LAST EDITED ON Dec-25-07 AT 04:06 PM (EST)|
[Here's a little something to tide you over while we put the finishing touches on regular series episode 109 ("Outward Trajectory"). As you see, this little piece is set several months later. Because this one's so long for a single-piece mini, I'm locking this thread so people don't have to keep scrolling clear to the bottom for discussion; instead, please direct discussion to the appropriate thread over in the regular CSI board. Thanks, and merry Christmas! --G.]Thursday, December 30, 2410
Imperial Hotel Monolith
New Avalon, Zeta Cygni, Cygnus sector
At first glance, it seemed like the decorators at the Monolith must be asleep at the switch. It was nearly a full week after Christmas, but the hotel's huge atrium was still awash in holiday-themed finery. Fake snow covered the elegant marble floor; silvery garland festooned the balconies and hung in swooping folds from the six-story-high ceiling; the decorative fountain in the middle of the room was frozen thanks to a small miracle of cryonics technology. In one corner, a festively ramshackle prop hut with a sign reading "SANTA'S WORKSHOP" discreetly hid the freight elevator. Next to the frozen fountain stood a six-foot-tall wooden pole, striped white and red like a giant candy cane. This had been topped with another sign, this one reading "NORTH POLE", but the sign now lay broken next to the pole.
The reason for that was plain to see. Lying at the pole's base was the sprawled body of a young woman dressed in a high-collared green satin bodysuit and not much else. Closer inspection revealed that she wasn't just lying by the pole; in fact, it jutted rakishly through her upper torso, and not all the red striping was paint. Hideously incongruous amid the jolly surroundings, she lay impaled, arms and legs outflung, her glazed green eyes staring uselessly up at the constellation of garland hanging from the upper levels.
Criminalist-Inspector Eric Delko, part of the day shift crew out of the International Police Organization's crime lab, stood holding his field kit and trying to wrap his head around the scene. In his several years as a crime scene investigator, he'd seen all kinds of weird things, but this... this was special. He could tell just by his initial survey of the scene that this would be a case to write home to his sisters about.
"You gotta be kidding me," he said.
Next to him, Calleigh Duquesne took in the scene with an air of, if not disbelief, at least bemusement.
This, it had to be admitted, wasn't so much for the victim herself - people found all sorts of strange ways to get killed, and falling onto a pole wasn't that weird - so much as for the background. A dead woman stuck on a pole was one thing. A dead woman stuck on a pole in a room full of Santa Clauses... that was another.
"There must be hundreds of them," she murmured.
"Six hundred seventy-four, to be exact," said Natalia Boa Vista as she came up behind her two colleagues, tucking her notebook away in her inside jacket pocket as she did so.
"What are they doing here?" Delko asked. "Christmas was last week."
"It's ClausCon," Natalia replied. "The annual Santa convention. Every year, after the holiday's over with, the Santas of the galaxy converge on the Monolith to compare notes, trade industry gossip, and unwind."
"Okay, that's just weird," Calleigh said.
"Ladies and gentleman," said Criminalist-Superintendent Horatio Caine, the day shift's leader, as he appeared from the lobby. "What've we got?"
Detective Sergeant Frank Tripp, the New Avalon Police Department's lead investigator on the case, consulted his notes. "The victim's name is Melinda Barnett. She's 34, works as an event coordinator for the hotel. The management says she went off-duty last night at 10:30 and nobody on staff saw her after that... until the hotel staff went to reopen the atrium for today's part of the program."
Caine nodded and stepped past his investigators to get a closer look. For a few seconds, he stood with hands on hips, taking a long look around, from the body of the unfortunate Melinda Barnett to the frozen fountain to the crowd of murmuring onlookers behind the yellow tape - a crowd of onlookers like any other, except for the singular and rather startling fact that they were all dressed like Santa Claus.
"Is she a Vulcan?" Eric wondered. "She's got pointed ears."
"No, the blood's red," Natalia pointed out. "They must be some kind of prosthetic. Stage makeup, maybe."
"I guess she's supposed to be one of Santa's elves," Calleigh mused.
Slipping on a pair of dataglasses, Horatio looked up and let the glasses' rangefinder function tell him the distance from the body's location to each of the five balconies ringing the atrium. Then, removing the glasses, he looked down at Melinda Barnett's body again.
