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For veteran investigator Gil Grissom and company, Las Vegas crime scene cases are never simple. The experts' cutting-edge scientific methods and old-fashioned detective work must work overtime as they struggle to make sense of the evidence behind the yellow police tape. FULLER DESCRIPTION TO COME
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MAX ALLAN COLLINS is a two-time winner of the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award and his graphic novel THE ROAD TO PERDITION was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A sense of frustration rarely registered on the personal radar of Catherine Willows. Frustrating situations were so much a part of the fabric of her life by now that she could have long since gone mad had she let such things get to her. But at the moment, the sensation was registering, all right. In fact, she felt herself growing quietly pissed.
This was the tail end of yet another shift, and she and fellow Las Vegas Metro P.D. crime scene investigator Nick Stokes, who was at the wheel of the Tahoe, had been dispatched to take a 404 call -- unknown trouble -- at a business past the south end of the Strip. Unknown trouble could mean just about anything from petty theft to multiple homicides.
But what it definitely meant was another Monday morning where Mrs. Goodwin, the sitter, would have to get Lindsey up and off to school. Catherine's own childhood had often been spent waiting for her mother to come home, and she had hoped to do better for her own daughter. But she was a woman with many responsibilities. Once again, she would just have to tough it out. And be quietly pissed.
The Newcombe-Gold Advertising Agency, their destination, occupied a two-story, mostly glass building on West Robindale just off Las Vegas Boulevard, a couple miles south of the Mandalay Bay and the unofficial end of the Strip.
Newcombe-Gold had joined the new construction craze hitting that part of the city and even though the agency had been a fixture on the ad scene since the seventies, the building was a recent addition to that expanding urban landscape. Tinted windows gave the building a blackness in the morning sun, imparting a vaguely ominous vibe to Catherine, as she and Nick pulled into the gray-white welcome mat of a concrete parking lot, stretching across the building's blank black facade.
The small lot had room for between twenty and thirty cars, but aside from a dark blue Taurus (which Catherine recognized as a LVMPD detective's unmarked car), two patrol cars, and their own CSI Tahoe, only three other cars took up parking spaces.
Nick Stokes parked the Tahoe in a visitor's space near the front entry and Catherine crawled down while her partner hopped out on his side -- Nick was young enough, she guessed, not to feel the long night they'd just finished.
The tan and brown silk scarf -- a Mother's Day present last year from Lindsey -- flipped momentarily into her face, as if the breeze couldn't resist laying on another guilt pang. Her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair whipped in the wind and she grimaced, wishing she were home. She stood nearby as Nick opened up the rear doors of the Tahoe.
Tall, muscular in a fashion befitting the ex-jock he was, Nick Stokes smiled over his shoulder at her, for no particular reason. His short black hair barely moved in the wind and the eagerness in his face made him look like a happy puppy. Catherine sometimes wondered if maybe he liked his job a little too much.
"Too early for admen to be at work?" Catherine said, casting her gaze around the mostly empty lot.
"Not even eight yet," Nick said, glancing at his watch. "Big shots'll be at least another hour -- rest should be filtering in, any time."
"What kind of trouble, I wonder," Catherine sighed.
"Unknown trouble," Nick said, a smile in his eyes.
"Don't tease me at the end of shift."
"I would never tease you, Catherine. I have too much respect for you."
"Kiss my..." Catherine began, but she found herself almost smiling -- damn him.
She grabbed the tool-kit-like stainless steel case containing her crime-scene gear, and led the way to the entry. A painfully young-looking patrolman, whose nametag identified him as McDonald, opened the door for her. The uniform man was tall and broad-shouldered, and you could smell recent-police-academy-grad on him like a new car. His brown hair was clipped high and tight and his smile also seemed a little excessive, considering the hour.
"Morning, guys," he said, with a familiarity that didn't negate the fact that neither CSI had ever seen him before.
"Thanks," she said as she entered, making her own smile pleasant enough but of the low-wattage variety.
"What's his problem?" she asked Nick when they were out of earshot.
"Aw, lighten up, Cath. He's chipper, that's all. You know these young guys. They haven't had time to get cynical."
Neither have you, Catherine thought, then said, "Well, I wonder how long it'll take him to stop opening doors for CSIs."
"CSIs that look like you, probably never....You'll make it up to her, you know."
The non sequitur caught Catherine's full attention. "What?"
Nick shrugged, and his smile was tiny, without a trace of smirk. "Lindsey. She's cool. You'll be fine. Let's do our job -- maybe I'll even buy you breakfast, after."
