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CSP: Crime Scene Pretender

Jarod straightened the collar of his shirt before pushing open the door of the large building in which was located his newest Pretend. The air inside was cool, and at a temperature which reminded him of the Centre, but there was none of the oppressive atmosphere that was immediately noticeable in that place. He let the door fall closed behind him and moved along the hallway, stopping the first person he saw: a woman with shoulder-length brown hair who was heading in his direction.

“Excuse me,” he asked. “Can you direct me to Gil Grissom’s office?”

The woman stopped, deliberately eyeing him from head to toe in a manner reminiscent of Miss Parker, before steadily meeting his gaze. “You are?”

“Jarod Petersen,” the Pretender replied. “And you?”

“Sara Sidle.” She gave him another searching glance. “You can come along with me. I’m going there now.”

“Thank you,” he murmured, falling in beside her as she strode along the hallway.

They remained silent until they arrived at the office to see the man whose photo Jarod had already seen in his investigation of the Las Vegas Crime Lab peering fixedly at a six-legged object in a jar.

“Gil?” Sara asked, and he looked up, placing the jar on his desk.

“Got something?”

“Here.” She handed over a folder and then jerked her head in Jarod's direction. “Jarod Peterson. He asked to be directed to your office.”

Gil stood up and, as Sara left the office, offered his hand. Jarod could see the copies of the files he had carefully created and sent off several days earlier.

“I got your application,” Gil told him. “You’re only being loaned to us for a short time, I believe.”

“A few days, probably, at most,” Jarod replied, firmly shaking the outstretched hand. “I have to be back at our office by Monday morning. But I wanted to get some ideas of how things work here.”

“Fine,” Gil replied. “Unless something comes up, I’ll let you sit in on a couple of the cases we’ve got on at the moment. Come and I’ll introduce you to the others.”

Gil was giving Jarod an outline of the cases when they arrived in the tearoom, in which four people – two men and two women, including Sara – were sitting. As soon as Gil and Jarod appeared, the red-haired woman leaned forward and pulled a folder off the table, holding it out to Gil.

“Finished the Murray case,” she announced. “I sent the new findings to Brass.”

“And?” Gil asked, accepting the folder.

“Premeditated murder,” came the reply, and Jarod only just managed to keep his surprise from showing on his face. His reason for this latest Pretend had been to work on that exact case, having believed, from various newspaper reports he had read, that it seemed as if the killer would get off.

“Oh, by the way,” Gil said, lifting his eyes from the pages, “this is Jarod Petersen. He’s joining us for a few days. Catherine Willows,” he added, gesturing at the redhead. “Nick Stokes and Warwick Brown. And you’ve already met Sara.”

Before Jarod could do more than acknowledge the introduction, a cell phone rang. Gil pulled his phone out of his pocket and answered it, his replies mostly monosyllabic.

“Catherine,” he ordered as soon as he ended the call, “Jarod and Sara, you’re with me. Nick, you and Warwick are still waiting on lab results, aren’t you?”

“Yup,” Nick agreed. “But Greg promised to put a rush on them.”

Jarod got the feeling that Gil only just prevented himself from replying as Sara got up to join Catherine, Gil and himself in the doorway. Moments later, Gil having given the address to Catherine, Jarod was in the passenger seat of her car while Sara and Gil took another to the crime scene.

* * *

Jarod was hurriedly introduced to Jim Brass as the four investigators walked up the path of the house in which the murder had taken place. Police were already cordoning off the house and preventing people from entering or leaving the premises. A male on a stretcher was being loaded into an ambulance, a white pad strapped to an injury on the back of his head, and a young blond woman was following the EMT to the vehicle, which had pulled up into the driveway.

“Victor Wilson,” Jim told them as they arrived at the doorway to the house. “He still hadn’t properly regained consciousness yet. The woman with him is Anna McCleod. Our victim,” he continued as they walked further into the house, “ is Patrick Valenti. It’s a little messy in there,” he added, understating the case, as they saw the moment they entered the room.

The room was quite small. A dark-haired man in his mid-30s lay on the floor, his face resting in blood that had obviously come from the massive wound on the back of his head. The blood had pooled on the floor, seeping over the slate tiles in front of the fireplace. A bottle of vodka, still sealed, lay unbroken beside his hand. Nearby stood a table on which was a collection of other bottles, most of which contained alcoholic beverages.

Blood dripped from a bookcase that stood in the corner and there were sprays of it on the ceiling and two walls. A large round ashtray lay on the floor beside the body. The sash of the window stood about a foot open and a light breeze made the end of the rolled blind rattle against the pane.

Another table stood in the corner. It held a telephone, a blank notepad and a fan, the blades of which revolved lazily and made little difference to the air in the stifled room.

“Hmm,” Gil mused, taking in the scene, his gaze coming to rest on the dead man. “Obviously someone wasn’t a fan.”

* * *

Ten minutes later, the team was working hard at the tasks to which Gil had allocated them. Sara was taking photos of the scene, Gil was checking for blood, and Jarod and Catherine were checking out the victim.

“Took several blows to kill him,” Catherine remarked.

“One wouldn’t have made as much mess,” Jarod added. “But you’d have to be lucky to get it first time. Or else be very expert.”

“And our killer wasn’t,” Gil told them. “They’ve tried to wash away the evidence. There’s blood in the bath in the ensuite.”

“No footsteps to the bathroom, though,” Jarod commented as he looked around the room. “Our killer went to wash their hands?”

“Probably,” Sara agreed. “I’m done.”

Gil nodded at two men who had been hovering in the doorway, and who came in to take the body back to the Crime Lab.

“Sara, you stay here and finish up,” Gil ordered. “Catherine, I want you and Jarod to see what you can find out from anyone here. I’ll see what our other friend can tell us – if anything.”

The four people split up. Jarod and Catherine asked pointed questions of the other partygoers, but most of them had had no idea that anything had happened until the police arrived. This was the deceased’s apartment, and he had come to Vegas looking for work, having recently been fired by the insurance company for which he had worked for eight years. Catherine obtained his parent’s address, and as the police allowed the numerous partygoers leave, she and Jarod went back to check on Sara.

They found her just packing away her things.

“All done,” she announced. “Anything exciting come up?”

“Not so far,” Catherine told her. “And I just got a call from Gil. He couldn’t talk to our other vic. He said he’d meet us back at the lab when we’re done.”

* * *

Some time later, they were watching Dr. Robbins performing the autopsy.

“Cause of death: three or possibly four blows to the head. Time of death, about nine o’clock last night.”