"Someone," he observed, "decked more than the halls."/* The Who
"Won't Get Fooled Again"
Who's Next */
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
CSI: New Avalon - The Day Shift
Benjamin D. Hutchins
from an idea by
© 2007 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
The fourth and newest member of Caine's team, Constable Ryan Wolfe, arrived a minute or so later, accompanied by Dr. Alexx Woods, the IPO's day-shift medical examiner. As they crossed the tape barrier and approached the scene, Wolfe stopped for a moment, like his colleagues, to just take it all in for a moment.
"Well, there's something you don't see every day," he said, sounding impressed.
"Mr. Wolfe," said Caine, his voice mild but reproachful.
"Hm? Oh. Sorry," Wolfe replied.
Dr. Woods put down her equipment case and knelt next to the body. In contrast to Wolfe, who was visibly grappling with an inappropriate humor response, she was deadly serious, her fine, dark features set in a look of compassion and regret.
"Aw, honey," she said quietly to the dead woman while going about the formality of ascertaining death. "What happened? Were you naughty or nice?" She shook her head. "Even if you were naughty, you didn't deserve this." Straightening up, she turned to Horatio. "Looks like a straight impalement - exsanguination - but I won't know for sure until I get her across the street. One thing I can tell you now is that she's been dead five to six hours."
"Okay, thank you, Alexx," Horatio replied.
"What are we going to do about this pole?" Eric wondered. "It's too tall to go in the coroner's van... "
"See if we can separate it from its base, pull it the rest of the way through, and send it to Trace?" Natalia hazarded.
Horatio nodded. "Very carefully, and only after we get as much as we can from it where it is."
"I'll start talkin' to the Santas," Sgt. Tripp declared. "See if anybody might've had a beef with this lady."
"Okay, keep me posted, Frank," said Horatio.
"I'll get started on the scene scans for holo-reconstruction," Calleigh said, breaking open her kit.
"Good," Horatio agreed, nodding. "Eric, Natalia, see what you can get from the pole and the body. Mr. Wolfe, you take the photos."
"You got it," said Wolfe, unlimbering his camera.
While his colleagues busied themselves with their assigned tasks and Caine cruised off to see how Tripp was getting along, Wolfe ranged around the scene, taking pictures from every angle he could find, from long overviews to high-zoom detail shots. It was while getting one of the overviews that the full weirdness of the situation seemed to hit him. Standing not far from the North Pole, he lowered the camera and looked around the room with an expression not too far from wonder on his face.
"So this is Christmas," he mused, causing Delko to suppress a snort of laughter. "What? What's so funny?"
"Nothing, Ryan. Nothing. Don't worry about it," Delko replied, nearly laughing again when he caught the you're-busted smirk Natalia was throwing him over the body. They were still getting used to Wolfe; the new guy had some oddities, mostly attributable to the fact that he was a Charismatic Vulcan and not entirely used to living in general galactic society yet. He was a good investigator and most of the time managed to seem more or less like a regular guy, but sometimes he had flashes of... well, of Vulcanness that were all the more incongruous coming from a guy who liked ugly sport coats and basketball.
"By the way, Eric... what's with the elk?" Wolfe asked, pointing to the several antlered animals standing in a pen next to Santa's Workshop.
Delko looked, then shook his head. "Those are reindeer," he said. "You know... Santa Claus? Reindeer?" At Wolfe's blank look, he added, "What were you, raised by wolves?"
"Was that a crack about my name?"
Wolfe still looked puzzled. "Otherwise the remark doesn't make sense. If I had been raised by carnivorous predators, odds are I'd recognize a prey animal like that easily."
Delko just looked at him for a second, then went back to work.
"I got trace," Natalia announced a few seconds later. "Oh... hey." Sounding troubled, she looked up and met Eric's puzzled eyes. "Red fuzz and black shoe polish. You know what that means."
"Yeah." Delko sat back on his haunches and looked around the room with a sigh. "It means somewhere in all this jollity... we've got ourselves one bad Santa."
Frank Tripp eyed the ID card the de facto leader of the 674 Santas had just handed him. "Your name is really Kris Kringle?" he asked, his voice soaked with skepticism.
