Authors: Max Allan Collins
“Nothing jumped out?”
“Nothing except how undisturbed the place isâand how much like the Sandred scene it is, in that respect.”
“I'll go over it more closely, but my guess is the murderer never went into any of the other rooms.”
“A guess, Gris? What next? A vision?”
“A third corpse, if we don't do our jobs better than we have so far.”
“I hear that.” Warrick clicked another photo, then shook his head. “This guy is definitely out there. You realize the kinda gear he left behind? Televison alone is worth a couple G's.”
“Sometimes a killer's pathology won't allow him to steal, even though he's committed murder. It would somehow desecrate the sacredness of the act.”
“Yeah, yeah I know,” Warrick said, “but the guy has to be
nuts to leave a nice TV like that behind.”
They exchanged small, wry smiles, and went to work their separate ways.
After finishing the photos, Warrick took a sample of the semen. Then he carefully removed the rope, and turned the body over.
That was when Warrick saw something clutched in the fingers of the stiffening handâsomething that had been out of sight beneath the body.
“Hey, Gris! â¦ You better come get a load of this.”
Moments later, at Warrick's side, Grissom was looking down at the hand. “You get a picture?”
The body was getting heavy, but Warrick made no complaint as he held it up. “Not yet.”
Grissom picked up Warrick's camera and snapped off three quick photos.
“Go ahead and roll him all the way over,” the supervisor said.
Warrick eased the body to the floor, pulled a forceps out of his crime-scene kit and knelt next to the victim. As he moved closer and studied the card, Warrick could see that the object was a magnetic key of the type used by virtually every hotel in town and many businesses. Typically, this one had a magnetic strip down one end, with standard directions.
Using his forceps carefully, Warrick got the card by its edge, doing his best not to disturb any fingerprints. After he eased it from the dead man's fingers, Warrick turned the card over: Five words were printed in blue letters on the white plastic â¦
Property of Las Vegas Banner.
“Well, that's not good,” Warrick said.
Holding the card up, Warrick remarked, “Usually I like finding clues, don't you?”
Grissom's eyes were tight.
Warrick expected a typically dry comment from his chief, but all he got was: “We better get Brass back over hereâright away.”
Nick Stokes searched the aquamarine halls of CSI for Catherine. The low-key lighting sometimes worked against the nightshift, encouraging sleepiness; but considering the harshness of what they were frequently up against, Nick didn't mind the soothing atmosphere.
When they had started looking into the old CASt cases, the first problem to crop up had been that they couldn't find addresses on two suspects (the ones not exiled to a mental hospital). Now, after hours of digging, he had an address for one, but right now it looked like Nick might be filling out a missing persons report on his coworker.
He had just pulled his cell phone off his belt when Catherine stepped out of a restroom, a heavy folder under one arm.
She saw him coming and gave him a chagrined grin and a chuckle. “Quietest place to read in the whole building.”
Thinking about the men's room across the hall, Nick shook his head. With the heavy men-to-women ratio in the LVPD, he couldn't say the same.
“Find anything?” she asked.
Nick said, “How about an address for Phillip Carlson?”
“Our gay basher â¦ where?”
“On Baltimore, near the Sphere.”
“What are we waiting for?”
“Brass and Damon to get back, maybe? You know,
the detectives aren't crazy about having CSIs outside of the lab, running looseâ¦.”
Catherine considered that, then shook her head. “Grissom put us on the old cases, and we'll look into the old cases. Anyway, Brass isn't a stickler on that policy. With the workload like it is, can you see hauling a detective off a current case while we run out the ground balls on the old ones?”
“Wow,” Nick said. “You trying to convince me, or yourself?”
She smiled and shrugged. “I dunnoâbut I'm convinced.”
“Me too,” Nick grinned. “But let's call for a black-and-white to meet us there anyway.”
Carlson's apartment was in a building that looked like a two-story stucco motel from the fifties that had gone to pot decades ago without anybody doing anything about it in the intervening years.
Nick, behind the wheel, said, “Nice digs our boy has for himself.”
Nick parked the Tahoe on the street, hoping it would still be there when they got back; then the two CSIs made their way up the outside stairs and across the concrete walkway of the second floor.
Somewhere in the neighborhood, somebody had the bass on their car stereo turned up way too loud, and although Nick knew most of the new music on the streetâprided himself on thatâthe distortion
made it impossible for him to identify the rapper in question.
Catherine knocked on the door of apartment 2E and they waited for an answer that did not come.
Nick put his ear to the orange-paint-peeling door, but heard nothing. He stood back, shrugged at Cath, then knocked, louder this time.
And again, they waited.
Nick had just pounded on it the third time when the next door over swung open and a figure leaned out.
“What the hell do you want?” called a rail-thin white dude, a sixties flashback in a white tank-style undershirt and jeans that had faded not by fashion statement, threatening to slide down his narrow skeleton at any moment.
He was an eternal “kid” of maybe fifty, with graying, unkempt hippie-ish hair and green eyes so cloudy, it might have been raining inside his skull. He'd shaved sometime this month but not this week.
As they moved closer to apartment 2D, the aroma of marijuana wafted their way.
Gone to pot is right,
Nick displayed his credentials and a polite smile and said, “Stokes, Willows. We're from the Crime Lab.”
The cloudy eyes widened. “Something bad go down around this place? I didn't hear about it!”
Catherine had a polite smile going, too. “Could you step out here, please?”
The skinny dude stepped out onto the walkway and Nick maneuvered himself so he was between the guy and Catherine.
The dude slowly pulled the door to 2D closed, probably hoping he could do so without them noticing.
