Brass questioned the habitat veterinarians Terri and Lacy.
Terri was distraught over what had happened, but he held it together better than Lacy. She sobbed and gasped for breaths at the same time.
Behind them Grissom processed the heavily sedated gorilla and he listened to the conversation.
“Did either of you know the victim?”
“Uhm… Yeah. Yes. She’s… Takoda Red Deer.”
“Takoda Red Deer?”
Grissom looked into Ralph’s eyes, and man and beast stare at each other for a moment. Grissom sees intelligence in Ralph, a creature who may not know exactly what was happening, but knew enough to show sorrow. Grissom suddenly looked away to continue working.
“She’s been here for six months working on her doctorate thesis. Anma handpicked her to continue her work with Ralph.”
“And who is Anma?”
Brass glanced at the gorilla, and then back at the vets.
“So you’re saying the gorilla’s mom told you to give someone—”
“I don’t need your cynicism, Detective Brass!”
Grissom lifted one of Ralph’s hands. The firm pads of his palm was scratched and the tips of the fingers were torn.
“Okay. Okay. How’d you get permission from a gorilla?”
“His mom is Doctor Anma Scotton, a renowned anthropologist. She found him in Nigeria next to his dead mother. She rescued him and he thinks she’s his mom.”
“Has Ralph ever been violent before?”
“Ralph didn’t kill Takoda. She was part of his pack; he never would have hurt her.”
“We have a dismembered corpse and cage full of blood that says otherwise. Maybe he got tired of living behind bars.”
Grissom worked his way down to Ralph’s feet. Cuts cover Ralph’s pads and the top of his feet. Like his fingertips, his toes are shredded. Grissom imagined how the injuries had happened.
Ralph had used his fingers and feet to dig at something very hard, such as the cement of his cage. Grissom photographs of the injuries, working his way around to the other side of Ralph to collect evidence.
“Ralph isn’t violent.”
“Then who did this? Who tore that young woman apart?”
The two don’t know the answer to this question.
“Does anyone else have access to this area?”
“The manager, the dietician, kennel caretakers, and us.”
“Have there been any problems with the habitat? Any threats? Maybe there’s someone concerned about the exhibit’s performance? Or someone who didn’t like them being kept here?”
Grissom sat his camera aside. He arranged a piece of paper under Ralph’s head, pulled a comb out of his kit, and began to gently comb through the hair on Ralph’s scalp. Ralph’s eyes drooped and he began making a sound like a soft purr. Grissom had a difficult time hiding his smile, but it was easier when he came across a bruised cut that was now a knot. Grissom documented the injury and resumed combing, making Ralph ‘purr’.
“To our knowledge there haven’t been any threats and it’s performing as strongly as the lion and dolphin attractions.”
“I’ll need everyone’s name, save the manager. Already have his.”
“Was Ralph in a fight with another gorilla recently?” Grissom asks the veterinarians. “Maybe the other silver back I saw in the next cage?”
The two shook their heads.
“Do you know how his fingers and toes became scraped? Or how he got this cut on his head?”
Lacy rushed over to examine the injuries. She starts crying again.
“Oh, sweetheart, what have you done to yourself? What happened to you last night?”
Ralph made a low throat sound as he turned his head toward her. Grissom gave the gorilla a reassuring pat on his shoulder. Brass notices Grissom’s interaction, but doesn’t comment.
Grissom passed Catherine’s office door. He turned around and walked back to the door. Her focus was on her paperwork and didn’t see him, so he rapped lightly on the doorframe. She looked up and smiled.
“How’s your case coming?” he asked her.
That earned him a long, heavy sigh. “You gave Sara and me a dead end. The woman wasn’t raped and with the injuries she obtained wandering the desert, there is no way to tell if she was attacked or not.”
“Jane Doe won’t tell you what happened to her?”
“Jane Doe isn’t talking to anyone.”
“We don’t know. Her doctor said there’s no physical reason and a psychiatrist who evaluated her said he thinks she’s suffered severe emotional trauma. If she won’t talk, however, neither can be certain of their evaluation.”
“What do you think?”
“She’s either covering for someone or saw something she shouldn’t have.”