"I legally changed it more than 20 years ago," Kringle replied. "I just can't believe it," he went on, dismay written all over his jolly round face. "I can't imagine anyone would want to hurt Melinda. It must have been some kind of terrible accident."
"Not according to the medical examiner," said Tripp. He consulted his PDA, which had just received Alexx Woods's preliminary report a few minutes before.
"But what else could it have been? She must have fallen from one of the balconies by accident, she must have. No one here would do a thing like that."
"She wasn't killed by the fall," Calleigh told him. "She was strangled."
Kringle blinked, aghast. "Strangled?" he whispered.
"Yeah. We couldn't see the bruises until we got her back to the lab because of the collar of that costume she was wearing," Wolfe explained.
"Kind of hard for that to happen by accident," Tripp pointed out.
"But... that's impossible. No one here would do something like that!"
"So you keep saying. Why not? Because you're all just jolly old elves full of holiday goodwill?"
"No!" Kringle replied, a trifle scornfully. "Because everybody in our community loves... loved... Melinda. She's coordinated ClausCon for the past six years. Every year she gets us something even better for the North Pole here. This year it was the reindeer."
"Too many reindeer," another Santa remarked, his voice a bit snide, as he passed on his way to the station where Natalia and Eric were fingerprinting and photographing all the congoers.
"What'd he mean by that?" Calleigh asked Kringle.
"Oh, that was Giles," said Kringle dismissively. "Giles Benderman. Lead Santa at Carpathian's Department Store. He's a p - " He seemed to change his mind about his choice of words just then, hesitating for a fraction of a second before continuing, " - purist. He's upset because there are nine reindeer. He thinks there should only be eight."
"What does it matter?" Wolfe asked, but Calleigh wore a look of comprehension.
"Because Rudolph isn't part of the original myth," she said.
"Right," said Kringle, nodding with a wink. "But he's most children's favorite, and those of us who understand the true spirit of Santa Claus welcome him because of that," he added, a bit huffily.
"Uh-huh, can we get back to the murder, please?" asked Tripp testily. "Do you know anything that might be helpful?"
"I'm sorry, Officer, I just don't," Kringle replied, shaking his head mournfully. "As I've told you, it's just inconceivable to me that anyone would wish Melinda harm. She was every Santa's favorite elf."
"Maybe a little too much so," Wolfe muttered, earning himself an elbow and a sharp look from Calleigh.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kringle wondered.
"It means we're gonna need your Santas to form a second line when they're done being printed and photographed," Tripp said.
"DNA samples? What in the universe would you need DNA samples - " His eyes went wide. "You must be joking."
"Uh, yeah, we make a standard practice of joking about that kind of thing," Wolfe said.
"Well," said Kringle, getting huffy again, "I hope you're looking at the hotel staff and other guests as well. You won't find a Santa responsible for that." He folded his arms. "It would be unfaithful to Mrs. Claus."
"Are these guys serious?" Wolfe asked as the four criminalists emerged from the elevator on the tenth floor of IPO Headquarters.
"As a heart attack," Calleigh replied.
"Come on, Wolfe, you of all people should understand the obsessive nature of fandom," Delko chided, grinning.
"I'm obsessive about weapon maintenance and lab procedure, not ancient pagan myth," Wolfe objected.
"I'm going to check in with Maxine," Natalia said.
"I'll see if there are any prints on the pole or the victim," Delko concurred.
"I'm on Trace," said Wolfe.
Calleigh looked faintly miffed. "Well," she said. "I guess I'll go read a book or something."
"Hey, it's not our fault our perp wasn't considerate enough to shoot anybody," said Eric, earning himself a mild whack on the shoulder.
Horatio Caine came back from lunch and started making the rounds of his lab, curious to see how his criminalists were getting along on the ClausCon case. He'd held himself more or less aloof from the early stages of the case on purpose, interested in seeing how well his crew could handle such a matter without his direct involvement.
His first stop was the DNA lab, where Calleigh and Natalia were trying to avoid seeming like they were looking over the shoulder of biochemist Maxine Valera.
Bending over a microscope, Valera didn't see him enter. "Yep," she declared with a note of satisfaction in her voice. "Definite swimmers." A slow smirk crept onto her lips. "Santa's little helpers."