“Blood trails indicate four,” Sara put in. “Three separate swing patterns on the ceiling, and the first shot’s a freebie, of course.”

Dr. Robbins recognized this with a nod before pulling the sheet back to reveal the athletic-looking corpse. “Nothing out of the ordinary. No cuts, no bruising. I’m guessing he was taken by surprise – attacked from behind. There’s no sign he tried to defend himself.”

“So it all comes down to what Victor Wilson can tell us,” Gil commented. “And that friend of his – Anna McCleod.”

“Anna McCleod is our victim’s girlfriend,” Jarod announced, having received this piece of information from one of the people he questioned.

“So much the better,” Sara replied. “She can give us some idea about him – enemies and so forth. Should we get her in?”

“For the moment, we’ll talk to them both together at the hospital,” Gil told her. “I’m waiting on a call to say that we can talk to Wilson.”

“She seemed very calm, considering it’s her boyfriend who’s dead,” Catherine remarked as they headed out into the hallway.

“She and Wilson seem… very close,” Gil said, having paused to choose his words.

Before Jarod could get out the response he was contemplating, Nick and Warwick came up to them.

“We’re done,” Nick announced.

“Good,” Gil replied. “Sara, fill them in on this case. Until something else comes up, Nick, I want you to wait for lab results and let me know them as soon as possible. I’ve got Greg checking for alcohol, the usual drugs, etcetera. Warwick, I want you to check the photos I had Sara take. I want to get a map of the scene drawn up as soon as possible. Catherine and Jarod, we’re going to the hospital. I want a word with Anna.”

* * *

They arrived to find the doctor waiting for them, having received a call during the trip to say that Victor was ready for their questions. They were shown into his room, to find Anna sitting on the bed, but she quickly stood up and took the chair beside the bed when they appeared. Gil introduced himself and the other two CSIs, before asking Victor what he could remember about the attack.

“I was trying to protect him,” Victor said, almost before Gil had finished the question. “I knew she wanted to kill him. She shoved me backwards and I caught my foot on something. That’s all I remember.”

“She?” Catherine asked.

“Jessica,” Victor told her. “Jessica Stiles. I went into the room and they were arguing. They used to go out, but it ended badly. I’d just shut the door when she picked up the ashtray and hit him with it. I went to help him, but I was on the wrong foot and she shoved me.”

“And what about you, Miss McCleod?” Gil prompted, turning to the young woman. “Were you in the room when all this was happening?”

“I was watching the door,” Anna replied shortly. “But I was the one who called the police. When Victor didn’t come out, I tried to get in, but the door was locked. So I went around the outside of the house to look in through the window. When I saw them lying there, I called the police.”

“Did you open the window?” Jarod asked.

“Yeah.” Anna glanced his way, but quickly turned her attention back to Gil. “I wanted to help them. But I couldn’t get in.”

“Did you see Jessica leave?” Gil queried.

“No. Nobody came out of that room between the time Victor went in and the time I went around to look in the window.”

“You’re sure about that?” Catherine confirmed.

“One hundred per cent sure,” Anna replied.

“Tell me about Patrick,” Gil suggested.

Anna shrugged slightly. “Oh, he was nice enough. Sweet when he wanted to be. Gentle.”

Jarod glimpsed a flash of an emotion he suspected might have been envy in Victor’s eyes, before turning his attention back to Anna. “If you’ll forgive me saying this, you don’t seem overly concerned about your boyfriend dying.”

“We were finished,” Anna said flatly. “Sure, we were still going out officially, but I caught him with someone else, and…”

“Who?” Gil demanded.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” she told him icily.

“On the contrary, as your boyfriend is now dead, anyone who might have had a reason to kill him is my business,” Gil retorted.

Her eyes fell and she examined the floor for a moment. “Jessica Stiles,” she replied eventually.

“And why would she have been arguing with him, do you think?” Gil asked in wry tones.

“How should I know?” she demanded, her blue eyes shooting sparks. “Ask her – if she’ll tell you. She’s a great liar.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Gil gestured at a brown paper bag standing on the floor beside the bed. “Are these yours, Mr. Wilson?”

“Yeah, I… I guess.” Victor looked concerned. “Why?”

“We’d like to take them to see if we can get anything off them that might help in the case,” Gil explained, then, noticing that Victor’s expression was anxious, “Is that a problem?”

“I’ll bring you in some more,” Anna told him soothingly.

Gil took the bag before Victor could protest further and the three investigators left the room.

“Interesting,” Catherine said lightly. “Quite a network of emotional attachments.”

“And, unless I’m wrong, there’s another one in the process of being created,” Jarod put in, looking back through the window to see Anna stroke Victor’s cheek, once more sitting on the bed beside him.

Gil handed Catherine the paper bag. “Take those back to the lab and see if you can get any epithelials of unknown persons who could be our killer. Jarod, you and I are going to talk to Jessica Stiles.”

* * *

A woman in her early 30s with auburn hair and green eyes opened the door in response to Gil’s knock. “Can I help you?”

“Gil Grissom and Jarod Petersen, Las Vegas Crime Lab,” Gil told her, flashing his badge.

“I suppose this isn’t about my job application?” the woman asked.

Gil ignored this. “Jessica Stiles?”


“We’d like to talk to you about Patrick Valenti.”

She stepped aside to allow them in, and Jarod noted the anxious expression in her eyes as they moved into her living room.

“Is he dead?” she asked flatly as they sat down.

“What was the extent of your relationship with him?” Gil asked in return.

Jessica met his gaze. “I know the tricks of your trade, Mr. Grissom,” she said coldly. “Tell me if he’d dead and I’ll answer as many of your questions as I think is wise.”

“Yes, he is,” Gil told her bluntly. “He was killed last night, at a party I believe you also attended.” He paused, waiting for her to say something, but she remained silent. When the silence had continued for some minutes, Gil continued. “Do you want to tell me what went on last night?”

“I thought you wanted to know about what you called ‘my relationship with him’,” she shot back, lightly rubbing her right hand with the fingers of her left.

“Tell me anything ‘you think is wise’,” he retorted.

“Patrick and I dated two years ago for about eighteen months. We broke up about six months ago, when we felt that it wasn’t working. It was a shared decision.”

“And when did he start going out with Anna McCleod?” Jarod asked.

“I believe it was about a month ago,” Jessica told him, turning slightly in his direction as she said this. “He had fancied her for a long time – he likes blond women – liked, I should say – but, to the best of my knowledge, he was faithful to me during the whole of our relationship.”

