Your Garden Variety

Chapter One: Bad Moon Rising



I knew it was going to happen SOME night. It just had to—I mean Las Vegas is pretty big, and with all the outlying cities and towns and ‘burbs it sort of made a slip-up like this inevitable. The dispatchers do what they can, and most of the time things get checked and rechecked before the assignments are passed on to us, but hey, mistakes happen.


I would have said ‘shit happens’ but considering the last site Sara and I visited was a manure plant outside of Pahrump, I’ve had enough shit to last me a lifetime.


Bovine byproduct—don’t go there.


Especially in new shoes.


Anyway, here’s how it started. An assignment came in for a multiple homicide out on Pine Road, and since it was a slow night, Grissom opted to have me and Sara go with him to process the job. I didn’t mind—Sara’s good company and I always get a kick out of Grissom’s way of doing things. You’d think he’d want to back off the fieldwork as he gets older, but not the Bug Man, no way. He’s still got it, and I’m still picking things up around him.


For example, he dusts like nobody’s business, you know? I’ve watched him hundreds of times, and while everyone else is good, Grissom’s a master. He focuses that concentration and I swear he sees prints before he even has the jar of powder open. I don’t know if he plays chess, but he’d be dangerous competition if he did, because when Grissom puts his mind to a puzzle, it’s like, half-solved already.


So we piled into the Denali and headed off. Sara was behind the wheel, which was cool. The drive took us north for a while, out into the ‘burbs. I knew better than to ask for the radio, but Grissom was in a mellow mood, talking about an old case that centered around a piece of evidence eaten by a dog, so I stretched out in the back, listening in.


“What kind of evidence would be worth anything after it had been through a digestive tract?” Sara asked him.


Good question—Sara’s smart that way.


“Well in this case it was the victim’s medical ID bracelet—the killer had stuck it in a lump of hamburger to make the dog swallow it. Unfortunately for him, the Animal Control people noticed the dog was listless and had their vet check him over. One X-ray later and they found the bracelet.”


“Poor pooch,” I offered and I saw Sara nod. Grissom made a little agreeing noise.


“So the question was, why make the dog swallow it? Why didn’t the killer just take it with him?” Sara demanded.


“Because the murder had been set up to look like a mauling, and the hope was that the blame would fall on the dog. What the murder hadn’t counted on is that knife wounds and bite marks are very different; especially once the wounds have been cleaned and examined. Remember, this case was from nearly thirty years ago, before all the high technology we have at our disposal now.”


“All eyeball work, huh?” I asked, and Grissom made another little affirmative sound in his throat. Sara turned the corner and I noticed that the street was dark—no lights on anywhere. She slowed down.


“Okay, are they having a power outtage? And we should be close—anybody see any squad cars?”


I looked around; we were at a little strip mall only four stores long. It had a Manly Hammers Hardware store on one end, an ice cream parlor—Cone, Cone on the Range I think; a hair salon and a shoe store on the other end. The whole thing was set on a corner lot surrounded by chain link, and the only streetlight was out, so we had almost no visibility. There were two cars in the parking lot, and one of them was a black and white. The driver’s door was open but the car itself was empty and dark.


Creepy—that was the perfect description of the situation, actually.


Just plain creepy.


Grissom had his flashlight out and he looked at the assignment slip. “Sara, are you sure this is thirteen oh one Pine?”


“It’s thirteen oh one Pine Road,” she told him a little defensively. “It was Pine Road, right?”


Grissom squinted at the paper; I looked over his shoulder at the sheet and we both kind of grimaced at the same time. He spoke up. “It doesn’t say—no road or avenue or lane after the address. We’d better call dispatch and see if we’re in the right spot.”




This wasn’t good. I’m not prone to letting myself get stirred up on the job, yeah with the exception here and there, but to be honest, the whole situation was a little unnerving. I know we work the nightshift, but frankly, Vegas usually has so much light—direct and indirect—that visibility at most scenes isn’t a problem. And we have these big honk’n Mag-lites too—stare too long into one and you could fry a retina, that’s for sure. But this particular assignment was too dark for my comfort.


It helped that I had Grissom there, and Greg. Wouldn’t have minded Grissom by himself, because lately he and I have been . . . well, back on some serious footing. A couple of weeks earlier he’d asked me to dinner and after a few false starts he finally, FINALLY admitted that he wanted us to be something more than what were.


Surprised? Yeah, I was, a little. But more than that, I was relieved. See, one of the big and beautiful things about Grissom is that he’s not really a halfway sort of guy when it comes to commitments. He loves his insects; he loves us—his team—and he’s devoted to the truth. I’m thinking that the truth must have clocked him a good one at some recent point, because I know it took a lot for him to talk to me.


