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Captain Jim Brass ambled down the hall toward the washed-out aqua warren of offices that served as headquarters for the Las Vegas Criminalistics Bureau, a coldly modern institutional setting for the number-two crime lab in the country. The sad-eyed detective was sharply attired -- gray sports coat over a blue shirt, darker blue tie with gray diagonal stripes, and navy slacks -- and his low-key demeanor masked a dogged professionalism.
A cellophane bag dangled from the detective's right hand, an audiotape within. Slowing to peer through various half-windowed walls, Brass passed several rooms before he found the CSI graveyard-shift supervisor, Gil Grissom, in the break room at a small table, hunkered over a cup of coffee and a pile of papers. Dressed in black and wearing his wire-framed reading glasses, the CSI chief looked like a cross between a gunfighter and a science geek, Brass thought, then realized that that was a pretty accurate mix.
Grissom -- one of the top forensic entomologists in the country, among other things -- was in his mid-forties, with his boyishly handsome features seemingly set in a state of perpetual preoccupation. Brass liked Gil, and felt that what some considered coldness in the man was really a self-imposed coolness, a detachment designed to keep the CSI chief's eye on facts and his emotions in check.
Brass pulled up a chair. "Latest issue of Cockroach Racing Monthly?"
Grissom shook his head, and responded as if the detective's question had been serious. "Staffing reports. Scuttlebutt is the County Board wants to cut the budget for next year."
"I heard that, too." Brass sighed. "Doesn't election time just bring out the best in people?"
Grissom gave him a pursed-lipped look that had nothing to do with blowing a kiss.
"Maybe you need something to put you in a better mood, Gil -- like threats of dismemberment."
Grissom offered Brass another look, this one piqued with interest.
Brass held up the plastic baggie and waved it like a hypnotist's watch, Grissom's eyes following accordingly. "Among your state-of-the-art, cutting-edge equipment...you got a cassette player?"
Nodding, rising, removing his glasses, Grissom said, "In my office. What have you got?" He gathered up the pile of papers, the cup of coffee, and led Brass out into the hall.
The detective fell in alongside Grissom as they moved down the corridor. "Interesting turn of events, just now, out at the front desk."
They moved into Grissom's office.
Brass had only lately ceased to be creeped out by Grissom's inner sanctum, with its shelves of such jarred oddities as a pickled piglet and various embalmed animal and human organs, and assorted living, crawling creatures -- a tarantula, a two-headed scorpion -- in glassed-in homes. At least the batteries had finally worn down on the Big Mouth Billy Bass just above Grissom's office door.
A desk sat in the middle of the methodically cluttered office, canted at a forty-five-degree angle, two vinyl-covered metal frame chairs in front of it. Brass handed the bag over to Grissom, then plopped into a chair. Behind his desk, Grissom sat and placed the bag on his blotter like a jeweler mounting a stone. From the top righthand drawer, he withdrew a pair of latex gloves and placed them next to the bag.
"Is this all tease," Grissom said, hands folded, "or do you plan to put out?"
Brass sat back, crossed his legs, twitched a non-smile. "This couple comes in tonight, to the front desk. Nice people, late thirties, early forties -- straight as they come. He's in the finance department at UNLV."
"Arthur and Millie Blair. They say their friend, woman named Lynn Pierce, has disappeared...and they think something 'bad' has happened to her."
Grissom's eyes tightened, just a little. "How long has Lynn Pierce been missing?"
Checking his watch, Brass said, "About seven hours."
Grissom's eyes relaxed. "That's not twenty-four. She may be gone, but she's not 'missing,' yet."
Brass shrugged. "Officer at the desk told 'em the same thing. That's when they pulled out this tape."
Grissom glanced at the bag. "Which is a tape of what?"
Brass had to smile -- Grissom was like a kid waiting to tear into a Christmas present. "Supposedly an argument between Lynn Pierce and her husband."
