Read Binding Ties Online

Authors: Max Allan Collins

Binding Ties (3 page)

“Gil,” he said as they shook. “Been a while.”

“Yes it has,” Grissom said, offering up a noncommital smile.

“Checked inside yet?”

The CSI supervisor shook his head. “Just got here. All we know is it's a 420.”

Damon shrugged. “Which is what I know. Guess we better get informed….”

“Always a good policy.”

While Grissom's team unloaded their gear from the back of their vehicles, a stocky, sawed-off uniformed cop walked over from the front door of the bungalow to join them. He carried a click-top ballpoint pen in one hand and a notebook in the other. His nametag said
LOGAN
. An African-American of forty or so, he wore his hair trimmed short, which minimized the tiny patches of gray here and there. He stood just above the minimum height requirement, making the tall Damon seem towering.

Logan nodded to Grissom but gave his attention to his own department's detective.

“Hey, Henry,” Damon said.

“Hey, Bill.”

So much for small talk.

Logan smirked humorlessly, nodding back at the house. “Got a real ugly number for you in there. Guy murdered in his living room—but I sure don't call that living.”

Grissom asked, “You've been inside?”

Logan nodded, shrugged. “Don't worry—your evidence oughta be waiting, and plenty of it. All I did
was clear the place and make sure the killer was gone. One path in, one path out.”

“Good,” Grissom said, looking toward the house again.

No screen and the front door yawned wide.

“Did you open that door, Officer Logan?” Grissom asked.

“Hell no. Do I look like—”

“Have you done this before? Cleared a murder scene?”

“Had my fair share of bodies over the years. And this is the kind of corpse you don't trip over or anything—guy's in plain sight from the front doorway, and dead as shit.”

Grissom's smile was so small it barely qualified. “Officer, I don't care how many murders you've covered, our victim deserves more respect than that.”

Logan looked at Grissom like the CSI was from outer space.

Damon asked, “You're
sure
he's dead?”

Logan gave the detective a vaguely patronizing look. “Hey, I been doin' this a long time, Bill. Like I said, this guy's dead as … can be—or I'd have an ambulance here and we'd be wheeling him out. Take a look for yourself.”

But Grissom wasn't satisfied with the background yet. “How did the call come in?”

“Next-door neighbor,” Logan said, jerking a
thumb over his shoulder. “She went out to the street to get her mail …”

Logan pointed at the row of mailboxes running along the curb.

The cop continued: “… then our neighbor lady glanced over and saw the door open. The guy who lives here …” He checked his notebook. “… guy who
lived
there, Marvin Sandred, usually worked during the day. So, when the neighbor, woman named …” He checked his notebook again. “… Tammy Hinton, saw the door standing open, she went to check on the place. One gander at the body and she phoned us.”

Grissom asked, “She said it was Sandred?”

“Yeah.”

“We should talk to her.”

“Yeah,” Damon said, as if reminding everyone, including himself, that he was in charge, “we should talk to her right away.”

“I can cover that,” Logan said, but shook his head. “I'm just not sure it'll do any good, right now. She was pretty shook up, which is why I sent her home. Anything else you need?”

“No, Henry,” Damon said. “Thank you.”

Logan frowned at Grissom. “All due respect, Dr. Grissom—I know who you are, everybody does—I don't appreciate you going all self-righteous on me.”

With no inflection, Grissom said, “Then don't use terms like ‘dead as shit' to describe a murder victim.”

Logan's indignation faded to embarrassment. “Yeah, okay. Point taken. No harm, no foul?”

“Not yet,” Grissom said.

Logan headed to the neighbor's house, while Damon said, “You ready to check this out?”

“Yes.”

Grissom started for the house, the CSIs and the North Las Vegas cops trailing in his wake. Over his shoulder, he said, “Nick, you take the backyard—Warrick, the front.”

“You got it, Gris,” Nick said.

Warrick just nodded.

