A/N: Written for the lovely Girlnorth as a Secret Santa Christmas Drabble. Which of course was horribly late and in no way drabble length. My apologies. Thank you to Misssimm for the beta.
"You're not going to puke are you?" Sara leaned over the side of the hot tub and snagged a mask out of her kit and tossed it to Greg.
"God!" Gagging, he quickly slipped the mask over his face. The thick stink of putrefaction was minimized somewhat, dialed back from overwhelming to merely loathsome. Greg knew the meaty stench was one he'd be living with for a while—rot was a smell that liked to curl up in your nose and make itself comfortable.
"You'll want to put on goggles too. This whole area is one big biohazard."
Sara stood knee deep in a luxurious hot tub. She looked like an advertisement with her hip shot stance, hair blowing in the dry desert breeze; the only thing that was missing was the bikini and come-hither look.
Instead she wore a mask, goggles, gloves, and green hip waders. And unlike most women Greg knew, she didn't seem to be at all disturbed to be sharing the hot tub with two bloated and reeking corpses; indeed her voice was almost grimly cheerful.
"How can you stand to be in that—that—" he pointed to the tub.
The smell filling his head seemed to intensify for a moment as her choice of words sank in. "Gross!"
"Well that's what it is essentially isn't it? Meat left to stew in water..."
Sara grinned as she baited him. She kept on smiling as she leaned over and used a small skimmer to scoop up small bits of flesh and carefully transfer them to a container knowing he was watching. Ragging on the junior member was more enjoyable now that she no longer held that position.
"I wonder about you sometimes Sidle...I think you may be taking this whole "loner" thing you've got going on a bit too far, you're crossing over to the Dark Side of the Force." Greg set down his kit. He kept his back to the scene for a bit longer than necessary, arranging his tools. Images of the swollen carcasses bobbing in the greasy water combined with Sara's flip assessment ensured it would be a great long while before he and the good folk at Campbell's broke bread together.
"Dark Side? I haven't got a dark side—I'm a regular little ray of sunshine." Sara scoffed.
"Sure you do. I'd worry if you worked for the post office."
Sara smiled. One thing about Greg—he gave as good as he got. "Well thank your lucky stars I don't, besides I'd look like a dork in knee socks. Watch your step; the deck's slippery. Put on the hip waders—I brought an extra pair—and jump on in."
"Aren't you gonna tell me the water's fine?"
Deftly Sara snared some floating debris and lifted it dripping from the water—despite the soaking the freckles still stood out clearly on the long strip of skin.
"Not for these people it wasn't."
"Our victims have been identified as Mr. Craig Wilcox and his wife Nancy." Sara pointed to the two corpses floating in the large hot tub. "Housekeeper found them this morning. Last time they were seen alive was Christmas Eve, our best estimate is that they've been in there for at least three or four days but the heat could have sped up the decay process. We'll know more once we get them to the morgue..."
"So they decided to take a little holiday dip and what...?" Greg hooked the straps of the hip waders over his shoulders.
"Well the condition of the bodies kinda makes it hard to tell—there's no obvious gross injuries."
Greg steadied himself on the edge of the tub and climbed warily in. Don't slip whatever you do...The jets had been turned off and clotted mats of brackish foam bobbed and sloshed as he stepped down to Sara. "Oh god. The water is still warm." The heat from the water prickled his skin even through the heavy waders. Sara lifted a dripping thermometer from the slime in the tub and wiped it clean.
"Temp's about 90 degrees. It's dropped quite a bit actually. When I first got here it was..." She consulted her notebook that was lying open on the edge of the tub. "Just over 115 degrees Fahrenheit." She used a pen to flip the pages, careful not to touch her gloved but smeared hands to it. The notebook was waterproof but Greg didn't think she was worried about transferring water stains onto the surface. He pointed to some of the thick swirls of yellowish grease on the surface of the water,
"Is this what I think it is?"
"Liquefied adipose tissue? You bet."
"So we're covered in—"
"Melted human fat, we sure are. Stinks doesn't it? The only way to get that smell out is lemon juice—trust me I know."
"Aw man. Why's Grissom doing this to me?" Greg struggled against his gorge for a brief moment.