“And how faithful was he to Anna?” Gil queried.

“I have no idea,” Jessica replied. “I never saw any sign of him cheating on her, though.”

“She suggested to us that he had a recent affair with you,” Jarod offered.

“Crap,” she replied succinctly. “I’d had my turn with him. If I wanted him that badly, I wouldn’t have agreed to break up with him in the first place.”

“Why don’t you tell me what happened last night?” Gil suggested.

She thought for a moment, obviously choosing her words, before beginning to speak.

“I got to the party about eight o’clock. Patrick and a whole bunch of other people were around the pool. I went into the bedroom to dump my stuff, but Pat told me to put it in the living room, as he wanted to keep the bedroom clear. I guessed he was hoping to have some time alone with Anna, so I just dumped it where he told me. He followed me into the living room and we started talking. A few others came in, some as they arrived and others from the pool who wanted to use the bathroom.”

“When did Anna and Victor arrive?” Jarod asked.

“They were already there,” Jessica told him. “Most people were. I was late. Pat usually started his parties pretty early and bought pizzas or something for dinner.”

“Did Patrick smoke?” Gil asked suddenly, and Jessica shot him a puzzled glance.


“Tell me about him,” Gil suggested.

Another hesitation preceded her words. “He was a pleasant enough individual if things were going his way,” she said eventually. “He could lose his temper fast enough if they weren’t, though. He never hit me or anything, but then I knew better than to get in his way.”

“Can you think of any reason why people would want him dead?” Jarod asked.

“Nothing springs to mind,” she retorted.

Gil reached into his pocket and extracted a piece of card, but before he could say anything, Jessica held out her hands.

“Fingerprints,” she said in return to the surprised glance Jarod shot at her. “Go ahead.”

* * *

The whole team gathered to review the evidence they had collected so far.

“No fingerprints on the ashtray,” Sara reported. “There was only blood from our vic.”

“Wilson’s clothes contain both his blood and that of our vic,” Warwick put in. “Tox reports said there was some alcohol in our vic’s blood, but below the legal limit. With his build, he’d have been unlikely to be affected by it.”

“What about nicotine?” Jarod asked.

“None,” came the reply.

“The room doesn’t show anything extraordinary,” Nick added in his turn. “No footprints. Blood spatter shows the arc of the ashtray, and there are also faint trails that might be a path to the bathroom. I went back over the place with luminol, but I couldn’t get anything else. My guess is that the marks are drips from the fingers.”

“I got fingerprints from the window that match those of Jessica Stiles,” Jarod reported. “They suggest that she opened the window, but there’s no transfer. I went with Nick and checked that, and there was not sign of blood, apart from a few drops that flew off the ashtray during an upswing, judging by their splatter patterns.”

“I found blood from both our vic and Wilson on Wilson’s clothes,” Catherine told them. “Wilson’s seems to come from his head wound, but I’m not sure about our vic’s. There are sprays that seem to fit with those we found on the ceiling and the walls.”

“Interesting,” Gil mused. “So do we have a complete picture of what happened yet?”

Warwick turned to the computer in front of which he was sitting and brought up a plan of the room. “I’ve gone on what we were told by Wilson and McCleod,” he announced. “Our victim was standing facing the table. Stiles was probably standing here,” he brought in a small silhouette and placed it near the coffee table, on which could be seen a computer drawing of the ashtray. “They argue,” Warwick continued, “and our vic takes out some of his frustration by trying to open the vodka, but it’s not opening easily. This gives Stiles a chance to club him over the head with the ashtray the first time. Then Wilson comes in, sees what’s going on, and comes to help.”

As he moved another silhouette into the picture, Sara continued with the characters’ movements. “Stiles shoves Wilson backwards and he falls. With both him and the vic unconscious, she locks the door and then clubs our vic to death. Maybe she thinks Wilson is already dead, or she doesn’t want a double murder on her hands. Anyway, she leaves the ashtray on the floor and goes to wash her hands. Then she leaves through the window.”

“I’m not so sure,” Jarod said, after a moment of silence, and the others turned to him. “For that to work, there would have to be blood on the window. It wouldn’t be possible to avoid transfer. And according to Stiles, our vic was given to aggression. If they were arguing, why take out his frustration on the bottle when he could take it out on her?”

“She stays out of his way,” Gil reminded him.

“But if he was coming towards her, that makes it a little difficult to take him by surprise, and particularly to get a knock that hard to the back of his head, and then,” Jarod went on, warming to his topic, “if he was coming at her and she grabbed the ashtray as something to use defensively, her prints would be on it. She’d hardly ask him to hold on a moment while she used her shirt or gloves or something to grab it.”

“So you don’t think she did it?” Sara asked.

“No.” Jarod shook his head and, at Nick’s invitation, took over the computer, moving the silhouettes around the model of the room. “I think either she had help, possibly from Wilson, or someone else did it.”

“So Wilson kills our vic, and then Stiles knocks out Wilson?” Gil proposed.

“It’s possible,” Jarod replied. “Or someone else did. The main thing I don’t think fits for her is motive. She had her time with Patrick Valenti, according to what she told us, and we’ve got no reason to doubt that. Why would she need to have an affair with him? If she was as close to him as she was suggesting, she would probably have known that he and McCleod were almost finished, and she could have waited until that was over before making her move.”

“So what did happen then?” Sara asked, looking miffed at having her pet theory contradicted.

“If we assume it’s not premeditated – and most of the evidence suggests that it isn’t – I’m inclined to think that either Wilson did it alone, they did it together, or someone else entirely did it. Was there anyone else who had opportunity?”

“Not according to the testimonies,” Catherine told him. “But it’s a party. It’s hard to keep track of everyone all the time in a situation like that, with people moving around constantly.”

There was a moment of silence while the others digested this information.

“What do we know about our main suspects?” Gil finally prompted.

Catherine produced a sheet of paper showing links between the victim and the suspects they had so far.

“Our victim, Patrick Valenti, was going out with Anna McCleod,” she began, “but used to go out with, and seemingly remained friends with, Jessica Stiles. It seems that Anna McCleod is also emotionally attached to Victor Wilson.”

“So what do we have to go on?” Sara asked. “Motive?”

“The only one who seems to have a real motive is Jessica Stiles,” Warwick replied. “Jealousy of the fact that our vic and Anna were together. Maybe Anna might have been jealous of Jessica, but there’s no sign that she was ever in the room.”

“Why was she watching the door?” Nick asked suddenly. “Who goes to a party to stare at a door all night?”