While the two CSIs peeled off, Grissom, Catherine, and Sara—trailed by Detective Damon—pressed on to the front door atop a two-step stoop. At the threshold, he stopped.

“Sara,” Grissom said, as he and the others snugged on their latex gloves, “let's see if there are any prints on the doorbell.”

She nodded and stepped off to the side. Like the other CSIs, she had lugged along her tool-kit-style crime-scene case, which she set down on the concrete, and got to it.

Grissom led the way through the front door, Catherine right behind; Damon was lingering on the porch, watching Sara work, making conversation that she wasn't taking much part in.

The house was dark, curtains drawn, lights off. In the gloom, Grissom could nonetheless see that the living room was to the right, the kitchen
through a doorway to the back and a hallway, at the rear of the living room, led to the bedrooms and bathroom.

Next to him, Catherine clicked on her mini-flash. There could be no turning on of lights until the switches and their plates had been dusted for prints. She used the beam to highlight doorways, then settled on the corpse, at right.

The living room stank of death in general; sweat, urine, and excrement, in particular. With its scant rent-to-own furnishings—a sofa, a coffee table, a TV at an angle in the far corner, and a couple of end tables—the room seemed as lonely inside as the house had from out. A lamp on one end table seemed to be the only potential light source, other than a picture window behind drawn curtains. Newspapers, some mail, a couple of carry-out containers cluttered the coffee table; otherwise, the room was clean—not counting the body sprawled in the middle of the floor.

The first detail Grissom picked up on was a pool of blood near one of the hands, where the index finger had been amputated. Grissom got his own mini-flash out and its beam looked around, but there was no sign of the digit. Perhaps the killer had taken a souvenir.

“I'll work the body,” Grissom said, “while you do the rest of the house.”

Catherine glanced down at the victim. “He's all yours…. Wasn't exactly in charge of his own destiny when he died, either.”

“Might have something significant here,” Grissom said, as he swept with the mini-flash around the body, not wanting to disturb any evidence when he drew nearer.

Catherine arched an eyebrow. “You think?”

She turned toward the hallway as Detective Damon finally made his way inside the house. Pulling up short, he winced, nostrils flaring before he quickly covered them. “Whoa—well, isn't
that
nasty?”

“Victim evacuated at death,” Grissom said matter-of-factly.

Between the man's spread legs, feces pooled in urine. Grissom was long since used to this, but what bothered him most was that these strong odors could blot out other, subtler, more important ones.

From the corridor, Catherine said, “I'll start in the kitchen.” Her crime-scene case swinging at her side, Catherine disappeared through the doorway.

Color had drained from the detective's face; perhaps the word “kitchen” had in this context given him a bad moment.

“You need me here?” he asked with an audible gulp.

“You'll just be in the way,” Grissom said.

“I mean, it is
my
crime scene….”

Grissom gave him a firm look. “No it's not—it's mine. Let me process it, then we'll talk … outside.”

The detective desired to take the argument no further; he practically sprinted out the front door.

Returning his attention to the body on the floor, Grissom started by getting the big picture.

A Caucasian man between forty-five and fifty, he estimated; the victim was nude, prone, on his stomach, a rope around his neck. The index finger of his right hand had been severed and—so far, indications were—taken away. The man's head was to one side, giving Grissom a view of a telling touch by the murderer: the deceased's lips had been painted with a garish red lipstick.

A CSI always kept an eye out for
modus operandi;
but seldom was a signature so explicit. The normally detached Grissom felt a chill, but it had nothing to do with fear or even revulsion—he just knew he had to make a phone call on this one. A friend was affected by this.

But, his nature being his nature, he decided to work the scene first.

The vic had probably been asphyxiated, but Grissom knew better than to make that more than a working hypothesis, and would wait for the coroner, to make the final call on cause of death.