Sophie Curtis appeared at the door, holding up a piece of paper. She told Catherine, “A missing persons just came in that matches your victim.”
To Grissom, Catherine said, “I didn’t think we’d ever pick up a lead.”
“Is this a woman only case?” Grissom joked.
Sophie grinned. “And we like it that way, Grissom. How’s your monkey business going?”
As he left, he corrected her. “Primate. Slow. Good luck, ladies.”
Catherine stood up and grabbed her jacket. She joined Sophie at the door and took the missing person’s report to scan it.
With a nod she told her, “Let’s me grab Sara and we’ll go talk to this Joan Peters.”
Catherine and Sophie headed out together.
A C.S.I. SUV followed behind an unmarked LVPD car into the Fair Acres Mobile Park. The vehicles stopped in front of a trailer. Sophie stepped out of the unmarked car and Catherine and Sara climbed out of the SUV. The three gathered at the bottom of steps that led to the deck outside of Joan Peters’ trailer. Sara noticed the trailer they are at was only four trailers from the end of the road, which opened into the desert. She stares off across the land as her subconscious tried to tickle her mind into recognizing the significance of that. Suddenly she noticed Catherine and Sophie had gone to the door without her and trotted up the stairs to join them.
Sophie knocked and the three waited. After three knocks, Joan opened the door. She looked like a tough woman, the kind that belonged in a biker gang. She wore loose paint stained jeans with holes in spots that let them know she wasn’t wearing underwear. Her paint stained tank top wasn’t as revealing. Her brown hair was pulled into a messy ponytail/bun. In one hand, she clutched wet paintbrushes, while in the other she puffed on a cigarette.
“Joan Peters?” Sophie asked.
In complete contradiction to her appearance, Joan asked in a quiet voice. “Yes?”
Sophie flashed her badge. “I’m Detective Curtis. This is Catherine Willow and Sara Sidle from the crime lab. We’d like to talk to you about the missing person’s report you filed on a Guistina Wright.”
“Did I miss something? The secretary marked all the places I had to fill out.”
“The report was fine.” Sophie pulled a photograph of their Jane Doe from a pocket and held it up. “Your description matches this—”
Joan dropped her brushes and ripped the photograph away.
She rushed to the opposite side of her deck yelling, “Elan! Elan!”
A window of the next trailer opened and Elan Hale popped her head out. A woman in her late 50’s, she wore a bright flowered muumuu and held the end of 1920’s style cigarette holder with a brown unfiltered cigarette.
Joan held the picture up. “It’s Guistina!”
Elan dropped her cigarette on the ground. She leaned out her window and snatched the picture away. She stared at it for a minute before looking up at Sophie, Catherine, and Sara.
“Is she dead? Did he kill her?” Elan asked.
Sophie held out her hand for the photograph. “No. She is not dead.”
In a panic, Joan barraged them with questions. “Is she in trouble? Where is she? Can we see her? Oh God. What did he do to her?”
“Hold on, ladies. Guistina was found wandering the desert. Why don’t we start with where Guistina lives?”
“She’s our neighbor in that trailer.” Joan waved her cigarette at a newer doublewide trailer across the street. Catherine and Sara glanced at it.
“In the report you stated that she may have been missing for a week. Why are you just now filing the report?”
“He kept her locked up in there. It was normal for us not to see her for days until he went on a trip or out drinking.” Joan glared at the doublewide.
“He who?” Catherine asked.
“Her fucking husband,” Elan snarled. “John Wright the asshole!”
Elan’s venom surprises everyone, even Joan.
“Well he is! He kept Tina locked up in that trailer like a caged bird. He never bought her anything; she had to beg for cloth to make new dresses. Once I gave her a pair of pants. The next day, when she gave them back, she was covered in bruises. She is the sweetest, kindest girl you’d ever meet, but he treats her like dirt and for no good reason!”
“Tina is Guistina?” Sophie asked
“Yes,” they both answered.
The familiar story makes Sara turn a glare on the trailer.
Sophie asked, “When was the last time either of you actually saw Guistina?”
“Monday,” Joan answered.