She gave up and smiled at him. "Maybe I'll even let you."
They were in a spacious lobby, and even though the building glass was smoked, sunlight flooded in. Four chairs, three sofas and two tables arrayed with trade journals and newsmagazines dotted the long, narrow area inside the door. In the far corner, a wall-mounted counter held neat little towers of styrofoam cups and a coffee pot that filled the room with the fragrance of fresh-brewed Columbian-blend. Catherine knew that this -- unlike the sludge back at HQ -- would be the first pot of the day.
A high counter, reminiscent of a hotel check-in desk, crossed the opposite end of the room, the receptionist's tall chair empty; on top of the desk rested an appointment book and a telephone system that looked to be capable of launching missiles across continents. The wall behind was replete with various awards from the Nevada Advertising Council, the Southwest Advertising Coalition and two awards Catherine recognized as the Oscars of the ad game, Cleos.
To the left of the reception counter, far off to the side, another uniformed officer stood at the aperture of a hall leading into the warren of offices.
Something was in the air besides that Columbian blend.
The pleasantness of the uniformed man on the front door had been replaced by a chilliness that had nothing to do with air conditioning. Catherine wondered if Nick sensed it, and she glanced at him. He too was frowning.
They moved through the room without touching anything. Though they had been dispatched here, the reason for the call had been obscured behind the "Unknown Trouble" tag. Sometimes the term mean just that: the nature of the crime was unknown, possibly because the person who called it in had been vague or hysterical, but troubled and insistent enough to get a response.
Other times, a crime was considered sensitive, and the officer on the scene made a decision not to broadcast its nature over the police band.
Was that the case here?
At any rate, as they made their way over to the second uniformed officer, they did their best to not contaminate anything that might later turn out to be evidence.
So much for a cup of that coffee.
"Detective O'Riley's in the conference room at the end of the hall," the uniform informed them. This officer -- Leary, the nametag said -- was perhaps five years older than the one posted outside, and he was dour where McDonald had been chipper. Maybe five years on the job was all it took.
Catherine thanked him, and they walked the corridor, which was wide and long and lined with framed print ads; at the end, a set of double doors yawned open.
Along the way, the artwork on the walls depicted some of the company's most successful campaigns. She was familiar with all of them. When they got to what appeared to be the conference room, another hallway peeled off to the right.
Through the open door of the conference room, Catherine could see a large ebony table that consumed most of the space, surrounded by charcoal-colored, high-backed chairs. Nothing was marked off as a crime scene, so neither CSI put on rubber gloves, as they approached. When she ducked in the room, with Nick just behind, Catherine saw, crewcut Sergeant O'Riley standing at the far end, hovering over a blonde woman, seated with her head bowed, the thumb and fingers of her left hand rubbing her forehead.
"Ms. Denard," O'Riley said, in his gruff second tenor. Whether this was for identification purposes, for the CSIs, or to get the woman's attention, wasn't quite clear.
In any case, the woman jumped a little, looked up at O'Riley, then her eyes tensed as Catherine and Nick entered deeper into the room, moving to O'Riley's side of the massive table.
"It's all right, Ms. Denard," O'Riley said as he placed one of his hands on her shoulder. "These people are here to help."
The woman seemed to relax, thanks to O'Riley's touch and reassurance.
Catherine had come to revise her feelings about O'Riley, over the years; once she had overheard him dismissing the CSIs as "the nerd squad." But such adversarial days were long gone.
As usual, the detective's suit looked like he had fallen naked from a plane into a clothing store, only to rise and find himself fully if haphazardly dressed.
"Ms. Denard," the sergeant said, "this is Catherine Willows and her partner Nick Stokes from the crime lab."
The woman started to stand, but O'Riley's friendly hand on her shoulder -- coupled with Catherine saying, "No, no, please, that's all right" -- kept her in her seat.
Catherine stuck out her hand and the woman shook it delicately, then repeated the action with Nick as O'Riley said, "This is Janice Denard -- she's Ruben Gold's personal assistant and office manager."
Ms. Denard didn't seem to know what to say, then she finally settled on, "Would either of you like a cup of coffee?"
"No, thanks," Nick said. "We're fine." Catherine nodded her assent to Nick's call.
Denard wore a sleeveless black-and-white polka dot dress that showed off slim, tan shoulders, the high collar -- which Catherine thought should have shortened the appearance of the woman's throat -- instead seeming to elongate it, giving the woman a supple swan neck. A simple silver cross hung on a tiny chain and she wore a slim silver watch on her left wrist, her only other jewelry a silver ring on the fourth finger of her right hand. She was in her early to mid-thirties and beautiful, her wide-set big blue eyes bearing lashes long enough to give Catherine a flash of envy.
