--04 Body of Evidence (12-2003)

For Paul Van Steenhuyse

computer king

M.A.C. and M.V.C.

What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more.


A ranch in the desert-that's how Las Vegas began. As years passed, and fashions changed, the ranch evolved into a town, albeit of the one-horse variety. And as time continued to crawl by, with a slowness the desert climate only exaggerated, the world changed even more, cars and buses and trains replacing steeds as the main mode of transportation. Men of hope and vision rode those vehicles to the tiny bump in the dusty road and saw not what was, but what could be….

Among those wayfarers was a bigger-than-life gangster out of Los Angeles (by way of New York), a wiseguy with movie-star good looks who hated his nasty nickname-Bugsy-which in the street parlance of the day suggested nothing insect-like, referring instead to the handsome thug's ugly temper.

Ben Siegel envisioned a city where the hamlet stood, could make out a neon mirage in the desert, with casinos in place of barns, hotels instead of hovels. He preached this vision to others-investors who ran in his same left handed circle-and these hard-nosed businessman heeded the gospel according to Bugsy, which led to the construction of the famed Flamingo on what would become the Strip.

But hope is often tempered by frustration, and such was the case with Ben Siegel. The mobsters who backed his play weren't known for patience and had no understanding that, like any new plant, hope needed nurturing and time to grow. Impatience grew, too, as the mob absorbed budget overruns, time lags, and Bugsy's bugsy behavior (he was always one to live up to his nickname).

In the end, frustration won out, and Bugsy slumped in blood-soaked sportswear, weighted down by bullets in his Beverly Hills living room, hit before he ever got the opportunity to watch his vision, his hope, take root and bloom into the desert flower that would be Las Vegas.

Even now, the sparkling lights are its petals and the Strip its stem; but as Ben Siegel always knew, the roots were then-and forever will be-the gaming tables. And though the flower has changed, mutated, multiplied a thousand times over, and leafed out into branches known as Venetian, Bellagio, and MGM Grand, the fertilizer that feeds them is, as always, hope…one more turn of the wheel, one more roll of the dice, one more deal of the cards, bringing instant riches and fulfilling the worker bees hovering around the tables, pollinating the process with what seems an endless supply of dollars.

And always lurking in the background, ready to cut off the flow of green nourishment, is Ben Siegel's old pal, frustration. The losers who walk away, perhaps turning to other, even darker forms of hope, might threaten to overgrow the flower's beauty; but will never cause it to wither, for hope (as Ben Siegel knew if never admitted) never reaches fruition without encountering frustration…and Vegas is a city where hope forever blossoms, even as frustration reaps its constant harvest.


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.'

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