“Oh nooo,” Elan said, “I saw her Wednesday when I took over this pretty little canary. I thought it might brighten her day. She loved that thing! Prettiest little cage too.
Joan told them, “You know, though, John’s been home for a while and we haven’t seen her. It’s strange for him to be home so long. And how did she get out in the desert without him stopping her?”
With a confirming head nod, Elan said, “He probably drank himself stupid and she was able to slip away.”
“Then why didn’t she come to one of us?” Joan asked, looking at her neighbor.
Elan didn’t know that answer.
“Is she okay?” Joan asked. “Is she really okay or… What is wrong with her?”
Catherine offered a sympathetic smile. “She won’t talk to anyone. She’s catatonic.”
“What the hell does a cat in a tonic have to do with this?” Elan asked.
“Catatonic, Elan. Maybe she’d snap out of it if we visited her,” Joan suggested
“Not yet. We’ll let you know when she can have visitors. Thank you for your help.”
The two nodded. Sophie and the C.S.I.s crossed the street and Sophie knocked on the door of the trailer.
She knocked three more times but there was no answer. She tried the door handle and found the door hadn’t been shut all the way. She drew her gun and flicked the safety off. Catherine and Sara stepped back, giving her room to clear the trailer.
Sophie called out, “Las Vegas police.”
She pushed the door open. The stench of decay forced all three women down the steps.
“Something is dead in there,” Sophie commented.
“Something tells me it is Mister Wright,” Catherine added.
Sara told Catherine, “I’ll start on the perimeter.”
Sophie walked slowly inside, keeping her weapon in her hand until she felt safe enough to holster it. Catherine was right behind her.
The living room is immaculate. Not one thing looked out of place. As the two head to the kitchen at the front of the trailer, Catherine glanced at a large sewing basket next to a wingback chair. On top is a half-finished dress.
Coming around the breakfast bar the two find the kitchen is a mess. Dishes and utensils are scattered across the counter, flour coated the counters and floors, and something leaked from the open refrigerator adding to the mess.
“Looks like a struggle in here,” Sophie pointed out.
“Yeah, but who won?”
“I’m going to check the rest of the trailer,” Sophie said and left Catherine to begin processing the scene.
Catherine sat her kit down and began to snap pictures. There were shoe and barefoot prints in the flour. She noticed a small patch of red substance on the handle of the refrigerator.
From the other side of the trailer she heard Sophie say, “I found Mr. Wright, Catherine.”
Catherine left the scene to find Sophie. She passed a room and paused. Inside was an accountant’s office and compared to the rest of the trailer it was a mess. She passed the bathroom where everything was neat, tidy, and perfectly aligned. The next room is setup as a guest room and everything in it is just as neat and tidy. Catherine walked into the master bedroom.
Lying in the bed was the bloated, discolored corpse of John Wright. A white cotton rope still dangled from his neck. The other side of the bed was neat and nothing else in the room had been disturbed.
“Is it me, or does it look like that man did not put up a fight?” Sophie asked.
“Either that or this is staged. You know, I’ve seen that rope today.”
“There was a small sailboat behind Joan’s trailer, on the other side. I noticed it when we were pulling up and the rope looked similar to this rope.” Catherine thought about the information. “Tell Sara too look for rope like it, and maybe ask Joan if we can have the rope off her sailboat.”
“Without a warrant?” Sophie asked.
“Something tells me she might be giving, if she thinks it will help her friend.”
“Will do.” Sophie left. “And then I’ll call the coroner.”
Catherine looked around the room again. There wasn’t the presence of a woman in the room. She could only imagine the tyrant John Wright must have been.
Sara spotted a spool of white rope half hidden behind a lawn mower in the shed. She pulled a paper bag from her kit and retrieved the spool. She sat it aside and continued looking. Between the trailer and storage shed was a pile of junk parts, but Sara caught sight of something that did not appear to belong.
She moved in closer and pulled the item out. It was a birdcage with ornate metalwork. She held it up for closer inspection. The cage door was slightly bent and along its edge was dried blood. Just as the road ending at the end of this street had tickled her instincts, finding this evidence was doing the same.