Brass pulled a notebook from his jacket pocket and flipped it open, filling Grissom in on the particulars -- Owen Pierce, successful physical therapist, married eighteen years to the missing woman.
"Clinic -- 'Therapeutic Body Works' -- in a strip mall out on Hidden Well Road. East of the Callaway Golf Center."
One of Grissom's eyebrows arched in skeptical curiosity. "And the Blairs are in possession of this tape because...?"
"This is where it gets good," Brass said, shifting in the chair. "The Blairs say Mrs. Pierce showed up on their doorstep last night -- with this tape in her hot little hand. Mrs. Pierce told her friends the Blairs that she'd hidden a voice-activated tape player in the kitchen. Wanted to prove what kind of verbal abuse she'd been suffering, of late."
"I like a victim who provides evidence for us," Grissom said.
"Well, then you'll love Lynn Pierce. Her hidden microphone caught a doozy of an argument, it seems. Anyway, the Blairs said that Mrs. Pierce gave them the tape for safe keeping, then she sat with them and talked and talked about her marital problems, and trouble with their daughter, Lori..."
"Lori is whose daughter?"
"The Pierces. But most of all, Lynn was tired of the constant threats of violence her husband had been making."
"Let's hear the tape."
Brass held up a palm. "You still haven't heard the best part."
The detective told Grissom about the Blairs going to the Pierce home, where Owen Pierce claimed his wife had gone to visit a sick brother.
"Is that the best part?" Grissom asked, unimpressed.
"No -- the best part is, while the Blairs are talking to one officer at the front desk, the other officer is taking a phone call from guess who."
"Owen Pierce. Calling to report his wife missing. He now claims that she got pissed off after a 'misunderstanding,' and he figures she left him, and he doesn't know where the hell she went."
Grissom was sitting forward now. "Did the wife take anything with her?"
"A couple of uniforms went to the house," Brass said. "Pierce told them he didn't see her go. But she took her own car -- a '95 Avalon -- also a suitcase, some clothes."
"Let's listen to the tape."
Brass raised both eyebrows. "Why don't we?"
Slipping on the latex gloves, Grissom removed the tape from the bag. He rose, moved to a small boombox behind the desk, and slid the tape into the holder. After closing the door, he pushed play with a latexed fingertip -- Brass noted that Grissom brought the same anal-retentive precision to the simple procedure of playing an audiotape cassette as he would to one of his bizarre experiments involving blood-spatter spray patterns or insect eating patterns.
The sound was somewhat muffled; apparently the couple had been standing across the room from the secreted tape recorder. But the words soon became clear enough, as the Pierces raised their voices in anger.
"If you don't stop it, just stop it, I swear I'll do it! I'll divorce you!"
That had been the woman's voice.
Now the man's: "Stop it? Stop what? What the fuck are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the cocaine, Owen -- and your slutty women! I've already talked to a lawyer -- "
"You bitch -- lousy rotten bitch...go ahead, go ahead and file for divorce. I'll make sure you don't get a goddamned thing -- including Lori!"
Brass glanced at Grissom, but the criminalist's face was blank, his focus complete.
"Owen..." The woman's voice had turned pleading. "I just want us to be a...family, again. Do you think what I really want is a divorce?"
The man's reply was mostly inaudible, but they heard three words clearly: "...give a fuck."
The woman spoke again, and she too was inaudible, but then her voice rose, not in anger, but as a conclusion to a speech: "I just want you and Lori to find the peace that I've found serving our Lord!"
"Oh, Christ! Not that Jesus crap again. I've told you a thousand fucking times, Lynn -- I believe what I believe."
"You don't believe in anything."
"That's my choice. That's America. That's what your forefathers died for, you dumb..."
At the next word, Grissom shot a look at Brass.
The man was saying, "You need to give Lori the same space, too, Lynn. She's a young adult. She deserves a little respect."
"She's a child."
"She's sixteen! Hell, in half the world she'd be married already! Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed!"
