A/N: As always, I do not own any part of CSI.
Spoilers: A small one for Bloodlines. There are no Season 5 spoilers, and Greg is still in the lab. There is an important spoiler for Invisible Evidence, however.
Chapter 1: Out of Time
Sara didn't sense his presence at her back; her attention was focused entirely on the table before her. She was tucked away in one of the smaller labs, a box of evidence spread out on the table's lighted surface. She leafed through a stack of crime scene photos, a frown tugging at her lips as she pulled one from the pile. Her pen tapped impatiently on her knee as her gloved fingers traced the outline of a ligature mark on the woman in the photo. Dropping the picture, she lifted the telephone cord that had made the offensive marks, sighing as she lifted the object for at least the hundredth time. Over the past year, she had dusted it, fumed it, had it in Trace at least four times, went over it with every tool at her disposal, and still nothing. She had the murder weapon, and still had nothing.
She tossed it back on the table with a deep exhale. A moment later, she dropped her head onto her hands, her shoulders slumping in defeat.
"You're quitting? Just like that? She a waste of your time, too?"
Sara jerked upright, whirling around at the hostile tone. "What are you doing in here?" She glanced at the visitor's badge on the man's chest, "I'm sorry, you really shouldn't be back..."
That was all she got out before the man was lunging at her, his hands wrapping around her throat as he pinned her against the evidence table. Sara kicked out viciously, but he was too close for her to do much damage. Her hands came up to his, her nails digging against the back of his hands. His only response was to grunt, and shove her harder against the edge of the table. As she was blacking out, Sara realized she should have gone for his eyes.
Catherine and Nick had just left on a breaking and entering in Millvale when the 419 came in. Sara and Warrick were only too glad to drop their paperwork in order to accompany Grissom on the call. Sheriff Atwater was anxious about this one, had come to Grissom personally with the assignment slip. Madelyn Beal had called 911 twenty minutes before the responding officers found her body, apparently strangled, in her bed. She'd been surprised by the cat, which she had already locked in the garage for the night, wandering into her room.
A new dispatcher hadn't given a cat loose in the house high enough of a priority. The officers were too late to save her life.
It was going to be a media circus.
"Gil," Atwater stood outside the Beal home, "We need you on your game with this one. The office...the city...can't afford any more screw ups."
Grissom's answer was dry, as he glanced over at Sara and Warrick who stood poised with their kits, waiting for him. "My team always does their best, Sheriff."
The sheriff sighed, holding up his hands, "All right Gil, all right. Just remember..."
His answer was a sigh, "If I forget, I'm sure you'll remind me." He turned to his team then, "Warrick, take the inside. Sara, you have the body. Warrick will join you there when he's done." He glanced over to where Brass was standing in the doorway. "I'll be with Jim. Interviewing the husband."
Sara worked the master bedroom silently, her jaw tightening when she would glance at where the nude body of the woman had been sprawled on the bed.
David had come and gone an hour before, after Sara had a chance to examine Madelyn Beal. They would have to wait for Doc Robbins' final report, but both David and Sara believed the cause of death would be strangulation. If they were lucky, they would be able to get prints off the bruises on her neck.
Sara was just deactivating the ALS when she heard her name from the doorway. She turned to find Warrick slipping on a fresh pair of gloves. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," He nodded to the light, "Find anything?"
"No...no blood." She paused, glancing at the rumpled sheets, "No semen. No vaginal secretions. No biological fluids on the sheets." She looked up, her brown eyes meeting his green ones. "Doc will do a rape kit, but there were no other external signs of sexual assault."
Warrick breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. That's good. You got anything else?"
She held up her evidence kit, "Three hairs, dark. Our vic was a redhead. What about the husband, have you seen him?"
A small smile flitted across Sara's face, "Could be the killer's then. One of them has a skin tag. And..." She nodded toward the bed, "Our vic fought back. She had skin under her nails. Bruising around her neck. Her hands were tied. What did you find downstairs?"
Warrick walked carefully around the room, Maglight scanning the carpet, "Guy got in through a service door in the garage. Came into the house through the connecting hallway."
"Letting the cat back into the house. Why was the cat in the garage anyway?" Sara knelt on the floor, her light peeking under the bed. "I got a scarf."
"Husband is allergic to cats." He nodded to the silk material in her hands, "Murder weapon?"
Sara's shook her head, "No. Finger shaped bruises, he didn't use a weapon. May be what was used on her wrists." She dropped the scarf into an evidence bag. "What about the husband? Grissom still with him?"
"We're very sorry for your loss, Mr. Beal". Brass leaned against the kitchen doorway as he spoke. "Can you think of anyone who would want to kill your wife?"
"No." Jeremy Beal paced the kitchen, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. "No one...Maddy...Maddy is....she's too sweet to make enemies." He turned, searching first Grissom's, then Brass' eyes. "You'll find them? You'll find whoever ki...whoever did this?"
Grissom took a slow breath, "We'll do our best, Mr. Beal."
"It's my fault," He stopped, turning to face the CSI. "I should have been here. It's all my fault."
Grissom's eyes tracked the man as he wandered anxiously through the room. "Where were you, Mr. Beal?"
"At the office. I....I'm an associate at Benson and Murry. I got the job just a year out of Law School. Do you know what a coup that was? Benson and Murry is the hottest firm in Vegas. I was on track to...I wanted to make partner before I turn 30. But they...they expect complete devotion from their junior staff." He paused, dropping to the chair across from Grissom. "Maddy....Maddy wanted to go out to Lake Mead this weekend. But...but I told her there would be time later. When I made partner." He looked up at the CSI, "I always thought there would be time. You know?"
Grissom sighed, "We all do, Mr. Beal. Until we're out of it."
Summary: A mudered woman's husband forces Gil to realize he may have run out of time with Sara.