“Mistrust of her boyfriend,” Jarod suggested. “Or maybe wanting to keep an eye on Wilson.”

“I want to find out more about Wilson, and Stiles,” Gil declared. “Warwick and Sara, you go back to all the people who were at the party and find out what they knew about them. Catherine, find out everything you can about Jessica Stiles. Nick, you look into Victor Wilson. Jarod, you and I are going to get a warrant for Jessica’s clothing. I want to see what she wore to that party.”

* * *

Jessica Stiles seemed unsurprised when Jarod and Gil turned up at her house again, this time armed with a warrant, and made no protest, allowing them inside and showing them to her wardrobe and washing basket.

“My shoes are on this shelf here,” she said, showing them the pairs of shoes lined up on a shelf that stood at about elbow height in the wardrobe. Then, taking down a pair, “These are the ones I wore at the party.”

She retreated to her desk and sat down to watch Gil go through her clothes. Jarod, meanwhile found himself in her bathroom, with a wicker basket, in which were obvious dirty clothes. As he collected the clothes and placed them in paper bags, numbering them according to the order in which he found them in the basket, he glanced around the room.

The vanity contained a variety of bottles and jars, mostly skincare products, as well as the usual toothbrush and paste. A plastic basket hung from the taps in the shower and held several bottles of shampoo and conditioner. There were safety strips on the bottom of the shower, in the bath and also on the floor. The most noticeable thing about the room was that it was scrupulously clean. Even the mirror was free of any spots.

“I guessed you’d be coming and cleaned up a little,” Jessica’s voice said from behind him, and he turned to find her standing in the doorway.

“Very perceptive of you,” Jarod replied. “What made you think that?”

A tiny smile curled the corners of her mouth before fading. “That’s my little secret,” she retorted.

Gil came out of the bedroom at this point, carrying several bags of clothes. “We’ll probably want to ask you some questions,” he told her.

“I’ll stay by the phone,” she replied drily as they left.

* * *

The team met again several hours later to compare notes.

“All right,” Gil began, “we found no traces of blood on any of the clothes from Jessica Stiles’ home. This either supports Jarod's theory, or else she hid or destroyed the ones she wore that night after she killed our vic, depending on which way you look at it.”

“She’d know how to cover her tracks,” Catherine said. “Brass checked her background. She’s an ex-CSI. She gave up the job six months ago.”

This revelation resulted in a moment’s stunned silence, while Jarod thought that this at least explained her knowledge of their questioning and the likelihood of them returning with a warrant.

“Anything else?” Gil asked.

“I contacted some of her ex-workmates,” Catherine told him. “Everyone I spoke to said that she was cool and collected when she was working, but pleasant and friendly outside of it.”

“Why did she quit?” Jarod asked.

“I don’t know,” Catherine admitted. “Her boss showed me her letter of resignation. She didn’t give a reason. Just some vague stuff about the pressure of the job. And he told me that she hadn’t had any personal cases in the last few months that might have brought her to it.”

“She resigned her job at about the same time as she broke up with our vic,” Sara commented.

“No one at work knew much about her outside relationships,” Catherine put in. “I asked. Only one of her colleagues had met Patrick Valenti, but even then it was at a work gathering, so she couldn’t say much about him. Most of her comments were about his appearance, etcetera. Nothing helpful.”

“What about Victor Wilson?” Gil asked, turning to Nick.

“He’s been unemployed for about five years, ever since he graduated from college,” Nick told him. “He only just scraped through his degree. I couldn’t get hold of any details about ex-classmates. I did talk to his old principal, but he barely remembered him.”

“And the people at the party?” Gil prompted, turning his attention to Warwick and Sara.

“The general consensus was that Victor Wilson had a hot temper when he wasn’t happy about things,” Sara replied. “Most people barely knew him. It seems he came along with Anna McCleod to a lot things that she went to. He and our vic seemed to know each other, though. Some people remember other parties when they’d be seen in conversation together.”

“Pleasure?” Catherine asked.

“Business,” Sara responded flatly. “More than one person said that it seemed like they were negotiating something.”

There was another moment of silence while the six people in the room considered the new information and tried to fit it into the various possible scenarios of the case. Gil broke the silence.

“I think we need to find out some more details about that night. Let’s get Jessica and Anna here. Warwick, you and Catherine take Anna. Sara, you and I will take Jessica. Nick and Jarod, let’s go over that crime scene one more time, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything.”

* * *

“I arrived at the party at around 7:30pm,” Anna said, in response to Catherine’s questions. “Victor came with me. He doesn’t have a car, so I drove him. He lives a few blocks from me.”

“And what did you do when you got there?” Catherine asked.

“We stayed out by the pool for a while, talking to people I knew, and then we went inside to get a drink. I was chatting with someone in the hallway while Victor went in to get drinks for us. I saw that Jessica was already in there, and I could hear Patrick’s voice. After a while, the door was closed. I don’t remember who did it. I waited outside for a while, chatting to people. I never saw anyone come out until I tried the door.”

“Nobody else went in to get a drink?” Warwick prompted.

Anna glanced at her lawyer, who sat beside her, and who nodded, before she answered. “There was a tub of ice out by the pool that had beer and sodas and stuff in it. Patrick kept vodka and spirits and stuff in his living room.”

“And nobody else wanted that sort of drink?” Warwick queried.

“I just told you, I was watching that door from the time Victor went into the room. Nobody else went in,” Anna replied impatiently.

“And you never went in yourself?”


Catherine changed the angle of questioning. “Tell me your opinion of Jessica Stiles.”

“She’s a slut,” Anna said bluntly. “She was always trying to catch Patrick’s eye and talk to him. She wanted to get him back. Couldn’t deal with the fact that he liked me better, probably.”

“When did they break up?”

“I don’t know.” Anna shrugged graceful shoulders. “I only know that, a month ago, he started hitting on me. I’m not stupid. I know what the signs mean. And even if they were still going out, she obviously wasn’t satisfying him, if you know what I mean.”

* * *

In another room, Jessica was proving to be less willing to talk. She had come alone, and Gil had been quick to remind her that she could have a lawyer if she wanted one.

“I know what I should and shouldn’t say,” came the reply. “I spent years in your shoes, Mr. Grissom. I probably even know what questions you’re going to ask.”

“Then what say you start answering them right away,” Gil suggested.

She met his gaze steadily, her expression reserved. “All right. What time did I arrive at the party? About eight. Was I alone? Yes. Why was I late? Because I hate being one of the first to arrive. What did I do? I went to find Pat and tell him that I was here. I’ve already told you where he was and what we did. Would you like me to repeat it for the benefit of your colleague? ”

“That won’t be necessary,” Gil told her. “Let’s talk about you. You were a CSI until six months ago. Why did you resign?”