"I'm just telling you what I do, what our grown daughter does, is none of your goddamned Bible-beating business."
"Maybe...maybe I should get a divorce then."
"Knock yourself out....But remember, you don't get one dime, not one fucking thing."
"Is that right? I hired the best divorce lawyer in town, Owen -- and when I get around to telling him about the drugs and the women and you screwing the IRS by skimming off the top of the 'Body Works'? Well, then we'll just see who gets custody of Lori!"
The woman sounded triumphant, Brass thought, and for a moment the husband had no response. The woman's time on top of the argument didn't last long.
"You do," Pierce said, "and I'll kill your holier-than-thou ass..."
"Owen! No! Don't say -- "
"And then I'll cut you up in little pieces, my darling bride. I will scatter your parts to the four winds, and they will never put Humpty Dumpty back together!"
The argument lasted only a couple of more minutes, none of it coherently audible -- the couple had apparently moved farther away from the hidden machine -- before the detective and the criminalist heard the sound of a door slam and then the tape clicked off.
"What do you think?" Brass asked. "We got enough to go out there? Or is that just the road company of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Grissom stood. "I think we need to go out there. Everybody's in-house, at the moment -- let's take the whole crew."
Brass winced. "Don't you think we should try for a warrant, first?"
Grissom gave Brass that familiar mock-innocent smile. "Why? Mr. Pierce called the police. He's concerned about his missing wife. We should help the poor guy, don't you think?"
"Yeah, who needs a warrant to do that?" Brass said, grinning, climbing out of the chair. "What about the tape?"
"Yeah," Brass said, eyes narrowing. "Obviously Pierce doesn't know it exists. No need to tell him that we do."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Grissom said. "Let's go see what there is to see."
Ten minutes later, six colleagues -- all but Brass in dark forensics windbreakers -- met in the underlit parking lot.
Lanky, loose-limbed, African-American Warrick Brown stood a few inches taller than the athletically brawny Nick Stokes; both men were in their very early thirties.
Off to one side were the two women on the team, Grissom's second-in-command, Catherine Willows, and the relatively recent addition, Sara Sidle.
The Willows woman had a checkered past, Brass knew, but her experience had made her a valuable counterbalance to the overly cool Grissom. Brass had less confidence in Sara Sidle, despite her status as a former Grissom pupil handpicked by Gil for the job. Sidle seemed to be a Grissom-in-the-making, similarly obsessed with work -- and with people skills rivaling those of her tactless mentor.
Grissom filled his people in, quickly, on the contents of the tape and the potentially missing woman.
"So we have a verbally abusive husband," Grissom said, tone as tight as his eyes, "who threatened his wife with dismemberment."
"But we're pretending to help him out," Warrick said.
"I didn't hear that," Grissom said, sweetly.
Warrick, Nick, Catherine, and Sara rode in the Tahoe, Grissom rode with Brass in the detective's Taurus. Just before midnight, they arrived at the castle-like house on the impressive sloping lawn, lights shining out downstairs windows, sending sword-like shafts of light into the dark.
Brass and Grissom led the way to the front door. The detective rang the bell and had to wait only a moment before the door opened to reveal a muscular man in dark slacks, black T-shirt, and black loafers, dark hair peppered with gray. The man stood before Grissom like a mirror reflection -- only, Brass thought, this was Gil Grissom on steroids.
Brass smiled, mildly. "Mr. Pierce?"
The man nodded. He seemed anxious. "You're the police?"
Touching the badge on his breast pocket, Brass affirmed, "We're the police -- sorry it took us so long to respond to your call....We had to round our people up."
Grissom flicked Pierce an insincere smile. "We're a full-service operation, Mr....Pierce, I assume?"
Still not inviting them in, Pierce nodded.
Grissom lifted the necklace I.D. "Gil Grissom, Las Vegas Criminalistics. This is Captain Jim Brass, and this is our Criminalistics crew."
Pierce regarded the considerable assembly overflowing his front stoop. "Then...you haven't found my wife?"