Anyway, we’d started going out on our days off, getting comfortable with each other as Sara and Griss and not CSIs Sidle and Grissom. And we didn’t even have to talk about keeping things very, very quiet; it was just sort of instinctive for both of us. So in a way it was good to have Greg as a buffer, because under other circumstances, Grissom in the dark would have been sort of-- tempting?


I mean come on—we were almost past that three date point, and I’d just found out that Grissom was NOT always a gentleman, particularly when he gets his butt squeezed.


Okay, TMI, but it does show how far he’s come, you know?


So we got out of the Denali and moved towards the patrol car. Grissom was ahead of us, moving his light along the ground and his beam hit a dark spot that Greg and I recognized immediately.


Yeah. Blood.


“Fresh—it hasn’t congealed much,” I noted. Grissom cast the halo of light further ahead, closer to the door of the squad car and we see more blood. Not a lot, but some splashes. It was just enough to make things very creepy, but not so much we were freaking out. Greg pulled out his cell phone and looked at Grissom, who nodded.


“Dispatch, this is CSI Sanders—“


“Go ahead,” came Lou’s voice, barely audible through a lot of static. I nudged Grissom’s shoulder and motioned back to the Denali; he nodded and I went to get my kit. After I grabbed it, I took a long moment to look around the place, and it was definitely . . . unsettling.


I’ve been at some horrific crime scenes in the past few years, and seen death in all sorts of situations, but this one had something else to it; a sort of tang in the air. Like ozone; a discharge that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it was making me break out in goose bumps. It bothered me that I couldn’t figure out what was making me so unsettled—after all, it was just an empty parking lot inside a chain link fence with no lights and a sort of eerie shush—


--And that was another layer of scary right there. See, wherever we go on this job, there’s always something to hear in the background: cops, sirens, quiet discussions, radio conversations—sounds of life amid death, if you know what I mean. Out here, just on the fringe of suburb and desert there was . . . nothing like that. Just some breeze skittering stuff along the asphalt.


I turned and looked back at Grissom, who was still squatting by the blood, and felt better seeing him there. For some reason he’s just really solid and reassuring to me when he’s doing his job like that. I hefted my kit and came back to him, squatting down and handing him a swab. He took it with a little preoccupied nod. Greg was a few feet off, still trying to talk on the phone.


“Until we get further notice, I suggest we start processing this as a scene. Better safe than sorry,” Grissom murmured. “Tell me, what’s your impression?”





This wasn’t good. The carelessness with the address wasn’t a big issue—it happens now and then as a byproduct of rushing or confusion—but the situation in front of us was disturbing and possibly dangerous. I didn’t want to alarm Sara or Greg with my speculation, but there were several factors here that made the hair on the back of my neck go up.


A single patrol car for a multiple homicide is unheard of. There should have been at least two and possibly three, if only for the manpower needed to secure the crime scene. The call had come in within the last two hours, and yet the car in front of us was dark, and cold to the touch. It had to have been here for at least three to four hours, maybe longer.


I could see that the keys were still in the ignition. No officer would risk leaving his keys in an unsecured scene.


The blood, too, was disturbing. Not the quantity, but the splatter—globs splashed in a pattern that indicated the attack had come from the direction of the stores. More and more I was convinced that our best course of action would be to pile back into the Denali—if not to drive away, at least to wait for backup.


I wondered too, if this was actually our crime scene at all, or a random situation we’d inadvertently stumbled onto. As I bagged the blood sample, Sara spoke softly, urgently to me.


“I am seriously creeped out here, Grissom. This isn’t . . . right. We’re not even sure it’s our site. Where are the other people, the vehicles? It’s not as if we could have gotten here first.”


I nodded. “I agree. At the same time though, it’s clear that some sort of crime has occurred here.”


Sara glanced around again and sighed. “You know what Brass would say about us going in to an unsecured scene—“


Greg came over, cutting her off as he dropped down to talk to us. Even though there was no one else around, we were all huddled and whispering to each other. He held out his cell phone. “I’m not getting any passable reception, guys. I reached Lou, and then it began cutting out on me. I think he heard me ask about the address, but I can’t be sure.”


I looked to Sara; she already had her phone out. That’s one of the many things I’ve come to admire about her—she’s quick on the uptake, frighteningly so at times. Now more than ever I appreciate her calm demeanor—especially in light of our private, growing relationship. I still can’t believe my good luck in finally getting to know her better; rather a minor miracle in itself.


Certainly I intended to make up for lost time with her, and in fact we already had plans for dinner at her place after work, but given our current situation it was better to concentrate on simply getting through this dilemma than allow myself to be distracted by memories of her kisses.


It was very hard though, to look at her tempting mouth and not think of them.


Greg broke into my thoughts and I was grateful for it. “Shouldn’t someone have checked on a missing officer? Cops are required to check in hourly, but this car’s been sitting here for longer than that.”


