looked over his shoulder to see Grissom standing there, not smiling.
Not smiling at all.
Simon caught Sara’s change of expression and turned, looking at Grissom. He rubbed the back of his neck and waited a beat.
“Joining us, Gil? I have a hankering for waffles at the moment, smothered with jam.”
“Sounds good,” came his quiet voice, and Sara wondered why such a normal reply sounded so--abnormal.
*** *** ***
Grissom fought the urge to grit his teeth as he rummaged in his locker and tried to sort out the jumble of thoughts running through his head. The pleasure of catching up with Simon was being tainted by the man’s interest in Sara. Grissom scowled, wishing he’d warned her, told her a bit about Simon’s reputation as a ladies’ man, but in the rush of getting the expert hired and brought to Vegas, little details like that tended to get lost in the momentum.
He fished out his jacket and tugged it on impatiently. The man was seventy for God’s sake! Far too old to be shopping for wife number five, and yet from the look of things it was clear Simon was doing just that, even if Sara wasn’t aware of the man’s agenda. Grissom slammed the locker shut and took a breath, trying to shake off the sense of the absurd.
No. He was tired and imagining things—a far more likely scenario. Ever since urging Sara to seek counseling he’d felt a stronger feeling of protectiveness towards her, a feeling that gave him a sense of relief. He could be close to her again now, with good reason. She was responding, opening up to him again. It was getting better, damn it—
He glanced at himself in the locker room mirror, wincing a little at the glare of his expression and tried to soften it. The resulting expression was worse, a sort of hangdog half grin that looked utterly stupid. With a sigh, Grissom shook his head and pushed open the door, checking his watch.
He caught up with Simon and Sara outside the lab’s main doors; they were chatting about something, and Simon had one of the marigolds from the front walkway up under Sara’s chin.
“ . . . Not very scientific,” she was telling him with a crooked grin. Simon twirled the flower by the stem and cocked his head.
“Of course not. It’s just a lovely excuse to get close to someone.” He handed her the flower, and immediately Sara stepped up to Grissom, holding the thing out. He looked down at it, and she shook her head.
“It’s a test to see if you like butter, Grissom. If there’s a reflection under your chin, you do.”
“I’ve got a beard, Sara—“ he pointed out helplessly, noticing for the thousandth time how rich a brown her lovely eyes were, particularly when she smiled. Sighing, Sara tucked the flower behind one ear, then turned away from him, and Grissom felt a sense of disappointment in himself.
“I guess the only way to see if Grissom likes butter would be through direct observation when we eat then,” she commented with a forced lightness. Simon shot Grissom a mild look and nodded.
“So—where are we going and how are we getting there?”
“Waffle World, on Gold Dust just south of the Mirage,” Sara spoke up confidently. “Warrick and Nick took me there my first year here and it’s absolutely the best place for waffles. They’re HUGE, like air mattresses.”
“Air mattresses?” Grissom questioned, making Sara’s face go slightly pink. She nodded as Simon laughed softly.
“Oh by all means then, sounds like just the place. Who’s driving?”
volunteered quickly and the loaded up into the
High forehead, sharp nose, amazingly mobile mouth. He didn’t dwell on those full lips too long, knowing if he did this line of thoughts would swirl into places he didn’t dare go in the light of day. Long throat; defiantly perky chest--yet another erotic danger zone that he skittered over quickly; long, flat ‘lick-chocolate-off-of-me” stomach, sweet lean hips that would fit right into the palms of his hands . . .
Appalled at himself, Grissom shook his head hard, trying to dislodge these highly inappropriate thoughts, as if a good waggle would make them fall out of his ears. He should NOT be thinking this way. These images were completely improper, totally unprofessional and ridiculous to boot. Sara was his colleague. His younger, beautiful, highly desirable coworker—
“Grissom are you okay?” she was giving him a worried look, and he realized the car was now silent, conversation having died at his wet dog shaking off act. He pursed his mouth, not meeting her gaze.
“Fine. Had something in my ear,” he lied, checking the rear view mirror. Simon had the nerve to be smirking slightly.
“Mind it wasn’t a chunk of your brain, Gil. That was a pretty hard shake.”
“I’m FINE,” Grissom repeated, glad that they were pulling into the parking lot of the restaurant. He let the cold morning air cool his face, and then led the way into the place.
“Table for three, please,” he told the waitress at the front seating station. The little blonde girl smiled at him and scooped up three laminated menus. They made a happy little parade into the dining room and the blonde settled them into a tiny rounded booth, with Sara in the middle.
Grissom drew in a breath, tried not to consider the warmth of her thigh almost against his, and picked up the menu. On the other side, Simon was dazzling the waitress into drinks.
“Pineapple juice for the lady, a large one, and I’ll have tomato juice--Gil?”