"Ladies," Horatio said, making Valera jump and blush. Pretending he hadn't heard her remark (or Natalia's snort of amusement), he went on mildly, "What news?"
"Just finished sequencing the DNA samples from the victim, sir," Valera reported.
Horatio raised an eyebrow. "Samples? Plural?"
Valera nodded. "The semen sample from the rape kit is straightforward enough. No hits in COGENT. It's definitely from a human, most likely of Earth descent."
"Okay, so we can rule out all the non-human Santas, can't we," Horatio observed.
"There are non-human Santas?" said Calleigh, who hadn't noticed.
"Dozens of them. Didn't you see the Klingon?" Natalia wondered. "qrIS Q'tlhIngl. No joke."
"Scratch the Meltran, too," Valera noted. "Fake beard aside, she's, uh, unequipped for the job. Still, that leaves me with more than 400 swabs to compare with the sample. That's gonna take me... a while."
"What's the other sample?"
"Unknown biological trace, found on the upper chest, not far from the impalement wound," Valera said, frowning at a printout from the sequencer.
"Non-human?" Natalia wondered.
"Non-sapient," Valera replied, looking up from the printout with a troubled expression.
"... Oh my," said Calleigh.
Horatio smiled faintly. "I think," he said, "you may have a few more participants to swab."
He left them considering that and cruised on down the hall to the trace lab, where Ryan Wolfe and Eric Delko were consulting with chief laboratory scientist Barry Allen.
"Gentlemen. Eric, fingerprints?"
"Nothin'," Delko replied. "The only prints on the pole belong to the hotel's maintenance staff, which is legit enough - they're the ones who put the thing up. Nothing on the vic. On the other had, because the prints were a bust, Ryan and I had time to run a trajectory simulation with the holoscans Calleigh took."
Wolfe nodded. "Santa's favorite elf was thrown from the level-five balcony."
"Good work, gentlemen. How about the trace?"
"The fibers found on the victim's body are a cheap synthetic," Barry reported, proffering a composition report from the lab's analytic collider. "The kind of thing used in low-grade fake fur. The boot polish is similarly cheap, a formulation commonly used on patent leather."
"Hmm. Cheap fake fur and patent leather. So we may be looking for a low-rent Santa," Horatio mused.
Eric nodded in agreement. "A lot of these guys are serious players," he said. "They wear real furs, high-end boots, the works."
"All right, thank you, gentlemen."
"This is definitely a new one on me," Maxine Valera observed. She handed Calleigh a fresh printout from her lab's secondary sequencer. "And the winner is: Blitzen."
"Well," Calleigh remarked wryly, "at least it wasn't Rudolph. Hmm. Blitzen was the one who had biological material in his teeth, too, but there are no bites on the victim."
Valera shook her head. "That material's XY. I'm running a second comparison stream against our reference samples. No hits yet."
Calleigh looked over the printout at her biochemist colleague. "Do I even want to know if you've identified what the sample from the victim is?"
"Fortunately for your peace of mind and mine, it's saliva," said Valera.
"Yeah. My guess is, Blitzen licked your victim at some point shortly before or after she died."
"... Because human blood is salty," said Calleigh in a now-I-get-it tone.
"I don't see how it could've happened after death," Wolfe objected. "The North Pole was a good 50 feet from the reindeer pen."
"Yeah, but we know she was dead for at least a little while before she ended up on the pole," Natalia pointed out.
"Which means it might not have been blood the reindeer was licking in the first place," Delko mused. "She might just have been sweaty." He picked up his kit. "I'm going to go have a closer look at that reindeer pen."
"Uh-huh," said Eric with a grimly triumphant smile. He switched his CrimeLite to his left hand and dug around in his kit for a swab with his right. "Biological fluids on the floor here." He swabbed up a sample, then plugged the head of the swab into a port on his tricorder and tabbed his handlink. "Hey, Valera, I'm sending over a 560 scan of what I think is a mixed biological sample. Can you run it against your comparison stack real quick?"
"Sure," Valera's voice replied. "A 560 scan of genetic material won't get you very far in court, but it's good enough to move a field inquiry forward. Uh-huh... uh-huh... yeah. Looks like it's a match to the sample from the victim's SART kit, with a contribution from the victim, to boot. I guess wherever you got that is where the deed got done."