"Actually I requested someone come out and join me."
"Share the wealth? Thanks."
Sara cocked her head and considered, "Well yes. But there's a bit of a problem with the scene." She lowered her voice and nodded to a police officer sitting in a nearby patio chair. His hat was off and his head hung between his knees, his young face was cheesy white and dotted with sweat. "Officer Marquez was one of the first units to respond to the 911. He attempted to pull the body of Mrs. Wilcox from the tub..."
Greg looked at Nancy Wilcox's body. It was distended and swollen as floaters were, despite that, he could tell from the size and style of the bikini she wore she had had a trim figure when she was alive. The heat and the agitation from the jets had started to peel long slippery strips of skin from the soft tissue areas. There were deep splits in the belly and back, revealing muscle tissue—discolored now by the heat—more yellowish globs of subcutaneous fat—and frayed and peeling skin, bleached grayish white from the long immersion. One thing stood out—even from such a grisly scene—her arm. It looked flayed; from the shoulder down most of the skin was missing. Some kind of sleeve had bunched up around her wrist, the sporty watch still strapped on to it had caught it in fat folds and stopped it from sliding off over her hand. The ragged ends of the sleeve undulated slowly in the water. Greg frowned—something wasn't quite right about it. Then he realized what he was looking at a split second before Sara told him.
"He grabbed her arm and pulled. Not thinking—only trying to get her out of the tub. Her skin was already starting to split with the decay—when Marquez pulled, her skin slid off—right down her arm. Just like pulling off a glove..."
"Damn..." Greg breathed, despite the prickle of annoyance he felt at the disturbance to his—and he had already started to think of it like that—crime scene, there was also stab of sympathy for the unfortunate cop.
"Yeah—I asked Grissom if he could send someone to help with body removal." She looked him up and down, "I was kinda hoping he'd send Nick. You've got arms like twigs."
Greg flexed. "I may look small Sidle but I'm wiry. Don't worry I can hack it."
"Bodies in this condition—getting them out is going to be a trick and a half.
"Ever boil a chicken for a really long time?"
Greg nodded; he knew where she was going with this,
"Sure have." He was for sure never ever going to be able to eat soup or stew or anything for a very long time.
"If you do it right, the meat falls right off the bone..." she finished.
Greg scruffed up his hair, then he smelled his palms.
"Are you sure you can't smell it on me?"
Sara leaned over and sniffed.
"Nope just lemony freshness. But I'm probably not the best judge, after all I was in the tub with you."
"Thanks for loaning me the lemon juice by the way."
"No problem. You may want to buy a bottle or two of concentrate and keep them here. Running into a grocery store after processing a scene stinking of rotted human fat can be awkward to explain."
Greg sighed and leaned back in the chair. They were back at the lab. Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox were chilling in the morgue waiting for autopsy.
"That was a good call on the tarps Greg." Sara pushed half a sandwich across the table at him; Greg grimaced and shook his head. She shrugged and ate it.
"Thanks..." he said.
Sara had wanted to use tarps to lift the bodies out of the tub for transfer to the body bags. They had floated the first tarp underneath the corpse of Mr. Wilcox carefully trying not to jostle the body more than necessary but the weight of the water trapped underneath made lifting difficult and the body kept sliding free. So Greg had suggested they cut small slits into the tarp—allowing the water to drain out as they lifted. He and Sara had managed to suspend the dripping body over the tub until most of the water was gone then they had maneuvered the body into the bag. It had been awkward and difficult. Mr. Wilcox had been a big man and trying to lift a dead weight up out of the slippery confines of the hot tub wasn't something his back wanted to try again anytime soon. It hadn't helped having a cadre of cops and EMTs observing as he and Sara had wrestled with the corpses. It felt like Gym class all over again; having to climb the rope while beefy jocks stood around watching and cracking jokes. Still not many of them could meet his eyes after they had finished the transfer—certainly not Officer Marquez.
"So their kids are flying in to officially ID the bodies...?"
"Tomorrow." Sara said.
"Nice way to spend the holidays...every Christmas from now on will remind them of their parents being cooked to death in a hot tub."