“We're looking for Phillip Carlson,” Catherine said over Nick's shoulder.
The guy reared back a little. “You found him. How can I help Vegas Five-oh? You protect, I serve.”
“By answering a few questions,” Catherine said.
Carlson turned his attention to her, appraising her with a kind of amused confusion, as if he couldn't make out why a good-looking woman like this would be a cop. “I got nothin' to hide, Sweetcheeks. Ask away.”
“It's Willows. Could we talk somewhere more private?”
Eyes flicking uncomfortably toward his closed apartment door, he said, “We could do that.”
When Carlson took no further action, Nick nodded toward 2D and said, “Private, as in there?”
Carlson shook his head so rapidly he might have been trying to clear the cobwebs. “That's not my place, man.”
Nick gave him the friendly smile that wasn't really friendly. “Whose is it?”
“My lady friend. She's, uh â¦ not decent.”
That Nick could believe.
Carlson pointed a knobby finger. “You were at the right door, before. Let's go down to my crib.”
They slid nearer the rusty metal rail, to allow Carlson room to edge by and lead the way, as an amused Nick raised an eyebrow at Catherine, whose eyes were large with skepticism.
“Sorry,” Carlson said, as he unlocked the door and swung it open. “Maid's day off.”
He entered the dark apartment, followed by Catherine and Nick.
The curtains were pulled tight and very little light seeped in other than through the open door. Carlson flipped a wall switch, and a two-bulb overhead fixture that apparently housed Carlson's dead-bug collection bathed the minuscule living room in odd gray-tinged illumination.
Looking around at this world-class mess, Nick figured the “crib” hadn't been cleaned since the Rat Pack had ruled the Strip. The CSI had entered the dwellings of obsessive-compulsives before, but taking in this prime example of the form, he fought the urge to pull on his latex gloves.
The only furnishings were a ratty sofa, two TV trays, and a twenty-five-inch television. The walls were bare, but everything else looked like the aftermath of an explosion at a landfill. Fast-food bags and cups littered the TV trays, the top of the television, and most of the pathways through the apartment. Beyond the living room, Nick could see a small dining table with a mountain of fast-food detritus and two chairs inside a tiny alcove that had once served as a dining room.
To Nick's left ran a short hallway that led to one or two bedrooms. The most striking feature of the dump, however, was the thigh-high piles of newspapers that lined the walls and took up much of the floor space.
don't let this ever be a crime sceneâ¦.
“Sit anywhere” Carlson said, plopping onto the sofa on top of various fast-food sacks.
Nick and Catherine chose to standânot as if there really were any seating optionsâ¦.
The apartment smelled of urine, dope, and puke. Nick had had less trouble keeping his eyes from watering at dead-body decomposition sites.
Forcing himself to focus, he asked, “Mr. Carlson, do you know a man named Marvin Sandred?”
Carlson's eyes narrowed as he riffled through the Rolodex of his alleged mind, his face otherwise as blank as the walls of his apartment. “Nope. Don't think so. That all? That was easy!”
“How about Enrique Diaz?” Catherine asked.
Something that might have been thought glimmered in Carlson's eyes. “Listen, uh â¦ cooperating with the Five-oh, that was my New Year's resolution back in '99. So I'm trying to be â¦ helpful.”
Nick said, “We appreciate that.”
“But before I say anything else, I thought it's, you know, fair for me to ask you what this is all about, anywayâ¦.”
“It's part of an ongoing investigation,” Nick said
meaninglessly. “It's not a trick question, Mr. Carlsonâdo you or don't you know someone named Enrique Diaz?”
“Greek to meâeven if it is Spanish.” Carlson smiled to himself, savoring his wit probably in much the way he had savored the former contents of the scattered fast-food bags. “Heyâwhat
Catherine said, “Murder.”
“Whoa!” Holding up his hands, Carlson shook his head. “I didn't kill nobody.”
“That's not what you've told the police over the years,” Nick said. “You've confessed to what, twenty-one murders?”
“Hey, I was messed up when I was a kid, but I got help. I got medication.”
Catherine's smile seemed cheerful. “Like the âmedication' we smelled next door?”
Carlson's hands went to his eyes, covering them, then slid slowly down his face, pulling the flesh in a melting effect; it did not go well with what he said: “I'm straight, I tell you. That was incense, not weed.”
One look at the man's dilated pupils told Nick another story.
Nick said, “My guess is the last time you were straight, the Beatles were still together.”
Carlson came up off the couch, his hands reaching up like claws, his eyes wide and wild.
Nick and Catherine both drew back in surprise at
the sudden outburst. But only for a secondâNick gave Carlson a not-so-gentle push.
“Sit back down, Charlie Manson,” Nick said, “and chill out.”
The hands lowered, the shoulders slumped, the eyelids slipped to half-mast; he looked like a puppet hanging by a string or two. “You just â¦ you got to me, manâ¦. Hurts my feelings.”
Nick said, “You have my sincerest apologies. Now, sit â¦ back â¦
Carlson swallowed and nodded and did as Nick said. Slumping, elbows on his knees, head in his hands, their host said, “I â¦ was â¦ was just trying to tell you, I'm not that guy anymore. It â¦ bums me out when people, you know â¦ think that. I worked hard to straighten my ass out!”
Catherine said, “Well, since you're not 'that guy' anymore, you won't mind if we have a look around.”
Shooting a quick look to the hallway, Carlson said, “Uh â¦ I still got some rights, don't I? Or is this more of that Patriot Act b.s.?”
“I'll stay with him, Cath,” Nick said. “You call for the search warrant.”
Carlson looked stricken; he raised his hands. “You guys â¦ come on â¦ it's not what it