Grissom got his camera from his stainless steel crime-scene kit, and started taking pictures. First he did the room, then the body, then close-ups of the body. It took a while, but he had long ago learned patience, and even though thoughts flooded his mind, Grissom held himself to the standard of quick-but-not-hurried. He forced the impending phone call to the back of his mind and continued his work.

After a while, Sara came into the room. Unlike the detective, she reacted not at all to what a civilian would consider a stench, but which a professional crime scene analyst would consider par for the course. Nor did anything but the faintest trace of sadness—even pros were allowed compassion—cross her wide, pretty mouth.

Then she said, “Got a partial off the bell, couple partials off the knob.”

“It's a start,” Grissom said.

“What's Catherine up to?”

Grissom glanced at her, a little mischief in his faint smile. “Woman's place is in the kitchen.”

She grinned, grunted a laugh. “You wish…. This one's … specific, isn't it?”

“It is that.”

“Doesn't ring any of my bells, though. How about yours, Grissom?”

“They toll for him,” he said, nodding toward the victim, but explained no further.

Sara didn't expect him to, and didn't press it, saying, “Okay I head over next door, to join our detective and officer? They're interviewing the neighbor, and I'd like to print her, get her eliminated. Partial on the bell might be hers, y'know.”

“Might. You do that.”

“… There's never a good way, is there?”

“What?”

“To get murdered.”

“No,” Grissom admitted. “But this strikes me as one of the least desirable.”

“I hear that,” she said, and strode out.

He smiled to himself, pleased at how unfazed by the crime scene she'd been. He had picked Sara personally, when a CSI had been killed on the job and needed replacing; she'd been a student who excelled at his seminars, and he'd been impressed and sought her out and brought her in, and she had not disappointed.

On the other hand, he was disappointed in himself, sometimes, as his affection for this bright young woman had on occasion threatened to take him over the professional line.

And that was a line Gil Grissom did not wish to cross.

The supervisor returned his attention to the dead body.

Some sort of liquid pooled on the victim's back and he bent down to take a closer look.

Little sailors,
he thought, as he took a photo of the semen gathered at the small of the victim's back. Setting the camera aside, he then swabbed a small portion of the fluid for DNA testing later. Something about the sample troubled him, though; this was part of the M.O. he had recognized, but it was a little … off.

Then he had it: The fluid on the back was meant to suggest that the killer had masturbated onto the
victim, but the semen pooled neatly in that one spot on the vic's back.

It's been poured there,
Grissom thought with a grim smile.

If the killer had ejaculated, in a sick frenzy attached to the murder, the result would hardly have been one tidy little pool. Most likely, other droplets would be here and there, spattered….

He bagged the semen sample, finished taking his photos, swabbed the blood in the rug, and went over the body for any trace evidence. He found nothing. The last thing he did was carefully remove the rope and bag it. When he had completed his initial pass at the body, he withdrew his cell phone and punched the speed dial.

On the second ring, a brusque voice answered: “Jim Brass.”

“I've got something you need to see,” Grissom said, without identifying himself. “It's not in your jurisdiction, but it's right up your alley.”

“Cute, Gil. But haven't you heard? I'm on vacation.”

“Really kicking back, are you?”

Silence; no, not silence: Grissom, detective that he was, could detect a sigh….

“You know as well as I do,” Brass said. “I'm bored out of my mind.”

“You know, people who live for their work should seek other outlets.”

“What, like collecting bugs? Gil—what have you got?”

“An oldie but baddie—I wasn't with you on it … kind of before our time, together.”

“What are you
talking
about?”

“The one you never forget—your first case.”

The long pause that followed contained no sigh. Not even a breath. Just stony silence.

Then Brass said, “You're not talking about my first case back in Jersey, are you?”

“No. I've got a killing out here in North Las Vegas that shares a distinctive M.O. with your
other
first case.”

“Christ. Where are you exactly?”

“Just getting started.”

“I mean the address!”

“Oh,” Grissom said, and gave it to him.

“Twenty minutes,” Brass said and broke the connection.

The homicide captain made it in fifteen.

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