“The pressures of work,” Jessica replied. “I’d been doing it for close to ten years and it was wearing me down. I thought about transferring to a different area, but decided I wanted a complete break. I’m looking for something else now. Hopefully something in the media field.”

“What are your impressions of Patrick Valenti and Victor Wilson?” Sara asked.

“I’ve already told Mr. Grissom about Patrick. He had a hot temper, but usually he was nice enough. Not a particularly calm person, but it was certainly always exciting around him. Victor Wilson wasn’t someone I knew particularly well. He and Pat met some time ago. I’m afraid I don’t the extent of their relationship, other than that it seemed businesslike. He always hung like a limpet to Anna. I don’t think he’s a particularly nice person, but that’s a personal feeling based on having only had a few conversations with him, although he’s been to almost every party I’ve attended for the past few years. He isn’t very good at talking.”

“Can you think of any reason why either of them might want to kill Patrick Valenti?” Gil asked.

Jessica thought for a moment. “No,” she admitted finally. “I can’t.”

“And what about yourself?” Sara prompted. “Maybe a little jealousy about Patrick finding another woman so soon? Unhappy that he found himself a partner and you didn’t?”

Jessica looked up at the other woman coldly, her green eyes flashing. “If you’re going to charge me with murder, Miss Sidle, I’d rather you just got on with it instead of trying to slander my character,” she said in icy tones.

“We aren’t going to charge you,” Gil told her. “Not yet anyway. Tell me more about the party. When did you leave?”

Jessica sighed impatiently. “I stayed talking with Patrick until about half past eight, maybe a little later. Victor came in a little before I left. I got the feeling Pat wanted to talk to him, so I didn’t hang around. Then I met Brian outside the room and he asked me to drive him home.”

“Brian?” Sara prompted.

“Brian Chandler. An old school-friend of mine.”

“And why did he ask you to drive him home?” Gil queried.

“He’d had a bit to drink and didn’t want to risk driving. He’s only just got his license back after losing it for being DUI, and he’d caught a lift to the party with another friend of his to get there. He had to work early, so he asked me to drive him home. When I got out to his place – it’s on the other side of the city – I decided I didn’t want to go back to the party, so I went home instead.”

“Did Patrick know you were going to do that?” Gil asked.

“I didn’t tell him, if that’s what you mean, but it wasn’t really any of his business what I did. It’s not like we’re still together.” She turned her gaze on Sara. “Or that I want to be.”

* * *

Nick and Jarod had drawn an imaginary line down the room and were busy in their respective halves. The blood had been cleaned up from around the fireplace, but marks on both the slate tiles and on the walls and ceiling showed where it had been.

“I got a partial,” Nick announced from the window. “Palm print, I think. It’s too big for a finger.”

“On the glass?”

“No, the ledge. And,” he held up a little envelope, “cloth scrap.”

“Any blood on it?”

“I’ll check back at the lab,” Nick told him. “Any luck on your side?”

“More fibers like those we found on our vic’s body,” Jarod told him. “Did we get a match on those?”

“No, they were too bloody. Are these better?”

“They’re certainly cleaner,” Jarod told him. “They’re on the table here, beside the bottles, near where our vic ended up.”

They continued to work in silence for a moment before Nick looked up again. “So do you think she did it? The woman?”

“Jessica Stiles? No, I don’t.” Jarod shook his head. “Call it gut instinct, but I just can’t believe she’d do it. My only problem is trying to work out why anyone else would.”

Nick murmured his agreement as he turned back to collecting his print.

“You know,” Jarod said suddenly, casting an eye around the room. “There’s something wrong with all of this.”

“What?” Nick asked.

Jarod cast another searching look around before realizing what it was that had disturbed him. He went to the door and bent down to look at the look.

“This has been jimmied open by the police or the EMTs, right?”

“We know it was locked,” Nick reminded him.

“So where’s the key?” Jarod asked. “It should be in the door, right? Or in a pocket. But we haven’t found it yet, and we’ve been through our vic’s clothes, and Jessica’s. It’s nowhere in this room that we’ve found. So where is it?”

“Good point,” Nick agreed. “I’m done here so I’ll take a look outside and see if I can find it. You keep on in here.”

Jarod continued to work while Nick searched the garden, but the rest of the evidence seemed to have already been collected. Finally, an hour or so after they arrived, with Nick having failed to find the key, they headed back to the lab.

Jarod went to try to get a match with the fibers he had found while Nick took the cloth scrap to test it for blood. Catherine came to tell them what had been said during the interview with Anna McCleod and Gil appeared just in time for Nick to announce that the cloth scrap had no blood.

“How about those fibers?” Gil asked Jarod.

“Most match our vic’s shirt,” Jarod told him. “But there are a few that seem to be from Wilson’s shirt.”

“Gil,” Jim Brass’s voice demanded from the doorway at this point. “Someone here to see you.”

The group looked up at this, but only Gil spoke. “Who is it?”

“He said his name’s Brian Chandler.”

* * *

“So, Mr. Chandler,” Gil began, “what can we do for you?”

“I…I had to come and tell you,” Brian began, his tones revealing his nerves, before suddenly changing his tone and the direction of his speech. “I read about Pat’s death in the paper, and I figured most people wouldn’t have noticed me at the party. I thought maybe I could help.”

“On the contrary, we’ve already heard you were there from Jessica Stiles,” Sara told him.

“Yeah, she… she drove me home,” he agreed.

“What do you do for a job, Mr. Chandler?” Gil prompted.

“I’m a bank teller. I… I open the bank every morning for the other employees, so I have to get there early. That’s why I left the party so early.”

“What did you really come to tell us, Mr. Chandler?” Jarod demanded at this point, thinking that the man’s nerves reminded him of Broots and knowing from his experience with the Centre employee that directness was the best way to approach him.

“W… what did A… Anna say about what she was doing before P… Pat died?”

Gil’s gaze became suddenly fixed. “She says she was watching a certain door. Do you know differently?”

“Yeah!” Brian blurted out, pushing his glasses up his nose as they slipped down. “She was a little drunk. She’d been drinking steadily ever since I got there. Spirits mostly. She was pretty gone. Thought she was sober as a judge though. But I… I’ve always had the hots for her.” His face glowed red. “I talked her into bed.”

This revelation was met with no overt response from the investigators.

“How long,” Gil asked calmly, “would you say you spent there?”