"No, sir," Grissom said, "I'm sorry, as yet we haven't."
Pierce shook his head. "I don't understand what you're doing here. I gave all the information to the officer, on the phone. Shouldn't you be out looking for Lynn, Detective...Griswald, is it?"
"It's Grissom, Mr. Pierce, only I'm not a detective. I'm a supervisor of Criminalistics." He flashed another empty smile. "And we are out looking for your wife. That's why we're here. You see, we handle crime scene investigation."
A puzzled look tightened Pierce's face. "Crime scene? I don't understand. This isn't a crime scene -- my wife walked out on me."
"Sir, my understanding is, you don't know that for sure. She might well have been abducted."
"Well...that's possible. Maybe I hadn't wanted to...admit that to myself."
Grissom nodded in supposed sympathy. "Also, there's the matter of the Blairs."
"Yes. Your wife called them in the afternoon...said she would come by, never materialized. They said they spoke to you."
Pierce sucked in air, his expression turning sheepish. "Oh. I see...look, when they came by, I was embarrassed. I told them that Lynn went to visit her brother to, you know, get rid of them."
Frowning, Brass asked, "You wanted to get rid of them?"
"They mean well, Detective...Brass?"
"They're kind of busybodies, Detective Brass. Judgmental types -- Bible beaters? And the wound was fresh, Det...uh...Mr. Grissom. I needed to be alone while I sorted some things out."
Grissom shrugged one shoulder. "Then why did you telephone the police?"
He shrugged both his. "I wanted someone to help me find her. I thought maybe Lynn and I could find a way to work out our problems."
"So, then, you really don't know where she is?"
Pierce shook his head. "Nope, no idea."
"And you weren't here when she left?"
"No. I was at my office...my clinic."
"That makes abduction a real possibility, Mr. Pierce. And that's why we're here."
He frowned. "Just because I have no idea where Lynn is? And because she made a phone call?"
"Yes, sir." Grissom's expression turned almost angelic. "We want to help you. Maybe we can find a clue as to what happened to your wife."
"But," Brass said, with half a smile, "we can't help you out here on the stoop."
Pierce sighed again, shrugged with his eyebrows this time. "Well -- if it'll help find Lynn...of course, come in."
The response surprised Brass a little, and he exchanged glances with Grissom, who the detective figured had also been expecting objections from Pierce, not cooperation -- particularly if a crime had gone down within these castle walls, earlier today.
Pierce stepped back inside and held the door as the group trooped in, moving through a small entryway into a larger anteroom of a home whose walls were cream-color stucco with dark woodwork. A winding staircase disappeared up a landing at left, and a hallway was at left also, with the dining room visible through one arched doorless doorway, in the facing wall, and, to the right, a living room yawned through another archway. The furnishings were colonial, tasteful enough, but a bit at odds with the castle-like architecture.
Brass asked, "Is there anyone else in the house, sir?"
"Just my daughter."
Grissom asked, "Was she here when your wife left?"
"No. I'm afraid not."
A teenage girl stepped down the winding stairs into view. She wore Nikes, nice new jeans, a big white sweatshirt, with her long blonde hair pulled back and held in place with a blue scrunchy. Her pretty face -- she resembled her father, though the eyes were wider set -- was well scrubbed and her bright blue eyes were rimmed red. She glanced down at the contingency in the anteroom, and froze on the landing.
"This is my daughter," Pierce said, "Lori."
The girl gave a barely perceptible nod, then turned and disappeared back upstairs.
Pierce sighed again and said, "You'll have to forgive her, please. This has been hard for both of us, but especially for Lori. She's taken it pretty hard, the idea of her mother...abandoning us."
Brass nodded. Grissom was looking around, taking in the framed wildlife artwork.
"Will you have to..." Pierce looked for the words. "...disturb Lori, when you make your search?"
Brass glanced at Grissom, who gave a little shrug.