I turned my Mag-lite towards the interior of the car. Sara nodded and I did too, reluctantly. Before any of us could say anything more, a low moan came echoing out across the parking lot. We all froze; I watched Greg flinch at the sound, which was eerie enough to make me grit my teeth.


“Crap, what was that?” he asked in a tremulous voice. I didn’t have the heart to reprimand him—the sound was nerve-wracking. We waited; all of us looked through the darkness at the buildings.


Next to me, Sara spoke softly. “In a store that big, shouldn’t they have safety lights on?”


“Yes,” I told her, feeling a quicksilver surge of adrenaline moving through me. The fight or flight response was close at hand now, and I could tell I wasn’t alone in that. “We need to get back into the car. Now.”


Greg’s shoulders slumped in relief, and I rose up just as another moan sounded in the still, dark night.


This one was more menacing and came from behind us. Sara swung her flashlight around, the brilliant beam making an arc of light through the blackness, and it swept across the empty space for a few seconds before lighting up the figure of a woman. I took in the sight of a blood-spattered salon apron, and a name badge that read ‘Monique’ before focusing the fact that her throat was torn open, her esophagus fully exposed and glistening.


How could she be moaning?


How could she be . . . standing?







I knew what I was looking at, oh yeah. And sure, it could have been someone pulling a practical joke, or a movie set or any one of a number of logical, reasonable explanations, but my balls and I knew differently then and now.


That was a zombie. No two damned ways about it, a hungry, soul-empty brain-eating monster of the first caliber.


So of course, I dropped my Mag-lite and flinched, bunching up against Sara, who stumbled against Grissom and their flashlight beams went all over the place, cutting through the darkness like spastic searchlights. They slid over moaning Monique, putting a sort of strobe effect on her, which did NOT improve her bloody appearance in the slightest.


Sara was hyperventilating and I don’t know what Grissom was doing, but I was trying hard not to whine, because EXCUSE ME, but we are LOOKING at a MONSTER who would LIKE TO EAT OUR BRAINS!


“Miss, are you all right?” Grissom said.


AHH! I wanted to slap him, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off the zombie-ette in front of us.


Then she took a step forward, and I felt every hair on my body rise up. Grissom’s beam was on her now, strong and full, showing off her shredded throat. Half her face had been gnawed too; she was missing an ear and a lot of hair on the right side of her head.


“Grrrissssom—“ Sara growled. “Move. NOW.”


She shoved him and I got with the program myself, grabbing her arm and hustling after her and Grissom across the parking lot. Moan-ique was between us and the Denali, damn it, so we didn’t exactly have a fallback position at the moment.


We stumbled, speaking of falling, and nearly ended up in a pile at the curb outside of Manly Hammers. I heard Grissom grunt a little. “She’s injured.”


“Oh she’s more than injured. She’s dead, Grissom.” That was Sara, catching on fast. It’s a good thing she and I watch the same sort of movies.


“Then she shouldn’t be able to walk—“


“No,” I broke in, “But she IS walking and coming towards us. Either of you armed, by the way?”


Sara nodded and I felt a rush of relief. Grissom stared at her a moment, then shook his head. “Mine’s in the gun safe in the car.”


“Great. And you lecture me about being nonchalant at crime scenes,” she told him in a low voice.


“Sara, this isn’t the time—“


I was more interested in keeping my eyes on Miss Gory, and interrupted them before it turned into a fight. “Ah guys, it looks like she’s not alone—“


Automatically both Sara and Grissom flashed their lights up and around, catching a few other . . . things . . . in the beams. There was our police officer, yep, a once beefy dude by the look of him, and he had no right arm. Beyond him was something moving on the ground that I REALLY didn’t want to look at too closely. I hoped it wasn’t his arm, you know? Bad enough to have zombies, but disembodied limbs ambulating along add that extra edge of terror that I was so NOT ready to deal with.


“I think that’s an arm,” Grissom observed, in that tone he gets when something really interests him. Since I was about three seconds from wetting my pants, I again fought back the urge to smack him on the back of his head and looked over at Manly Hammers instead.


Sara already had her gun out. “Okay, this is going from bad to REALLY bad pretty fast, guys—“


“No shit. Look, we have to get moving,” I pointed out, trying to sound a lot cooler than I felt. “You’re the only one with a weapon, Sare, so no offense, but do you mind if I get behind you?”


“None taken--do it,” she gritted out. Loved this woman because she was going to keeping me safe from the monsters. I scooted behind her. Grissom actually took a step forward—did this man NOT have a sense of self-preservation? Was he THAT clueless?


“Grissom, get back!” Sara growled at him. GROWLED I tell you—that was sexy. So was the fact that she had her weapon drawn and pointed at the brain-hungry beautician about ten feet in front of us.


Then the moaning started—


--in low, gruesome, sphincter-puckering stereo.


                                                                                  Your Garden Variety 2

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