"Really," the woman said, unconvincingly, "I'm fine -- it's no trouble, if you change your mind."
Moments later, Catherine and Nick had taken seats on either side of Janice Denard, who began, "I came to work early today."
"Is that unusual?" Catherine asked.
"No. I do that most days -- especially Mondays. I like to have everything up and running...you know, before Mr. Gold comes in."
"What time is that usually?"
"That Mr. Gold comes in? Just before nine."
"And what time do you get here?"
"Between seven and seven-thirty most days, but six-thirty on Mondays."
"And that's when you came in this morning?"
"No. It was more like...six-forty-five. I was running late, because of a traffic accident on Maryland Parkway."
Nick, who was taking notes, asked, "Where do you live, Ms. Denard?"
"East end of Charleston Boulevard. There are some houses at the foot of the mountains...?"
"Yes," Catherine said, thinking, Nice digs for a secretary. "I know those houses. Very nice."
Nick bulled right in, though his tone was gentle. "You are Mr. Gold's secretary, I take it?"
Denard bristled. "Personal assistant to Mr. Gold and office manager. It's an executive position, and I do very well, thank you very much. Not that I see how it pertains to anything."
Catherine's frustration was very much on her radar now; neither O'Riley nor this woman had as yet indicated what kind of situation they were dealing with, so whether or not something "pertained" remained as "unknown" as the "trouble."
"No offense," Nick said, and he shared with the woman the boyish smile that had melted frostier types than Denard. "But you gotta admit, those are really nice houses."
Wouldn't you know it, Denard smiled back at Nick, showing lots of white teeth. Caps? Catherine wondered.
"My ex," Denard said, "was a divorce lawyer...but not as good as mine, as it turned out."
Nick gave half a grin and a head nod, and Catherine chuckled politely, thinking, Shark. Then Catherine asked, "So, back on point -- you came in around six-forty-five, and then?"
A shrug. "I went about my routine."
Their silence prompted her to continue.
Denard did: "I shut off the alarm, I went to my office, took off my coat and hung it up, then turned on my computer."
Catherine could almost see the movie Janice Denard seemed to be watching in her own mind, as she retraced her morning.
"While the computer booted, I went through Saturday's mail, which was piled on my desk."
"How did it get there?" O'Riley put in, lurking on the sidelines, on his feet.
Denard blinked at him. "How did what get there?"
"Oh! An intern put it there."
O'Riley frowned, mostly in thought. "You weren't here on Saturday?"
Nodding, Denard said, "In the morning, but I left before the mail came. Most of the staff works Saturday -- "
Catherine put in, "Isn't that unusual?"
"Not in a competitive, deadline-driven business like ours. We're just that busy, and that includes the interns. One of them would've been in charge of making sure the mail was on my desk, before he, or she, left."
Nick asked, "Which intern?"
"I don't know," she said, with another shrug. "I could find that out for you. I can give you a list of all the interns, far as that's concerned."
"If you could."
"But not right now," O'Riley said, with just a little impatience. "Go on with your account, please, Ms. Denard."
She took a breath, and dove back in. "After I went through the mail, and my computer was up, I went online. I checked the e-mails of both myself and Mr. Gold. After that, I checked the fax machine in my office, and then went to the rear office and checked that fax, too. Once I had done that, I went out front and started the coffee."
"You started the coffee?" Catherine asked, sitting forward. "Not one of the interns?"
"The interns'll just be shuffling in about now. I'm here first and starting the coffee is just something I like to do myself. Anyway, after that...that's when I found...found those...things."
Catherine and Nick exchanged glances, and O'Riley said, "Show us, if you would, please."
The woman took a moment to compose herself -- as if preparing to do something very difficult; then, rising, Janice Denard said, "Come with me."
They followed her down the hall into a huge room divided into a colony of cubicles that seemed to be set off in squares of four with perhaps four central squares taking up the bulk of the space. The outside walls of the work area were the glass windows of offices that formed the room's borders.
Except for the framed advertisements, Newcombe-Gold looked to Catherine more like an insurance company than an ad agency, at least until they rounded a corner and she glanced into one of the corner offices and saw a giant slot car setup, and in an adjacent office an array of action figure toys surrounding a work station.
Two doors later, Janice Denard took a right into a spacious office, outfitted in a sleekly modern fashion, accented with splashes of color via framed abstract art. A star...
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