"I don't think so, sir," the detective said. "We'll leave her alone for now...though it's possible we might have some questions later."
Grissom approached Pierce, standing a little too close, as if having a better look at an insect specimen, and said, "Mr. Pierce, if you and Captain Brass will wait in the living room, we'll get to work. Then we'll talk to you when we're finished."
For the next two hours, the CSI crew -- in latex gloves but wielding little else of their elaborate equipment -- crawled over every inch of the house, examining everything from the basement to the garage, speaking to the teenage girl only to ask her to step out of her bedroom for a few minutes. When they had finished, they conferred in the kitchen, careful to keep their voices down as they discussed what they'd found, and hadn't found.
An eyebrow arched, Catherine said to Grissom, "There are gaps in the closet. Some clothes and shoes gone, apparently."
"Consistent with Lynn Pierce packing up and leaving," Grissom said.
Catherine smiled humorlessly, nodded.
Sara was nodding, too. "Yeah, and there's a row of suitcases in the basement, with a space in it -- so maybe one of them is gone. Space on the shelf above, where a train case could've been."
Warrick piped in: "Only one toothbrush in the master bathroom. Some empty spaces on her makeup table, like she took perfume, makeup, stuff like that."
"No sign of her purse," Nick said. "And there was no blood in the drains, no knives missing that I could tell, no sign anyone did...what he said he would...on the tape."
"I'd sure like to bring a RUVIS in here," Catherine said, referring to the ultraviolet device that would show up blood stains.
"I don't think we can justify that," Grissom said. "If there is a crime here, we don't want to do anything that would be thrown out of court....So what does this house tell us?"
"She may have gone," Catherine said.
Sara's eyebrows were up. "Or somebody may have made it look like she left."
"Gris," Warrick said, "I did find one thing that could be significant." He showed them a clear evidence bag with a hairbrush in the bottom.
Grissom took the bag, held it up and looked at it as if it held the secrets of the universe; several blonde hairs dangled from the brush. He asked, "Does a woman pack up and go, and leave her hairbrush behind?"
"Maybe Sara," Nick said with a grin, and Sara grinned back and elbowed him, a little.
Grissom focused on the hairbrush in the bag. "Why don't we ask Mr. Pierce about this?"
They followed their supervisor into the living room where Pierce and Brass (his notepad out) sat on a couch in front of a thirty-six inch Toshiba in an early-American entertainment hutch (just like George and Martha Washington used to have); CNN was going, with the mute on.
"Anything you'd like to share?" Brass asked Grissom.
"You'll be relieved to know," Grissom said, "that there are no signs of a struggle anywhere in the house."
"I could have told you that," Pierce said.
Catherine said, "We don't see any overt indications of abduction."
"That's a relief, anyway," Pierce said, letting out a big sigh -- too big, maybe.
Grissom offered up his patented smile. "What can you tell me about this, Mr. Pierce?"
And he held up the bag with the brush.
"Well...that's Lynn's," Pierce said.
Catherine asked, "Would you say your wife is well-groomed, Mr. Pierce? Takes pride in her appearance?"
Pierce bristled. "She's a beautiful woman. Of course she's...well-groomed."
Catherine's smile was utterly charming, her words casually heartless. "Does she usually go off without her hairbrush?"
"Maybe she has more than one." Pierce held his hands out, palms open. "How should I know?...Anyway, she only uses a brush when her hair is long. Lynn had her hair cut recently -- it's barely over her ears. I've seen her combing it, but not brushing."
Sara said, "I noticed three computers in the house, Mr. Pierce."
He nodded. "Yes. Lori's is in her bedroom, mine is in the basement -- I have my business programs on that -- and in the spare bedroom, Lynn has her own for e-mailing her friends and, I don't know, whatever else she does."
Grissom said, "We'd like to take Lynn's computer with us, if you don't mind."
Pierce winced at that one. "You want her computer?"
