Marvin felt his head grow heavy, the weight of it trying to sag to the floor, the rope around his neck keeping his skull up, but a certain bobbing motion making his forehead occasionally brush the rough rug. Colored lights burst behind his eyelids in a tiny fireworks show, and for just a moment he was downtown in Glitter Gulch with the overhead display of Sinatra singing, 'Luck be a lady,' and Marvin's arms were rubbery things and tears mingled with sweat as his dream dissolved and his mind was filled with a nightmare that would end not with waking, but rather with going to sleep.

Forever.

And as the colored lights subsided and blackness fell across, Marvin Sandred saw Annie in his mind, smiling sadly, shaking her head, saying, as she had when she left, 'Don't you know, Marvin? One person's dream is another's nightmare?'

One

T he North Las Vegas neighborhood was slowly making the transition from cozy to shabby. A 420 on the radio, this homicide call-which on the Strip would be treated like a presidential assassination, every squad car rolling in with lights strobing and siren blaring-had generated only one North Las Vegas PD squad, which sat parked out front of the house as quietly as if this was the officer's home…

…and not a crime scene.

Which was what brought LVPD Crime Scene Investigation supervisor Gil Grissom to this declining residential area, and not for the first time-wasn't a habit yet, but calls in these environs were definitely on the upswing.

Seasoned veteran Grissom descended on this troubled neighborhood like the angel of death, albeit a casually attired one, such a study in black was he: sunglasses, Polo shirt, slacks, shoes. Gray was invading the dark curly hair, however, intruding as well into a beard he'd grown to save himself time, only to find trimming the thing was its own burden. He'd thought of shaving the damn thing off, at least twenty times, but that much of an expenditure of time he wasn't ready to invest.

Gil Grissom's life was his work, and his work was death.

Nick Stokes, behind the wheel, parked the black CSI Tahoe behind the NLVPD cruiser; after him, Warrick Brown pulled in a second Tahoe. Grissom and Stokes had ridden in the lead vehicle while Warrick shared his with fellow CSIs, Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle.

Muscular, former college jock Nick had dark hair cut close and an easy smile that belied how seriously he took his job. The heroic-jawed CSI wore jeans and a T-shirt with the LVPD badge embroidered over the left breast.

Green-eyed, African-American Warrick was tall and slender, and his expression seemed serious most of the time, though wry twists of humor did come through. In his untucked brown T-shirt and khaki slacks, the loose- limbed Warrick seemed more relaxed than Nick, but Grissom knew both young men were tightly wired, in a good way, excellent analysts and dedicated hard workers.

Even more intense than her two male teammates, Sara Sidle wore her dark hair to her shoulders and preferred comfortable clothes like today's tan T-shirt and brown slacks. Still, she was as striking in her way as Catherine Willows, a redhead with the chiseled features of a model and the slenderly curvaceous body of a dancer. Wearing an aqua tank top and navy slacks, Catherine still more closely resembled the exotic performer she had been to the crack scientist she'd become.

Though they worked the graveyard shift, Grissom's team-thanks to manpower shortages this week-was currently working overtime to help cover dayshift court appearances and vacations. Normally, these CSIs would have showed up at a crime scene in the middle of the night, but with the OT, they found themselves arriving at this one with the summer sun already high in a cloudless blue sky, the heat dry but not oppressive, tourist friendly.

Pulling off his sunglasses, Grissom studied the bungalow: tiny and, particularly for this neighborhood, still in decent repair. The dirt yard was small and bisected by a crumbling sidewalk that passed a steel flagpole on its way to the open front door. Two flags hung limp on the windless day, an American flag at the top and a Green Bay Packers one beneath it, while a short gravel driveway ran up the far side of the house, a dark blue early nineties Chevy parked in the middle.

Even though homes surrounded the bungalow all along the block, to Grissom, the house looked lonely, somehow. Heat shimmered off the pavement outside this house; but sadness shimmered off the house itself.

As Grissom hopped down from the Tahoe, his peripheral vision caught an unmarked Ford pulling up on the other side of the street. He paused to glance back and see the detective getting out, a lanky six-three in an ill-fitting gray suit-Bill Damon. The detective was still in his late twenties, having been with the North Las Vegas PD for five or six years, now deep into his first year as a detective. Though his pants always seemed an inch or so too short, and his jacket seemed large enough for a man twice his size, Damon fit the job nicely-if still unseasoned as a detective, this was a good cop, with his heart in the right place.

While more than a hundred thousand souls made North Las Vegas their home-and had their own police department-the Las Vegas crime scene analysts served all of Clark County, which meant occasionally the CSIs worked with detectives from departments other than their own. Grissom had run into Damon on a couple of cases before, but always as the secondary detective, never the primary.

As the detective crossed the street, he held out his hand to Grissom-long, slender fingers with big, knobby knuckles.

'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.

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