“Only about twenty minutes,” Brian told him. “I got her in there about eight. Maybe a bit later, I don’t know for sure. I guess it was around eight thirty when she left. I went out to the pool and saw Jessica getting herself a drink. I asked her to drive me home.”

“Was there anyone in the hallway when you left?”

“No. Jess got her bag and we left. The next thing I know, I’m reading in the papers that Pat’s dead.”

Gil nodded slowly before he spoke. “Mr. Chandler, I wonder if you’d do me a little favour. Play a little game with us.”

Brian looked puzzled. “Like what?”

“All you have to do is walk down the hall,” Gil told him. “Anna’s still here. I want her to see you.”

“Oh, I get it.” Brian looked relieved. “You want her to realize that I’ve told you what happened so she’ll admit she was telling the truth. I watch a lot of detective dramas,” he replied in answer to the questioning glance Jarod shot him.

“As it happens, you’re right,” Gil replied. “Thank you for coming and telling us all that, Mr. Chandler. It’s been very helpful.”

* * *

Anna broke down at the sight of Brian Chandler and admitted that she had had sex with him when she had claimed to be watching the door, blaming the drink Patrick had mixed her for the ‘lapse of judgment’. However she denied knowing what had happened in the living room, and as there was no proof of her being there during the murder, they decided that she had no further use to the investigation.

The team sat down for yet another discussion.

“That palm print I found matches Jessica Stiles’ hand,” Nick reported. “But it’s facing into the room. The scrap of fabric on the window ledge comes from the shirt we found in her laundry basket. There’s also a soda stain on the shirt that runs onto the skirt. Those are definitely the clothes she wore to the party, or at least that she was wearing in that room at some point.”

“Which means she could still have done it,” Sara pointed out. “We can’t pin down the time of death to the exact minute. What if it was earlier than we think and she did do it – killed them, I mean – and slipped out. Anna and Brian are in bed together and everyone else is out by the pool. She could change clothes without anyone seeing her and then be outside to meet Brian and set up a nice watertight alibi.”

“But we don’t have reasonable doubt,” Catherine reminded her. “Without that, we’ll never get a conviction on this.”

“You know,” Jarod began slowly, “maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. There’s one person in this we really don’t know anything about. Our victim. All we know about Patrick Valenti is that he was in his mid-thirties, was probably pretty athletic, and someone hated him enough to kill him. We don’t even know why someone hated him that much.”

“He was an insurance salesman,” Sara offered. “I was told that much.”

“Jessica liked him but thought he was dangerous,” Gil added. “Anna thought he was ‘nice’, but she also thought he was gentle…”

“She also never called him by the shortened version of his name,” Jarod put in, suddenly realizing this for the first time.

“Some of his other friends called him ‘Pat’ when we talked to them,” Nick added.

“Isn’t a little bizarre that his girlfriend wouldn’t use the same short?” Jarod asked. “So if we discount what she told us, as she obviously isn’t reliable, considering we know she’s lied on at last one occasion, we’re left with a short-tempered, violent man who was fine when he got what he wanted.”

“So if he didn’t get it and went off at the deep end, and someone was afraid for their lives,” Gil continued, “we would have a set-up for murder.”

* * *

Jarod felt that something was wrong when they pulled up in front of Jessica Stiles’ house, and a glance at Gil showed that he seemed to have sensed the same unease, because he had pulled his gun out of his holster and was holding it at the ready. Then Jarod realized what had caught his eye – the front door was standing slightly ajar. He stepped up beside Gil and they quickly covered the short distance between their car and the door.

“Miss Stiles?” Gil called as they approached. “It’s Mr. Grissom from the Crime Lab. Are you–?”

He stopped suddenly, and at the same moment, Jarod noticed the note on the front door.

‘To the person who finds me,’ it read, ‘I’m sorry.’

Gil almost threw his gun into its holster and shoved the front door open so hard that it nearly slammed back in his face.

“Miss Stiles!” he yelled. “Jessica!”

By unspoken agreement, the two men split up, Jarod going towards the bedroom and bathroom, while Gil went into the kitchen area. It was Jarod who found Jessica, sitting upright in the bath, her head lolling back, her eyes closed and face gray. A plate lay on her lap and a glass in her limp hand had fallen onto its side, the contents having drained away down the plughole, her black pants soaked along the path of the liquid.

“Gil!” he yelled, dropping to his knees and feeling urgently for a pulse. An instant later, Gil was behind him and pulling his cell phone out of his pocket to call for an ambulance.

Jarod looked desperately around the room and his eyes fixed on the bin. With a bound, he crossed the room and yanked off the lid, pulling out two packets of ibuprofen tablets, both of which were empty. He showed them to Gil, who reported the discovery to the person on the other end of the line, before Jarod returned to the woman’s side and once more checked for a pulse, shaking her in an attempt to wake her, which produced no effect.

The ambulance pulled into the driveway almost before Jarod had realized that Gil had ended the call, and he stepped away while the EMTs began to treat her. He moved out of the room, finding himself in her bedroom, and looked around, noticing a range of bottles on the bedside table. Most, he saw, were painkillers of varying strengths, and he wondered if Jessica had been trying to decide which drug would be the best for her intention.

The unconscious woman was loaded onto the gurney and wheeled out of the house, Gil still providing his details to the EMTs, and Jarod followed them out into the living room. For the first time, he noticed the folded note on the table and, seeing that it was addressed to Gil, stuffed it into his pocket. He took one last searching look around the room before following the group out of the house and closing the door.

In the car, Gil stared at the steering wheel blankly for a moment and Jarod hesitated before speaking.

“The prognosis for someone who overdoses on ibuprofen is good, if they get medical treatment in time,” he offered softly. “She’s still alive, Gil.”

“I’ve never had anyone try that before,” Gil murmured. “Not because of me.”

“It’s unlikely to just be you – or us,” Jarod told him. “Very rarely will a suicidal person decide to take action because of one thing. It will be a whole combination of things.”

There was a moment of awkward silence, with Jarod desperately searching for something to say but, for once, being unable to come up with the appropriate words.

“I don’t believe she did it,” Gil said suddenly. “It just wouldn’t be in character.”

Jarod guessed that the other man was referring to the murder of Patrick Valenti rather than her attempt to take her own life, and Jarod agreed. It would be out of character for someone feeling so depressed to take such violent action against somebody else when they would be willing to do that to themselves.

“Let’s get back to the lab,” Gil declared, turning the key in the ignition. “I want to run the scene and see if we’ve missed anything.”