With a brief nod, Grissom said, "May help us track her movements. See if your wife e-mailed someone to notify them that she'd be coming for a visit. Can you access her account?"
"Afraid I can't. She has her own password....Even the closest couples have privacy issues -- who doesn't want to have a few secrets?"
Grissom said, "Secrets don't stay secret long, in my world, Mr. Pierce."
Catherine asked, "How about a cell phone? Does Mrs. Pierce have one?"
"Why, yes -- she carries it in her purse, all the time."
"Have you tried to call her since she turned up missing?"
A shrug. "And it comes back 'out of service.'"
Catherine thought about that, then asked, "May we see last month's bill?"
Starting to look mildly put-out, Pierce said, "Well...all right."
"And her credit cards and bank statements?"
Pierce gave Grissom a sharp look, as if to say, Can't you keep this underling in check?
Grissom turned on the angelic smile again. "It's an old, old theory, Mr. Pierce -- follow the money. Wherever Mrs. Pierce is, she's spending money, somehow or other...and unless she left carrying a massive amount of cash, there should be a credit-card trail to follow."
The color had drained from Pierce's face. "Well...Now, she could have taken cash with her, quite a bit of it. But I wouldn't know."
"You had separate accounts?"
Catherine said, "Privacy issues?"
Pierce ignored that, looking instead at the CSI chief. "Lynn's from a wealthy family, Mr. Grissom. She has a considerable amount of money beyond what I earn....There's her money, my money, and our money -- lots of couples are that way." With yet another sigh, he rose. "I understand you're just trying to help....I'll get you the papers you need."
Brass, still seated, asked, "Do you have a recent photo of your wife we could take?"
"Yes. Of course. I'll get one for you." Pierce left the room, and they could see him going up the stairs; in a few minutes he was back, handing Brass a five-by-seven snapshot. "This was taken at her birthday party, just two months ago."
Grissom took the photo away from Brass and looked at the casual image of a haggard, haunted-eyed blonde standing rather somberly next to several laughing female friends, a happy birthday banner in the background. In her late thirties, early forties, with short hair that flirted with the collar of a blue silk blouse, Lynn Pierce had blue eyes that matched her daughter's, high cheekbones with a touch too much blush, a long but graceful nose, nicely full lips, and a stubby flat chin. She was neither beautiful nor unattractive -- a "handsome" woman, as they used to say. As she stared up at him with clear, piercing eyes, Grissom got the impression that she was a no-nonsense, down-to-earth person.
The somberness of her expression, however, seemed almost to speak to him, as though there were something she needed to say.
Fifteen minutes later, after forced-friendly handshakes and good-byes with their host, the group trooped back out of the Pierce home, Catherine's arms piled with papers, Nick lugging Mrs. Pierce's computer.
As the rest of the CSI team loaded what they'd taken into the Tahoe, Catherine, with arms folded like a Sioux chief, faced Grissom. "Your tape not withstanding...the evidence shows no signs that any crime has been committed on those premises."
Nearby Brass was rocking on his heels. To no one in particular, he said, "You really think Owen Pierce is the distressed husband he claims to be?"
"You looking for an opinion?" Grissom asked. "I don't do opinions."
Catherine was smiling, though, regarding her boss with cat's eyes. "You don't fool me."
Grissom's brows rose. "I don't?"
"Something's wrong in that house, and you know it."
Grissom frowned at her. "I don't know it," he said.
And he stalked back toward the Taurus, Brass following him, throwing a shrug back at the quietly amused Catherine.
"Retaining water," Catherine said to Sara.
"And me fresh out of Midol," Sara said.
Grissom got in on the rider's side and sat and brooded. He didn't know that something was wrong in that house -- but he felt it.
And he hated when that happened.
For now, he had nothing to go on. Nothing to do but return to HQ and wait for a real crime to come in.
And hope it wasn't a murder, and the victim: Lynn Pierce.
Copyright 2002 CBS Worldwide Inc. and Alliance Atlantis Productions, Inc.