"Okay, thanks, Valera."
"Any time. Don't forget to get a second swab for comprehensive follow-up testing."
Delko grinned. "I have done this a time or two," he noted.
"Sorry. I'm a little paranoid about dotting Is and crossing Ts since my suspension," Valera replied glumly. "Anyway, the seq is about finished chewing on the first comparison. If any of these reference samples you guys brought me match the SART sample, I'll have an ID for you in a few minutes."
"Great, send it over as soon as you have it. Delko out." He stood up, dusting straw from his pants legs.
"Hmm," said Wolfe. "That's something. Did the vic have any straw on her?"
"Not that we could find at post," Natalia replied. "She must've been brushed off."
"Weird. Why rape and kill someone, then brush the straw off the body, lug her up to a fifth-floor balcony, and throw her onto a pole? Even by human standards that's not logical."
Eric opened his mouth to answer, or possibly to snark off about the racial dig, but before he could speak, his PDA chimed. He pulled it from his belt, regarded the screen for a moment, then grinned.
"Why don't we ask the guy that did it?"
"You think I had something to do with what happened to Melinda?" Giles Benderman inquired archly. Shorn of his stocking cap, padded fur jacket, and fake beard, he was a surprisingly young, surprisingly skinny specimen for a Santa, especially a traditionalist one.
"No, we know you did, smart guy," Frank Tripp shot back. "So why don't we cut the bull? Sometime last night - we figure right before she was killed - you had sex with Melinda Barnett in the reindeer pen."
"Given that you had a beef with her," Wolfe noted, "our guess is that sex wasn't consensual."
"And hey, what better way to stop something like that from getting reported than to kill the victim when you're done?" Natalia asked coldly.
"The only thing we can't figure is why the little kabuki show with the body afterward?" Tripp asked. "Your smart killer will hide a corpse, not make it more obvious."
Benderman stared at each of them in turn for a moment, his thin face a mask of disbelief - and then, to their surprise, he laughed.
"You think I raped Melinda?" he said. "Oh, that's rich. That really is." His amusement transmuting instantly to anger, he glared at Tripp and snarled, "She was my girlfriend, you bald-headed cretin! We always made a point of... enjoying ourselves - discreetly, of course - somewhere in the event area during ClausCon. It gave us a thrill."
Tripp gave him a skeptical look. "... And this year was the reindeer pen."
"See, that's interesting, 'cause we were given to understand that the reindeer were a point of contention between you two," Wolfe said.
"Pff. Because there were nine of them? Who told you that? That pompous twit Kringle, I suppose. I didn't like it, but I'd hardly kill someone over something like that." Benderman gave the young Vulcan a patronizing look. "A man can be a purist without being a fanatic, you know. Still, we did argue about it, I won't deny that. That's why we used the reindeer pen this year. Melinda thought it was funny, and so did I, to be honest." He folded his arms, his composure entirely regained. "No, I'm sorry, but you'll have to look elsewhere. You have the wrong Santa."
"What happened to your thumb, Mr. Benderman?" Natalia suddenly asked. Surprised, Benderman unfolded his arms and looked at his hands. His left thumb had a curious bend in it - the last joint was cocked at about a 30-degree angle to the right, away from the palm of the hand.
"I caught it in a bending brake years ago. Metal shop class in high school," he said. "I'm right-handed, so I decided to forego the expense of a proper reconstruction."
"Is that all? I assure you, Melinda was alive and well when I left her," Benderman told them. "And please believe me... nobody wants to see the bastard who did this caught more than I do."
As they left the interview room, Wolfe told Natalia, "Nice catch on that thumb thing. His hand doesn't match the bruise pattern on the victim's neck."
Natalia nodded. "He couldn't have strangled her."
"So where does that leave us?"
It was Horatio Caine, leaning against the doorframe of the trace lab, who answered.
"It leaves us looking," he said, "for a low-budget Santa with a grudge... and a more recent injury."
"Mr. Gharity, we have fibers from your costume and a smear of your boot polish on the victim's body," Horatio informed the considerably shabbier-looking Santa who took Benderman's place in the interview room. "And as Inspector Delko has just confirmed, the proportions of your hands match the bruises we found on Miss Barnett's neck."