* * *

Once back in familiar surroundings, Gil seemed to regain his usual attitude, although Jarod guessed that he was still shocked by what he had experienced, as was Jarod himself. He had had very little experience with suicide during his time out of the Centre, and certainly none while he had been inside it.

“Everyone take on the role of someone involved in our crime,” Gil ordered the team. “Jarod, you’re Patrick. Warwick, Victor. Catherine, I want you to be Jessica, and Sara, you’re Anna. Nick, you get to be Brian.”

“I’ve waited so long for this,” Nick joked, leering at Sara, and the others laughed.

The room was set up to resemble the living room of Patrick Valenti’s house, with a chair representing the door.

“Okay, it’s eight o’clock and we’re running with Sara’s scenario that Jessica was the killer,” Gil directed them. “Jessica arrives at the party and comes out to find everyone out by the pool. We’ll move time forward to when Jessica and Patrick come into the living room,” he continued, and Jarod and Catherine stepped into the space. “Patrick has a bottle of vodka in his hand,” giving Jarod an empty flask that stood on a nearby table, along with several other props, “and they start arguing, possibly about Anna. Patrick turns, maybe to get a glass or a corkscrew or something, and Jessica picks up the ashtray,” he handed a book to Catherine to represent the ashtray, “and slams it into the first point of impact, the nape of the neck.”

Catherine pretended to club Jarod on the back of the neck, and Jarod immediately dropped to the floor. Then he rolled over and looked up at the people around him.

“There wasn’t enough force to drive me forward,” he declared. “We found Patrick’s body like this,” he rolled onto his face again and stretched out, “but being hit like Catherine just pretended to hit me, I’d drop on the spot. I wouldn’t be thrown forward.”

The others considered this for a moment, but Gil decided to continue the simulation anyway.

“Victor comes into the room and sees what’s going on,” he went on, and Warwick stepped past the chair. “He comes to help and Jessica shoves him backwards.”

Catherine pushed Warwick in the chest, and Warwick stumbled backwards.

“He got a long way into the room before Jessica noticed him,” Sara mused. “All the way from the door to the other side of the room. Would she really give him that much chance?”

“And how do I get Victor’s clothing fibers on me if he’s all the way over here?” Jarod demanded. “At what point does he touch me?”

“Okay, so this isn’t working,” Gil admitted. “What say we try it with Jarod's scenario and the story Jessica told us?”

“Want to take over being the corpse and I’ll be the narrator?” Jarod asked with a grin, but Gil just told him to lie down again.

“Actually, no, don’t,” Nick interrupted. “Let’s start from the time Jessica arrives again. We’ll get a better idea if we do.”

Jarod got his feet and dusted himself off before putting the flask down on the table.

“So everyone’s at the party,” Gil said. “Jessica goes to drop her stuff in the bedroom, but Patrick tells her to put it in the living room. They end up there together and talk. Jessica takes a seat on the windowsill, explaining how that palm-print got there. They’re friends, so they talk about mundane things, maybe work or how Jessica’s hunt for a job is going.”

“Victor comes into the room to get a drink,” Warwick announced, swaggering in.

“And Anna takes her place outside the room,” Sara added. “The door is closed,” Gil obligingly moved the chair, “and then Brian starts making his advances.” As Nick moved towards her, she reached out and stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Let’s just all imagine that bit instead, shall we?”

“It’s about eight o’clock, or maybe a little later, which ties in with the times Jessica gave us,” Jarod put in. “Anna and Brian head for the bedroom, and the conversation in the living room becomes a little intense.”

“Jessica feels uncomfortable and leaves, tearing a scrap off of her shirt as she gets up, ” Catherine said, rising from the chair that had represented the windowsill. “She goes out to the pool to get a drink, but is hardly noticed because the party is in full swing. Apparently there were some pretty explicit games going on in the pool.”

“Victor and Patrick start to talk business after one of them locks the door,” Jarod added.

“Victor locked the door,” Catherine said. “I found a key in his pocket, but I assumed it was his house key or something. I’m guessing it’s the key to that room instead.”

“Okay, so once the door’s locked, they get down to whatever their business is.”

“Blackmail,” Jim Brass suddenly put in from the doorway. “I checked his police records. Patrick Valenti has a report for blackmail against him, but the victim refused to testify.”

“We have motive,” Catherine said, her eyes shining.

“Okay, so Patrick’s blackmailing Victor,” Gil added. “Maybe they reach a deal. Patrick gets the vodka to celebrate and Victor gets the ashtray. They’re about the same height, so if Victor swung the bookend horizontally, it’s going to create the impetus to send Patrick full-length onto his face.”

Warwick picked up the book. “Sorry,” he apologized to Jarod, before vigorously swinging the object, but Jarod dropped in the last second before the book would have come into contact with his neck and lay on the ground. The flask fell from his hand and rolled a few inches away.

“Victor leans over and beats him in the head three more times in an up-and-down motion,” Gil went on, and Warwick made banging motions with the book, hitting the floor on either side of Jarod's head with it, “reaching backwards with his arms each time to get a good swing, hence the blood spatters we found on the walls and ceiling and his clothes. Then he goes into the bathroom to wash his hands…”

“And feet,” Warwick added. “Standing here, like we know he was because of the angle of blood spatter, he would have to have got blood on his feet. It’s a pool party. Who’s going to be wearing shoes? And there weren’t shoes in his bag of clothes.”

“So after he finishes beating Patrick, he drops the ashtray,” Sara commented, “takes off his t-shirt and pants and wraps the bloody side of them around his feet to stop himself from walking bloody footprints across the carpet to the bathroom, where he sits on the side of the bath, washes his feet, goes back into the room, dresses himself…”

“…and throws himself onto the bookcase,” Gil put in. “It might not have been premeditated, but he was certainly thinking clearly enough afterward.”

“Adrenalin,” Jarod remarked to the room in general.

“Meanwhile Anna and Brian have finished their romantic little rendezvous,” Nick added, “and Anna comes back to take up her post at the door. Brian comes out a little later, passes her and goes out to the pool, where he finds Jessica, who is having her soda, and asks if she wouldn’t mind giving him a lift home”

“By the time they go back through the house, Anna is on her way around to look in through the window,” Sara puts in. “She sees the bodies and calls 9-1-1. What time did the call come in?”

“Nine-oh-four,” Warwick told her. “They dispatched an ambulance and the police right away.”

“So Jessica was in the clear and Anna knew nothing about it,” Jarod finished.

“He’ll plead extraneous circumstances,” Nick warned.