"Bad things happen every day, Greg. Not just at Christmas time." Grissom said as he came into the break room.
"Hey bossman..." Sara said.
"Well yeah." Greg continued, "it's just that somehow these things always seem worse when it's Christmas."
Grissom considered for a moment. "That's only because we have a certain notion of what Christmas should be...to the Ancient Roman it wasn't about peace on earth and goodwill towards men. It was Saturnalia: a celebration of the harvest, marked by debauchery and tomfoolery..."
"I think they call that Spring Break now." Sara grinned and bit into an apple.
Greg stared at Grissom, "You play Trivial Pursuit a lot don't you?"
"So give me your working theory of the case so far." Grissom sat down at the table.
"Well." Sara opened her notebook; "initial examination of the bodies showed no injuries on Craig Wilcox but there was a small wound in the back of Nancy Wilcox's head. In addition the lip of the tub had a small amount of blonde hairs, skin and some blood spatter inconsistent with the decay process. We've taken the heater out of the tub and brought it back here, so far Archie has found a short in the wiring causing the safety shut-off to malfunction. Basically the heater is supposed to shut off when the temperature of the tub reaches a maximum 110 degrees, but most people set it for lower than that. In this case the heater kept heating the water, we think it might have even reached as high as 120 degrees, but we're checking on that. We're also looking for signs of tampering." Sara looked over at Greg indicating he should continue.
"A open bottle of champagne was beside the tub, half empty and two glasses had residue in them. A search of the medicine cabinets in the house found a number of prescriptions for Mr. Wilcox including an old one for Viagra. In addition he was on blood pressure medication. Use of Viagra while on blood pressure meds is contra-indicated because of the risk of heart attack. "
"So..." Grissom looked over his glasses at them "is foul play a factor?"
"We don't think so." Greg answered.
Sara jumped in. "Basically we think the Wilcox's decided to take a late night dip in the hot tub—maybe engage in a little Christmas nookie—and Mr. Wilcox suffered a massive cardiac infarction brought on by a combination of alcohol, high blood pressure and Viagra. When she realized what had happened to her husband Mrs. Wilcox tried to pull him from the tub but her motor skills were impaired due to the champagne and possibly the heat of the water. She slipped, struck her head on the edge and drowned. Then the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox remained in the tub, slow-cooking in the heat and sun, until the housekeeper discovered them three days later."
"Fa-la-la-la-la. La-la-la-la...case closed." Greg said.
"Well barring any evidence that may turn up to indicate otherwise." He added hastily.
"We are open to the possibility that this wasn't an accident..." Sara shot Greg a look, "but based on the evidence in hand we don't believe that's likely...we'll be able to conclusively determine that after the post mortems."
Grissom nodded and leaned back in the chair.
"Well, drowning is a leading cause of accidental death around the home. Last year alone in this state there were 10 hot tub related fatalities, however interestingly enough four of them didn't involve death by drowning."
"Really?" Greg's interest was peaked.
"Yes, those four unfortunates died due to a combination of blocked vents and the resulting strong suction."
"Strong suction?" Sara asked.
"Yes." Grissom clearly was enjoying the puzzlement on his tech's faces.
"Okay, I'll bite." Sara said. "So if drowning wasn't the primary cause of death, then that would preclude the victim's hair getting sucked into the vent and pulling them under..." She trailed off at a loss. "I give up. How'd they die?"
"Disembowelment." Grissom smiled and took a sip of coffee, watching the reaction on their faces as understanding dawned.
"Oh Gross! Their guts got sucked out by a vent? That's it; I'm officially never going into a hot tub again." Greg said.
"You made that up." Sara blurted.
"You can check the facts yourself—strange but true. Just like your two, slow cooking in the hot tub. Rather like steaming a Christmas pudding, in one respect." Grissom stood up to leave but stopped and paused at the doorway.
"Oddly enough, one of the strangest cases I ever worked over Christmas involved the victim getting cooked as well. The victim was a Mr. Chester Miller—Chet to his friends. Seems Chet lived next door to a family that was fairly enthusiastic about Christmas. They decorated the house extensively with lights and so forth—"
"Griswolds." Greg interrupted, "my mom calls people like that Griswolds—like the family in the movie...?"