"Would you care to explain that?" Tripp asked.
"No," Randall Gharity replied.
"Take off your jacket, please," Calleigh said.
Gharity glanced at her, drawing away instinctively. "Why?"
"Because I asked you nicely?" she said with a pleasant smile.
The smile vanished instantly from the Salusian investigator's pretty face. "Okay," she said, "then because I have a warrant for it, and if you don't take it off, I'll take it off you."
"I'd do as she says if I were you, Randall," said Tripp helpfully. Gharity glared at him, then slowly, reluctantly, did as he was told.
"That's a nasty bite you have there," Eric Delko observed as Gharity's upper right arm was revealed. Before Gharity could react, Eric snapped a photo of the injury, then jacked his camera into his PDA and overlaid the image on another in the mini-computer's memory. "And look at that. A perfect match." Looking from the screen to the Santa, he asked, "What did you do to make Blitzen so mad he took a chunk out of your arm?"
"How... how did you know?" Gharity asked.
"Blitzen," Horatio explained, "still had a little bit of you in his teeth, Randall. Now, reindeer don't eat meat, so there was only one way something like that could have gotten there."
"It's true what Kris Kringle told us," Calleigh said. "Everybody in the community really did love Melinda. Even the reindeer."
Gharity looked from one of his interrogators to the next, then fixed his eyes on Caine.
"She sullied the convention," he said. "Carrying on like that. It flew in the face of everything we stand for."
Horatio nodded. "And you couldn't take it any more. Is that it, Randall?"
"You don't know how hard it is," Gharity told him, his eyes desperate now. "Trying to get any respect in this business. Bring joy to children and hold your head up. All the snickering. All the stupid jokes about sitting in Santa's lap. 'What do you want for Christmas, little girl?' It makes me sick. And there's Melinda, everybody's favorite, carrying on with Benderman - a Santa who should know better! I begged her not to do it this year. Or at least to go to a room, not do it right in the middle of the venue. But she just laughed at me. I was on my way through the atrium after things shut down for the night, just to make sure everything was secure, and... there they were."
He waits for them to finish, averting his eyes, for he is no voyeur; indeed, their actions sicken him. He wants no part of them. Finally, they finish, and Benderman does up the fly of his chinos - he's in civvies, it's after hours - and leaves.
He only intends to remonstrate with her as he enters the pen to find her tidying up her costume - but the fact that she not only did this foul thing, but did it in her costume, ears and all - drives him into a rage. Before he has time to consciously think what he's doing, it's all over, and she's lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. The only thing that brings him back to consciousness of what he's doing is the sudden bolt of pain as the nearest reindeer sinks its teeth into his shoulder.
"Oh my God," he murmurs after shoving away the animal - which, fortunately, is docile enough now that it's made its displeasure felt. It seems more concerned with Melinda, anyway. Cautiously, in a manner that reminds him of a dog, it noses at her body, then gives her upper chest a tentative lick, as though trying to wake her.
"Oh my God," he repeats, falling to his knees. "Melinda, what have I done?"
Caine looked gently puzzled. "If killing her horrified you so much, Randall," he asked, "why did you mutilate her body afterward?"
"I... I wanted to make it look like an accident. I didn't mean for that... that grotesquerie with the pole to happen. I just wanted it to seem like she'd fallen. I've read that when someone's... strangled... it breaks a bone in their neck. Is that true?" Horatio nodded. "Well... I figured if she fell... enough bones would be broken that that wouldn't really stand out." He put his face in his hands. "But I slipped as I was trying to get her over the railing... "
"Dead weight is harder to maneuver than a living person," said Eric. "A lot of killers underestimate how hard it is to move a body."
"I slipped and... pushed her off harder than I intended. And she... fell on the pole. Oh, God. It was horrible." Uncovering his face, Gherity turned beseeching eyes on his interrogators. "I was only trying to defend the holiday. They were... they were defiling the spirit of Santa's workshop."
Horatio stood up and regarded Gherity with a combination of pity and reproach.
"Somehow, Randall," he said, "I doubt that spirit is very accommodating of murder, either. Take him, Frank."Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
CSI: New Avalon - The Day Shift
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
from an idea by Chad Collier
CSI: Miami created by
Anthony E. Zuiker
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
E P U (colour) 2007