“He still killed Patrick,” Sara reminded him. “And his actions afterwards show that he was aware of the full implications of what he’d done. He can plead whatever he wants, but the evidence clearly shows his actions.”

“Let’s get all this in the report,” Gil directed brusquely. “Jim, have Victor brought in. I’ll bet there are still Patrick’s epithelials and blood under his toenails that he wouldn’t have cleaned away yet.”

The team scattered. Jarod followed Gil down the hallway to his office and, as they went inside, Gil turned to him.

“You know he’s still going to try to suggest that Jessica did it.”

Jarod smiled. “I think I can provide you with further proof that she didn’t.” He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the note he had found at Jessica’s house. “Here. This is addressed to you.”

“I know what it says,” Gil said dismissively. “I’ve been thinking about it, putting myself in her place. If it were me, one of the worst things I could imagine happening to me would be to get locked up with the people I’ve helped jail. That’s why she tried to kill herself.” He accepted the note and shot a curious glance at Jarod. “But what other evidence is there?”

Jarod shot him another glance, his lips curling into a small smile. “You’ll see,” he retorted, and quickly left the room.

* * *

Jarod let himself into the staff-room of the hospital and found a white medical coat, clipping on one of the many fake IDs he carried around in his bag. Hanging a stethoscope around his neck, he easily blended in with the other doctors who walked the hallways and managed to access a computer, locating the room in which Jessica Stiles had been put.

He paused outside the room before going in. Jessica lay in bed, her eyes closed and the fingers of her right hand rubbing at the knuckles on her left. Jarod nodded as if this confirmed something. Jessica’s eyes opened as he closed the door behind him and she looked him up and down before turning her head away.

“I should have guessed you weren’t a CSI,” she muttered, and he grinned.


“I don’t know,” she responded. “Something about your manner. It was too sympathetic.”

Jarod couldn’t help chuckling as he pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat in it. “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

“Probably want to know how I killed Patrick,” she retorted.

“No, actually we already know that you didn’t,” he told her, and smiled again as her head snapped around and she stared at him.

“But you were sure I had.”

“Some of the others were sure. I was always a little unsure.”


He met her gaze. “Murder, particularly something as spontaneous as Patrick’s death was, doesn’t fit your personality. You don’t act spontaneously. The only time you looked surprised was when you were first told about Patrick’s death. Since then, you’ve planned every stage, and you knew what was going to happen before it did. You cleaned up your house and put away your medication so that we wouldn’t know about your condition. You hid away all the little toys that you use every day so we would never know. You knew what questions you were going to be asked and had planned your answers – all expect the one about whether Patrick smoked – before you said them. That isn’t consistent with spontaneity. Patrick’s death was definitely the action of someone who doesn’t have a great deal of patience and doesn’t think their actions through. Someone like Victor Wilson.”

Jessica’s eyes widened. “Victor! He did it? But why?”

“Because Patrick had been blackmailing him. I don’t know why yet, although I dare say Victor will tell the others in an attempt to lessen the charges against him. But Victor snapped, as short-tempered people have a habit of doing. Unfortunately, he allowed anger to overwhelm him and bludgeoned Patrick to death.”

Jessica considered this for a while, staring at the ceiling. Finally, when she turned her gaze back to Jarod, he could see that the tension in her eyes that had appeared during their first interview was gone.

“I don’t think I ever really loved him,” she said in surprised tones. “That was really why we broke up. I just realized one day that, although I cared about him as a friend, I’d never really felt the fluttering of the heart and all those other signs that are supposed to show you love someone. Or are in love with them.”

“And you’ve already had your period of mourning,” Jarod suggested. “Probably that first night. Your old job as a CSI taught you so much about death that you don’t fear it any longer. That’s why you could take those tablets. Death by your own hand at a time of your choosing was preferable to death at the hands of one of the people you’ve been responsible for locking away.”

She nodded slowly, but her eyes remained dry as she looked back at the ceiling. Then she turned to him once more.

“So what is it?” she asked, and there was a teasing note in her voice. “What is the condition of mine that you mentioned before? You know everything else, so of course you know that, too.”

“You have arthritis,” he replied. “At a guess, it’s rheumatoid arthritis. You’re about the right age for it. It’s probably already affected your waist, knees, and shoulders. You suffer from peripheral neuropathy in your hands, and you rub them to try to ease the tingling and numbness. The pain became too great for you to continue working about six months ago, so you quit. You also broke up with Patrick at the time because you felt that it wasn’t right for someone with your condition to go out with someone as athletic as he was. In fact, you’re embarrassed by your arthritis, which is why you didn’t tell us about it.” He shot her a curious glance. “What stage are you up to?”

“The second one,” she sighed. “Mostly limited movement so far, but others things are coming, too. And it’s pretty bad in my waist and knees. They’re the worst areas so far, although my shoulders are catching up fast.”

“You can only lift your hands until they’re level with your shoulders,” Jarod guessed, recalling the low shelves all over the house. “You have safety strips in your bathroom to keep from falling over and breaking a bone as the osteoporosis develops in later stages. Your kitchen will be stocked with devises to help you – a kettle that can be poured without lifting, knives that have handles to stop you from needing to twist your wrists, jars and bottle openers, electric can openers, things to chop your food, caps to help you turn the taps more easily,” he glanced over at the object that lay beside her hand on the bed, “and a reaching device so that you don’t have to get up and down more than necessary.”

When she remained silent, he shot her another sharp glance.

“There’s something else,” he suggested. “Not just embarrassment.” He thought for a moment, before an off-hand remark came back to his mind. “I know. You didn’t want to reveal your condition in case it restricted your chances of getting another job.”

“I was right,” she said, smiling slightly. “You aren’t a CSI.”

“No,” he agreed with an answering smile, standing up and preparing to leave the room, “I’m not.”

* * *

“Victor Wilson’s pleading insanity, caused by the stress of Patrick Valenti blackmailing him,” Catherine told Gil as the man came into the break room.

“Good luck,” Nick snorted.

“He might get it,” Warwick commented.

“He might,” Gil agreed cautiously, making a mental note to send Jarod news of this development as he had promised.

“Oh, Gil,” Jim Brass announced from behind him, “I was looking for you. I’ve got someone for you to meet.”

Gil and the others looked up to see Jim in the doorway.

“We have a new media liaison with the unit,” he continued. “I brought her along to meet you all.”

There was a united sigh for everyone in the room as he stepped aside to reveal Jessica Stiles sitting in a wheelchair. She smiled sweetly at them.

“Nice to meet you.”

The End

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