Grissom considered. "Yes. I suppose so. I've only seen the movie once."
"Only once? It's on like every Christmas!" Greg said.
"Anyway, about the case..." Sara prompted.
"Yes, well Mr. Miller wasn't having the best Christmas Eve. His wife had left him and he spent the night of his demise drinking heavily. Now there was a prior history between Miller and the family next door—there had been numerous complaints about the lights. Mr. Miller felt they were too bright and I believe the "Griswold" family had Christmas music playing outside as well."
"All the time?" Greg asked
"Well between the hours of six and eleven pm yes."
"Oh I'd be pissed too." He said.
"Well the evidence suggests once he became intoxicated, Mr. Miller decided to inflict some vandalism on the property. The family was away from the home visiting friends so the house was locked. But Mr. Miller climbed onto the roof and used a crow bar to pry the cap off of the chimney to gain entrance to the home that way."
"Like Santa Claus?" Sara said.
"More like the Grinch I'd say—" Greg said then he saw Sara's look "What? So I watch a lot of TV okay?"
"At any rate this proved to be a mistake for Mr. Miller, somehow during the descent into the home he slipped and fell and impaled himself on the crow bar. It entered here. "Grissom tapped his left shoulder "and exited here." He touched a spot just above his groin. "Then the bar became lodged in the chimney leaving a grievously wounded Mr. Miller suspended in the chimney until he eventually died from the blood loss."
"I thought you said he was cooked?" Greg looked confused.
"Oh he was. But the cooking occurred post-mortem. The family returned home and never noticed anything amiss until they rose the next morning and lit a fire."
"And then?" Greg was leaning forward, fascinated despite himself.
"Well, I guess you could say that they found Chet's nuts roasting on an open fire..."
There was a beat of silence; Greg blinked trying to wrap his head around Grissom's story.
"Merry Christmas Greg, good work today." Grissom smiled enigmatically and left the break room.
"No. Way. There's no way that's a true story!" Greg turned to Sara for an explanation.
"Have you ever known Grissom to lie?" She tried to keep a straight face.
"No-but. I mean—C'mon Sidle! Chet's nuts roasting on an open fire?"
Sara choked back her giggles and patted Greg on the arm.
"The man does love his puns." Sara rose and gathered her lunch things together.
"No way that's true." Greg repeated to himself. Sara left him with his disbelief and headed to her lab. She passed Catherine in the hall.
"Hey. How'd it go today?" She leaned in and subtly sniffed Sara. "Lemons. Did you catch a bad one?"
"Just some floaters in a hot tub."
"Nice. Who was with you?"
"Greg, He did okay and he must have impressed Grissom."
"He came in to the break room after and told the Miller story."
The smile lit up Catherine's face.
"He didn't! How'd Greg take it?"
"Better than me. I don't think he's as gullible as I was. I went and looked for the case file."
"Oh honey!" Catherine patted her arm "You didn't?"
"I did." Sara admitted.
"Well in that case I have a bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in purchasing..." She linked her arm through Sara's and started walking with her down the hall.
"I said I was gullible. Catherine. Was."
"You do know there's no such thing as Santa Claus right?
"Ha-ha. Very funny."
Nick Stokes ambled into the file room whistling and tapping a case file against his palm. He stopped when he saw Greg muttering to himself and flipping urgently through case files.
"Lose something Greg?"
"No." Greg barely looked up and continued paging through files.
"So what're you looking for?"
"Dec 1988...no no no...."
"I said what're you looking for, maybe I can help?"
Greg slammed the file drawer shut and rubbed his eyes.
"Have you ever heard of the Chester Miller case?"
Nick's laughter could be heard echoing down the hall of CSI headquarters.
A/N the second: The absolutely horribly wonderful pun is courtesy of NWHepcat who of course, was only kidding and never expected me to take her seriously. Thank you chica.
And the part about being disemboweled by a hot tub vent? Totally true. That's a fun fact to share and tell the next time you go hot tubbing.
Summary: Sara and Greg catch a case over Christmas that lands them in hot water.