“Coffee.” It seemed safer to speak in monosyllables at the moment, and he studied the menu, trying to find something that didn’t look like a heart attack on a plate. As he debated between the short stack of blueberry pancakes and the yolkless scrambled eggs, Sara set her menu down and sighed.
“I want a Belgian waffle, but it’s going to be huge, and I’ll end up taking half of it home if I do.”
“They keep well,” Simon replied, amused. Sara shrugged.
“I’ll feed it to the ducks at the park after my run tomorrow. That’s what I did last time, and the time before that. I think they know me because they do come a’waddling when I show up.”
“I have no doubt they know a soft heart when they see one,” Simon replied. Grissom shook his head.
“Conditioning. They’re acclimated to being fed,” he muttered. Both Sara and Simon looked at him and he gave a shrug back. The waitress brought their drinks and Grissom sipped his coffee, wondering why he felt so awkward. It was breakfast with colleagues; nothing strange about that.
Except it was, somehow, and he resented the odd new tension that made his fingers long to drum on the tabletop. Sara was sipping her juice and smiling, not saying anything. Simon was watching him across the arc of the table, his blue eyes as keen as ever.
His phone rang. Grissom listened to the static, then excused himself and walked to the lobby, trying to figure out what Catherine was saying.
Simon watched Grissom go and looked at Sara. She met his gaze with a steady look, slightly skeptical but amused, and seeing it, Simon answered it with one of his own.
“Miss Sidle, your supervisor is a little annoyed with me.”
“Yeah, I was getting that impression,” Sara responded slowly. Simon leaned back and looked vaguely amused. He held out his left hand, which was still strong and lean despite the knobby knuckles and age spots on it.
“I will bet you a dollar that at some point tonight, after the two of you have dropped me off at my hotel, Gil is going to mention to you that I’ve been married four times.”
He paused. Very softly Simon added, “It would please me tremendously if in response to that--you would merely smile at him.”
Sara’s mouth drew up into a quick, slightly confused grin, and seeing it, Simon arched an eyebrow at her.
“But—“ she began, and he shook his head, cutting her question off as he laid his hand on hers very lightly.
“Just to humor an old man, would you do that much for me?”
For a moment she looked into his eyes, searching them for some trace of humor, but seeing none in the earnest blue depths. Sara gave a tiny nod. He patted her hand and squared his shoulders, then looked up as the waitress returned, bearing three large, steaming plates.
“Oh yes, you are a welcome sight, Miss!”
The waitress pinkened, and deftly dealt out the plates, topping off coffee and bouncing away as Grissom returned. Both Sara and Simon looked up at him.
“Come eat before your food gets cold, Gil. Sara and I started without you, but you’ll forgive us, right?”
For a moment Grissom said nothing, then slid back into the booth, making Sara rise on the vinyl cushion as his weight settled down.
They ate, Simon steering the conversation through a tactful variety of topics, including Sara when he could. Gradually Grissom relaxed, and by the time most of the breakfast was gone, so was his vague anxiety. Simon was by turns funny and serious, but also quite focused on his food and the case, in that order.
Finally, as they wound down, sipping the last of the coffee, Sara was staring at her remaining waffle half with amused resignation. Simon followed her gaze to it and smiled, deep brackets around his handsome mouth.
“Largess for the waterfowl, Sara?”
“Yeah. I don’t mind feeding it to them, I just—“ she stopped for a moment, then went on, a little embarrassed, “—Feel a little silly every time I do. I mean it’s a pretty high-class WAFFLE. Most people just feed them stale bread.”
Simon laughed. It was a deep rumble, coming from his chest, a low powerful sound. Sara joined in, and even Grissom managed a chuckle. Simon reached over and took Sara’s slim hand, raising it to his mouth in a quick, careless gesture, kissing it lightly.
behalf of the
paid the bill, stiffly waving off Simon’s attempts to do it,
and silently trailed behind again as Sara carried her foil-wrapped
three of them climbed into the
Simon insisted on carrying his own bags. He leaned on the driver’s side door and held Grissom’s gaze a moment.
“All joshing aside, Gil, I’m truly honored to be asked on the case. Your instincts are good, and your team is better than any I could ask for. We’ll find this monster, of that I have no doubt.”
Grissom nodded, smiling faintly for the first time in a while.
“I know, Simon. Get some rest—Brass is making transportation arrangements for you, and someone will be here by four this afternoon. And yes—I’m also glad you’re on this with me.”
They shook hands, firmly. Grissom waited until a valet came out to take the bags from Simon, and then pulled out into traffic once more, heading back to the lab. The car was quiet, with an oddly expectant silence. Sara studied the foil waffle in her hands like it was the Rosetta stone. Grissom cleared his throat.
“Sara—“ he began, “There’s something you ought to know about Simon . . .”
She bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from bursting out laughing.